Rerun: 86. Toothless Joe, Darlene Sardine and other Nicknames.

24 Jun

In the South, nicknames are so common, you could go your whole life knowing a “Junior” or “Sissy” and have no idea what their real name is. One day, you might happen upon an obituary for “William Henry Anderson” that reads suspiciously like the life (and death) of…dear Lord, that’s “Skippy.” Who knew? Better grab a casserole out of the freezer and head on over.

Southern folks are saddled with nicknames for any number of reasons. For the sake of brevity, I’ll discuss the top six:

The correct answer to Bubba's Oodles Question.

1. Earned nicknames
Beware: any time a person does anything whatsoever, there’s a good chance they’ll be saddled with an unflattering nickname. And even if you are a hermit who withdraws from society altogether, you can still earn a nickname like “The Hermit” or “The Unabomber.” My dad has a brother whose adolescent voice change was so pronounced that he’s been called “Squeaky” ever since. One of my best friend’s nicknames was inspired by her bowling technique: “Gutterball Gertie,” which we’ve shortened to “Gert.” Also, when we were playing the game Oodles, her brother Bubba (who now goes by “Tommy”) shouted a spectacularly wrong answer that earned him the nickname “GANT!”

2. Appearance-based nicknames

If you know someone by their nickname before you meet them face to face, you might be in for a surprise. Most likely someone known as “Red” will have hair of that hue, but if someone’s called “Tiny” they’ll likely be a future contestant on “The Biggest Loser.” Back in my headbanging/tie-dye wearing years, my aforementioned friends’ father dubbed me “Hippie Kim,” which I’ve always secretly (till now) liked. My favorite nickname which wasn’t meant to be ironic but became so is my friend’s step-cat “Boney.” Boney’s a Seattle native, but I suspect he has a Southern heritage.

My friend's step-cat "Boney."

3. Rhyming nicknames

Future parents of the world, please do your kid a favor and give him/her a name that’s less likely to lead to playground altercations. I realize this is an almost impossible task, considering how creative kids are, but at least don’t make it easy for them. Try avoiding anything that rhymes with an unpleasant word, i.e. “Darlene Sardine,” “Grody Jody,” or “Phlegmy Jimmy.” Also, you might want to steer clear of choices like “Chuck,” “Mitch,” or “Bart,” just in case the “Name Game” rears its ugly head again.

4. Code names

Considering how females like to go on ad nauseam about the men in our lives (past, present, and future), we use code names so our friends can keep them straight. Which is particularly helpful when one has a run of suitors who happen to share the same first initial, “J” for example. Hypothetically. This isn’t so much a Southern thing as it is a female thing, but it was a category I didn’t want to overlook.

Guess who "forgot" his wallet?

Here are a few I’ve heard and/or coined both above and below the Mason-Dixon. “Hurt Foot,” “The Fireman,” “The Eddie-ot,” “My Stalker,” “Toothless Joe,” “Stupid Boy,” “Dutch Treat Bob,” and my favorite “Bill (I can’t pay the bill) Bill.”

I don’t remember which one of us started calling my sister’s college boyfriend “George” based on his resemblance to a certain Seinfeld character. It used to drive Jenna nuts, but after they FINALLY broke up, she, too, started referring to him as “George.”

5. Random Nicknames

We call my friend Karen “Nooker,” but I’m not sure why. Supposedly it’s the shortened version of “Nanook of the North,” which does little to enlighten me. There was a guy in high school that Sandy called “Dirt Dauber,” apropos of I know not what. I’ve personally known a “Dirty D,” “Mutt,” “Gopher,” and, wait for it…”Squid.” Check out my blogging buddy Renee’s Mardi Gras adventure in which you’ll discover how her friend’s baby came to be known as “Snake.”

If you're over 60, you may call me this.
However, I prefer "Darlin'."

6. Generic Nicknames

“Honey,” “Dear,” “Love,” and “Sweetheart,” (HDLS) are not necessarily used in a romantic or familial context, which you’ll quickly learn should you venture into a restaurant, clothing boutique, or beauty parlor. Here’s a brief etiquette primer:

1. Never call anyone who’s clearly your elder “HDLS.”
2. Never call the person who’s serving you (waitress, hair dresser, etc) “HDLS.”
3. Men under 60: Never call anyone you aren’t romantically involved with and/or related to “HLDS.”
4. Do not get uppity when an elderly person calls you “HDLS.”

