When Birth Names Aren’t Enough

By Beacon Staff

Since my childhood, I have never been able to escape nicknames. Growing up, my father elected himself the Bestower of Bizarre Nicknames and has made sure that my birth name Myers, which he surely had some role in coming up with as well, is used as sparingly as possible. At some point, he settled on Quagamumba as an apt name for me and has never relented. He is the reason all of my friends today have some sort of nickname. It’s in my blood to give people alternative aliases.

We must keep in mind that my dad is an artist by instinct and profession, and he doesn’t disappoint those who expect an artist to be quirky. The subjects of his paintings include fish smoking cigarettes, eagles abducting Volkswagen bugs and a dinosaur-sized pig in “Jurassic Pork.” His paintings speak for themselves, though his nicknames may not. Regarding a few of the names he bestowed upon me, I’m still unclear of their origin and meaning.

Take Quagamumba for example. Quagamumba, at some point in my childhood, became a title for me not only preferred by my father, but by most of his friends as well. I believe the name is some kind of an amalgamation of quagmire and the Spanish phrase “Aye Carumba.” Apparently, as far as I know, I once expressed a fondness for the word quagmire and woke up the name next day as Quagmolian, or simply Quagmo for brevity’s sake. Later I made the mistake of expressing a similar fondness for “Aye Carumba” and have never lived it down.

I am still Quagamumba. Quagamumba lives not only in my father’s mind, but also on rugs and tee-shirts. Figuring that such a good name should be manifested in a more tangible and visual way, my dad made T-shirts, hats and rugs bearing the name and a graphic of his choice. He wrote songs too.

This Quagamumba alter ego, as my dad pointed out to my girlfriends in high school and other perplexed guests, fights evil – mostly monsters and dangerous bears – in much the same way Superman and Batman do. My dad once explained this in great detail to one of my girlfriends shortly after he had explained to her why there was an elk foot on our front handrail. The answer had something to do with embracing nature, I believe.

For a brief period of my childhood I was Barbecue Fuzzball. Another time, while swimming in the ocean and having just made a reference to Jaws, I was Shark Bait. My first name was Wiggler Squiggler, which my dad would announce to classmates when picking me up at elementary school. His preferred mode of communication in these announcements was song, which, in no shortage of instances, instilled in me the kind of all-encompassing mortification only parents can inflict upon their children.

But only Quagamumba endures. My friends wear their Quagamumba tee-shirts and hats to parties and point out the large red Quagamumba rug on their kitchen floor. Strangely, like it is for my father, this Quagamumba is a source of pride to my friends.

So today it is my turn. None of my friends, or even passing acquaintances, escape without a nickname. Some are simply last names. Some are affectionate or friendly or just abbreviations like KB or J-Mack, as in Kellyn Brown or Julius Macker. Some have proven themselves over time, like Thumper Mutombo, a name given to co-worker Keriann Lynch. Because of her height – nearly a half-foot taller than I am – she earned variations of Dikembe Mutombo in commemoration of the great 7-foot-2 NBA shot blocker. Then one day, in an apparent effort to stomp out the sleepiness in her leg, she began pounding her foot against the ground, thus adding Thumper to her name.

We are who we are, and sometimes we’re something else entirely. Sometimes we’re Quagamumba or Barbecue Fuzzball. I believe, in the end, nicknames are terms of endearment and, though we may not choose to put them on resumes, we secretly, and somewhat unexplainably, are proud of them.

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