New Season, New Name

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter, It isn’t just one of your holiday games; You may think at first I am mad as a hatter When I tell you, a cat must have Three Different Names .
—T.S. Eli

The poet could have been observing our shop cats when he asserted this. How else does the giant tabby called Leroy become Uncle Buck? Cats do not have the same inconvenience as we do. We are given some generic name at birth before we have done or said anything.  A cat may imply over time what his name might be; Black Kitty is eventually Strangeway, and Slinky is the fattest of them all.

I do not know if it is the case in all work places, but on our farm, there is the constant possibility that you will be named again, like the cats, when you earn it, for better or worse. Because a farm puts people in close working relationships, together you must muscle things and fix things and not break things. From the ego’s sophomoric perspective, farm work can be taxing—like being in the school musical, on the football team and math club all at once.  Throughout the growing season one’s athleticism (or strength), brains and charisma are nearly always on display. The farm is a predominately masculine environment, and there is more teasing than there are kind words or due credit. We will all share the occasional designation of Shithead. In this environment, whether you last a few summers or a lifetime, a nickname is as close as you may get to an acknowledgment of your singular existence.

In order for a nickname to stick, it either has to be a very honest assessment of character, or the opposite. For example, Slim was a six foot six, thin as a rail coworker who did not announce his real name, or speak, unless he was drinking. Whereas the General, a kind and spaced-out young man, was anything but a general.  Physical attributes are an easy mark, Foot simply had giant feet, and the guy called Lips had a big mouth, in both ways. We’ve all met a Tiny who is as big as a house. Animals are a popular inspiration because they can be analogous to looks or behavior or a peculiar incident. I know a Woodchuck and a Ratman, a Clam and a Bulldog and many birds. There is the Seagull, Snipe and Crow. Sparrow and Rooster have died, though remembering aliases brings them more intimately to mind than the proper identities etched on their headstones.

Some people are given a nickname by parents, who upon noticing uniqueness in their youngster, are inclined to rename devoid of ancestral pride. It was my crawling technique that earned me Toad, the Toad, or depending on the situation Terrible Toad. But I work with people named Jigger, Pork Chop, J. Fred and P-Green—none of them real names either, so I don’t bother wondering if I’d prefer a more flattering moniker. These tags are meant to keep you humble, and us entertained.

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