CHAPTER SIX, What's In A Name?
An equally valid question about the subject of names revolves, perhaps, around the alternative interrogative, “why?” Why do we have names? Why were we given a particular name or names? It seems likely, to answer the former question, that identification is the primary reason. People (and places and things), in order not to be confused with similar people (and places and things), need to be called something that distinguishes them, one from the other. In the case of popular or common names (i.e. John, Canaan, Hill), a differentiating description is helpful (i.e. Smith, New, Bunker), and, as regards people, the stringing on of additional names further clarifies (i.e. John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt) a person both from contemporaries of the same name and relatives, before and after. Additional distinguishing tics like Jr. and/or nicknames like Jack are common as well.
Names can also mean something. To be a namesake could mean that you are the recipient of a revered family name. To have a descriptive name could indicate that something about you is reminiscent of the name you have been given, like Rose, or, in the case of an attribute, it could be a hoped for characteristic, like Patience.
In the great tradition of names for blessed sons, the county jail is just like anyplace else, and in The South Towers, Level Three, noble old names are spread indiscriminately across the ethnic divide and include such classics as: Esteban, the Spanish equivalent of the Greek-born Stephen, meaning “crowned with victory;” the Old English name meaning “army ruler,” Harold; Patrick, Latin-derived for “nobleman” along with its Old Celtic equivalent, Brian; and the Hebraic Daniel, for “God is my Judge.”
Weighing in from the Germans, Gunther, meaning “bold warrior,” and perhaps the most common of all, the Hebrew name that asks the question, “Who is like God?” everyone’s favorite archangel and my own name-giver, that name that would apply to at least five people you would hit if you threw a rock into even a middling crowd of gay men: Michael.
I have no data to back this up, and it could be owing to the fact that I am no archangel, but it seems like the closer you could get to the time of the first appearances of these names, the likelier that there might be a degree to which the name actually applied. We all know Patricks and Brians, Harolds with no leadership skills whatsoever, and Stephens whose only possible crown would be interchangeable with any backwards-worn baseball cap. And we constantly see those once-accurate descriptions even further watered down in the shortened forms and nicknames to which they are reduced: Pat, Bri, Hal, Steve, Mike.
What has interested me about jailhouse names has very little to do with the embodiment in contemporary guys of the ancient traditions and qualities found in the origin of their names. Rather, it is the amazing array of colorful nicknames that, based on the person on whom they have been bestowed, make perfect sense.
Here are some examples from the South Tower roster since I first arrived: Doughboy, Big Man, Tiny and Fat Daddy are walking personifications of their names, while Oatmeal, Hot Dog and Peanut are named for the food items their namesakes love best. For the activities that got them behind bars, Arson, Larcen and Pyro have been named. Guys nicknamed for a favorite pastime are Hoboy, Horndog, Scuba and Poker. For physical issues past and/or present we have Nosebleed, Scratches, Splinter and Rabies, while Cougar, Pit Bull, Terrier, Foxy and Canine are the namesakes of counterparts from the animal kingdom.
Not that we have access to a computer, but if we did, our go-to IT guys (so they tell us) are Download, Microchip, Gizmo and Hack. Popeye, Pluto, Batman and Flash are named not for the animated characters they most resemble, but for the characters they most love. O-Oyl, on the other hand, sports a man-bun that is, in silhouette, identical to the spinach-eating sailor-man’s whiney girlfriend. The religious backgrounds of Jesus, Preacher and Muslim completely fit their names, and Samson is so named because, physically, he could be a direct descendent from the original.
Cityboy, Uptown, Country, Slumdog, Barnyard, Cuba, Egypt, San Juan, Rico and Rochester all hail from the country, city or generic place for which they are named, and Dimitri is Dimitri because, except for swearing, which he does in fluent English, he only speaks Ukrainian.
Dreds wears them, Lips has them, but Nose (while yes, possessing a nose) is a know-it-all. Guys named for the relative shade of their skin color are Lighty, Eggplant and Red. Midas kills at the poker table, and Dominos will play the game of his name with a folding chair as a partner if no else is around.
Leo, Scorpio and Gemini are named per their signs of the Zodiac. Doc is named for his medical profession, and Psycho for his medical condition. We have a Maximum, a Massimo and a Slowpoke who are, and a Bumble, a Rumble and a Stumble who do.
We have an Ihop, so named for his favorite restaurant chain, a Chop-Chop for his favorite cuisine and an Ice for his favorite mealtime item. We have a Dubb because that’s what is tattooed on his neck, and a Zee because that is what is tattooed on both of his hands.
Apropos of nothing, but mentioned here because I find it interesting, we have a Count, a Viceroy, an Earl, a Duke, a King and, I’m pretty sure about but can’t swear to it because he came and went so quickly, a Princess. For the same reason, I mention our ancient history and mythology namesakes in addition to Midas. They are Moses, Cato, Hannibal, Troy, Achilles and a very cool transgendered inmate who absolutely kills at hearts named Venus.
A couple of days ago, a new inmate checked in, and, during the first meal of his residence, he happened to sit beside me. He made a pretty compelling first impression, and during that pre-consumption part of nearly every meal here, when everyone basically just sits there, staring at their tray, wondering how in God’s name will they eat it, I was wondering if, when we got around to introducing each other, he would confirm my suspicion that, based on his size, we likely had another Massimo or Big Man or Samson on our hands; or maybe a Fullback or Terminator.
After he had taken a moment to fully assess the visual and aromatic presentation of this, his first meal of God knows how many (and, perhaps in order to delay the fact that the bad news would be confirmed with the first bite), he presented me his hand to shake.
The cavernous voice totally matched the visual impression, and I thought, “Yikes.”
“Shrimpy,” he said. “S’up?”
Food, Glorious Food