Which brings us to my biggest nickname pet peeve: “Mama” and “Daddy.”
I have no problem with children using these names however they see fit. Also, I think it’s perfectly acceptable when talking to one’s children to refer to one’s spouse as “Mama” or “Daddy.” Example: “Go ask Daddy to wash the dog; she’s been rolling in dead stuff again.” But for the love of all that is holy, please DO NOT call your spouse or anyone you’re romantically linked to “Mama” or “Daddy.” It’s just plain creepy.

What are some of the best nicknames you’ve heard?

How did you come by your nickname (surely you have at least one)? Please keep it PG, people.

Thanks for reading, y’all.

Love, “Kimi-san,” “Hippie Kim,” “Kimbo,” “Lil Kim,” “Hollywood,” and “Pierre.”

Flickr Creative Commons photo credits: “To Bubba from Stinky” by Fushia Foot, “Honey Bears” by wabisabi2015, “Hello My Name Is” by Kris Beltran.

8 Responses to “Rerun: 86. Toothless Joe, Darlene Sardine and other Nicknames.”

  1. Jane N. Henry June 24, 2013 at 7:01 pm #

    I recently saw a local obituary in which the deceased person’s nickname was listed as “hot belly.”

    • Kim Holloway June 25, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

      Oh, my! That’s too funny, Jane! Hope it never happens to me. I’d have to haunt somebody!!

    • Bob Davis September 8, 2013 at 2:00 pm #

      A few years back, I saw in the obituaries a man with the nickname
      “State Store”. I remember at the time wondering what in the world did
      he do to warrant being given that name. We can only imagine.

      • Jane N. Henry September 8, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

        Well, he must have been a Southerner. I don’t think they have state stores up north.

      • Kim Holloway November 14, 2013 at 6:29 pm #

        Ha! State store!!

  2. evangeline September 6, 2015 at 5:17 am #

    Hi. Just discovered your fantastically humorous blog when putting in the Google search “why do southern ladies love jello in all their recipes” . Your blog was the first to arise. And I love it. I’m a modern day (organic, whole foods eating, traveled, and former San Francisco resident) southern girl from NC. I’m balancing my modern and enlightened epiphanies with all that I’ve been raised with (and subsequently love) from my southern roots. Although my transformed ways trump my upbringing, there are those occasions when southern food trumps all. What you write about is funny because it’s true and resonates with me. Anyway, back to the jello. I just made a blueberry “salad” with grape jello, canned blueberries and pineapples, spread with a sugar filled cream cheese topping. This next to all the casserole covered dish deliciousness of my southern family counterparts. The only vegetables were over cooked green beans and corn on the cob.

    As I’ve been reading over your existensive and entertaining list, I came across the nicknames. I wanted to share that mine is “Sissy” . My mother named me Evangeline when I was born, but my very Appalachian paw paw couldn’t pronounce it so he named me Sissy. It stuck and that’s what my whole family still to this day calls me (I’m 40 now).

  3. Theresa July 17, 2017 at 6:25 pm #

    My daddy (yes, my biological father, not some romantic interest – I also think that’s creepy) nick-named me Doodler when I was about two. He said I was happiest just sitting around doing nothing, doodling I guess is what he called it. He called me that until he died. Most people called and still call me Tee or TeeTee though. My niece couldn’t say my name (Theresa) when she started talking (she’s 39 years old now), so she called me TeeTee. It stuck. I was born in Texas, mostly grew up in Arkansas, graduated college and traveled the world, and have now settled in Virginia. Growing up in Arkansas, almost everybody either had a nickname, or they were called by both their first and middle names (Barbara Jean, Nedra Sue, Jimmy Joe), or they were a Junior or a Bubba. I don’t think it’s changed much.


  1. Rules for a Southern Nickname - Bourbon & Boots - September 26, 2013

    […] pecan pie, caramel cake and un-happy camping, but our favorite article would have to be this one on Southern Nicknames. And most especially this section on the rules for using pet names like “honey,” […]

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