Hello! Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Cheerful Kwanza, Scintillating Solstice and Banner Boxing Day to all! Hopefully that covers everybody. J here, with a yummy holiday recipe and a writing tip.
I grew up in a family with lots of old people in it. My grandmother was one of eight children, 7 of whom were still living long enough for me to know them, or at least the old version of them. The octo-seniors were: Lilly, Victor, Victoria, Virginia, Edward, Ethel, Corrine, and Louise. Aunt Lilly died when my mom was a young child, but I knew all the others quite well.
Uncle Vic was a two-time widower, born in the 1800s (1899, but still!) who always gave me a $5-spot for Christmas when everybody else gave me a $2 bill and, most importantly to my children who never new him, he always wore his pants belted high over his old-man belly. Today, even my 3-year olds complain if I “Uncle Vic” their pants by pulling the waistband too high.
My Aunt Toy was super fun, married to a grouch (who I now know was just ancient, not grouchy), had a house that you could run around while inside since it was a big square and her backyard had a hill perfect for rolling down. Best of all, she took no guff from my grandmother (who she still called “Tot” even in her late 70s) who was the undisputed matriarch of my household.
My Aunt Ginger lived at the beach. I love the beach and therefore I loved visiting Aunt Ginger.
I didn’t really know that Uncle Ed (my family is riddled with Edwards, a grandfather, another Uncle Ed and a cousin, Ted) well, but I remember him a bit before his funeral, which was the first of many that I attended.
Aunt Grace was married to Uncle Harry (to whom The Cordovan Vault is dedicated). Naturally, I was especially close with her since Uncle Harry often filled in as a father/grandgather figure – neither of which I had as a young child. The cool thing about Aunt Grace is that I was fourteen before I knew that her name wasn’t actually Grace. I must have been going somewhere because I got a piece of luggage from her with her initials on it: EGW. I knew the W was from her maiden name, Willerup, but I couldn’t figure out the others. My Aunt Grace’s name was actually Ethel, but everybody called her Grace. The whole family – even her older siblings.
That’s when I figured out that none of that generation went by their actual name. Victoria was Toy and Virginia was Ginger – okay, I get those. But Ethel was Grace and my aunt Pat was actually named Louise. To this day, I have no idea why they called Louise “Pat”. At least Ethel’s middle name was Grace and hey, if my name was Ethel, I’d have gone by Grace too. But Aunt Pat’s middle name wasn’t Patricia or even anything that started with a “P”. She did make a mean batch of fudge, though. Click here to get the recipe.
Now my grandmother’s name was Corrine. Or Karen. Depending on who you asked. She got mail to both names and in my recent genealogy research, she listed as Karen on the 1910 census and Corrine on the 1920. Her parents were from Norway and Denmark so they likely spoke English with an accent, but I’m not sure why she never picked one name and went with that. Of course, her generation called her “Tot” until they died. She outlived them all. And as the 11th of 12 grandchildren (two of whom are just 5 years younger than my mom) I couldn’t pronounce Grandma as a young child and called her Mina. Mina stuck and by the time I was old enough to notice, everybody called her Mina. My whole generation (including the grandchildren who were WAY older than me), the neighbors, and the neighborhood kids.
You might wonder why I’m telling you all this, but here’s today’s writing secret. When you name your characters and draw them out in your mind, think about what nicknames they might be called, by whom and why. Everybody in my family has a nickname and as you can see, it’s a tradition of long standing. The kids call my mom “Chicken”, my Aunt Carol is Carrot, we have an Auntie Cake (Kate) and everybody calls my dad, Dear. My grandfather said, “A well loved person has many names.” Giving your characters nicknames can help them seem more like real people.
Today’s question: What’s your nickname story? Do you have a favorite or special nickname, either one that someone calls you or that you call someone else?