Could you call someone, ‘Fats’ in 2017?

When Antoine Domino was born in New Orleans back in 1928, it’s impossible to think that Mrs. and Mr. Domino looked down on their newly born son and said to each other, “let’s nickname him ‘Fats’. In fact on his birth certificate they gave him the nickname Anthony. Turns out he was initially called Fats by big band leader Billy Diamond in 1949 – then at age 21 because he reminded Billy of two other musicians; Fats Waller and Fats Pichon.  Also of note was that in 1949, he released an album self-titled, “The Fat Man” and it went on to sell a million copies; a hugely successful number for the times.

Oh and take the case of Ernest Evans. Who’s he you ask? Ernest was born in 1941 in South Carolina, and it was while he was working in a Produce Store that he was bestowed a nickname by his boss that he would go on to use and be better known by. After doing an impression of Fats Domino, Dick Clarks wife asked him what his name was and he said, “My friends call me Chubby; the name his boss had first gave him.” She replied, “As in Checker?” referring to a game piece like a domino. So it stuck; and there you have the icon Chubby Checker.

So how would such a nickname go over these days in 2017? Not sure? Maybe you should try one of the two out on a co-worker and let me know. What’s that? You wouldn’t dare because the repercussions could mean you’ll be sent for sensitivity training? Fair enough. So why were these people comfortable back then saying such things? By all accounts they never meant disrespect, and the people themselves, Fats and Chubby, used them in reference to themselves professionally and personally. Oh and the group of musicians that backed up Chubby? Yep, the were called The Fat Boys. Chubby Checker and The Fat Boys.

These names didn’t just refer to musicians either. There was a great billiards player Rudolph Walderone Jr. (doesn’t that just roll off the tongue?) who actually gave himself the nickname Minnesota Fats; claiming the character of the same name from the movie, ‘The Hustler’ was based on him. Fats went on to promote the game of Pool and Billiards like no other and it wasn’t the championships he won that really drew attention but his name and his artistry.

I wonder though what would have happened to those three boys if it was their parents that had given them those names at birth. Would they even have been allowed to do so? What would have happened to their self-esteem? My goodness, they might have spent years with a psychiatrist or mental health counsellor trying to repair fragile and damaged self-egos!

Some nicknames are more flattering. Maurice Richard of the Montreal Canadiens was nicknamed the Rocket, and another Canadiens player, Yvon Cournoyer was nicknamed the Roadrunner for his bursts of acceleration. He played along, ‘The Flower’ Guy Lafleur. But all three of these hockey players never lost their real names; they were still known as Maurice, Yvon and Guy. The nicknames though were definitely associated with the men themselves.

But again, do you think you could honestly call someone at work, “Chubby”, “Fats” or, “The Flower” and pull it off as a term of endearment? Wouldn’t you at least have to say, “Gee, do you mind if I call you _____? I somehow doubt you’d be successful and it’s even less likely that your nickname would be picked up and used openly by your co-workers. Somehow, “Hey Fats, when can you have that shipment ready?” “How’s 3 p.m. sound Chubby?” just sounds so ridiculous. Any customer overhearing that exchange might be shocked, and more than one person would tell the two guys to stand up for themselves, grow some backbone, have some self-respect and stop allowing others to label them with these self-deprecating nicknames.

The entertainment business has a long tradition of changing a person’s name early on in their budding career. You’d probably not recognize the names Archibald Alexander Leach as Cary Grant, Joyce Frankenberg as Jane Seymour or Krishna Banji as Ben Kingsley. Sure these are names of famous people largely from the past, but the practice continues today. But the average guy working in a blue or white-collar workplace? Well you’d find a William going by Bill, Robert going by Bob, or a co-worker whose friends shorten the name; like Trev for Trevor.

When applying for jobs these days, names can and do influence people’s perception so much that there are some organizations that remove names from applications before passing them on to the Hiring Managers. This is to prevent bias from ruling out a Mohammad or Myubai and choosing a Michael or a Jessica. Some actually put nicknames on resumes; “Yes my name is Ahmed but people call me Anthony”. Really? Hmm…or is this a strategy to get into the hands of the people who make decisions on who to interview?

Whether to land a job or get along with co-workers, names name who we are, how we see ourselves, maybe as manifestations of endearment. Still you might not get on well if you call your co-worker, “baby, hun, dear, sweetie, gramps” etc. If you’re proud of your name, you may correct people who mispronounce, lengthen or shorten it. You decide who you let call you what.

Names say a lot about how you see yourself and others.

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