Is Your Nickname a Fitting Representation of You? — Erica L. Williams

In the Black community, it is not uncommon to have a nickname. If you’re Black and don’t have a nickname, some would argue that it’s grounds for revoking your Black card. Nicknames in the Black sphere are rites of passage. To many, nicknames are bestowed upon as early as birth. If you’re born with a funny shaped head, then there is a chance you will be called Peanut. Or, in adolescence, if you’re bigger than your peers, you will be named a combination of “Big” and your name. For example, Big Gary, Big Mike, or Big David. On the other hand, if you’re small, you will carry the tag Pee Wee, Tiny, Lil’ Gary, Lil’ Mike, Lil’ David, or the proverbial Lil’ Man.

Often, nicknames don’t correlate with your actual name. Your Mom can look at you one day and say that’s my Day Day, and you can become president of the United States, and yet you will always be Day Day, or Bubba, or Pookie, or Bay Bay, or NuNu, or whatever name you were lucky enough to get stamped.

If you’re a chunky baby, there is a chance your lot in life will be the nickname Fat or Fat Fat. Even if you grow up to be six feet tall and a hundred pounds soaking wet, somebody will always know you as Fat Fat. If you had an accident that one time when you were five years old, sorry, you’re Stink Butt, Stank, or Stank Stank for life.

Different colors of Blackness also produce nicknames. If you’re of a darker shade, you’re Black Steve, or if your name is Johnny, and you have a reddish hue, you’re Johnny Red. We also cut names short. LaShawn is Shawn. Deirdre equals Dee Dee. Michelle, Chelle. Raymond is Ray Ray. Benita is Nita. And we can’t forget fruit. We love using fruit as nicknames. Peaches and Strawberry are favorites.

My nickname is Bee. My mother said it was because when I was little, I was obsessed with my Mrs. Beasley doll. I always found that fact interesting since I have no memory of this doll that I allegedly drug everywhere and was attached to for twenty-four hours of the day.

Bee, or Miss Bee is who I am known to people who really know me. My twin sister, by default, was nicknamed Boo. She can thank me later.

If someone knows you by your nickname, it connotes intimacy. They’ve known you since you wore pigtails, or that time you were playing in the dirt with your cousins and was eaten alive by red ants. Or the moments when you and the neighborhood kids played outside until you were musty and the sky turned black. They remember you walking to the corner store in Bird Station for a cherry dixie cup and a pickle. Knowing a person’s nickname intimates that they knew who you were then as well as who you are now. You may outgrow your nickname, but it will not outgrow you.

I googled the Mrs. Beasley doll hoping it would jog my memory. I envisioned my heart bursting over our internet reunion. However, my heart did not explode or even skip a beat. My first thought after seeing the fat-faced white doll wearing a blue and white polka dot dress and leggings was, There weren’t any Black dolls back then?

Then, I remind myself that as a child of the seventies, Black dolls were assumingly scarce. I stared at the blonde-haired doll with a thin smile, her enormous eyes, the color of the ocean, and covered with square granny glasses. By virtue of my nickname, I am inextricably tied to her for life. The more I stared, the more I yearned to conjure up memories.

‘I was named after you for God’s sake,’ I say to her through the screen. ‘Give me something.’

Her palms face up, her shoulders hunched as if saying, ‘I got nothing.’

Even though my inability to invoke memories saddened me, the notion of our connection ushered me back to my youth, a simpler place in time.

The longer I stared at Mrs. Beasley, I softened to her cherub cheeks, wide grin, and wire glasses. I found her to be cute, quirky, hopeful. Like me.

Originally published at on November 8, 2020.

MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Work has appeared in Necessary Fiction, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Blood Orange Review, & elsewhere.

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