Monday, November 4, 2019

Hockey nicknames are broken. Here’s how we fix them

The NHL has a rich history of cool nicknames. Classic monikers like The China Wall, Old Poison or the Golden Jet evoke memories of larger than life stars, while memories of legendary moments can be summoned just by mentioning The Rocket, Mr. Hockey, Boom-Boom or, simply, The Great One.

But with a small handful of exceptions, all the sport’s best nicknames are from long ago. These days, star players get half-hearted variations of their last names, if they get anything at all. Nicknames used to matter in hockey, but not anymore. The entire concept is broken.

But we can fix this. And all it will take is five steps. Here’s what we need to do:

Step one: Stop accepting what we have now

Ask around an NHL dressing room over the past few decades and you’ll find out that most players are just referred to by modified versions of their last name. Usually, you just take the first syllable or two of their surname, maybe slap on an “er” or a “y” to the end, and you’re done. Sometimes you don’t even do that much. Jonesy. Kaner. Gio. Alfie. Iggy. Ovi.

Everyone agrees that these are terrible sports nicknames. But everyone is wrong.

No, those aren’t bad sports nicknames, because they’re not sports nicknames at all. They’re abbreviations. If you want to get technical, you could call them diminutive hypocorisms. Terms of affection between friends, in some cases. They’re nicknames, I guess, if only in the broadest possible sense.

But they’re not sports nicknames. Sports nicknames are a special class. They’re supposed to be descriptive, or at least creative. Fun, even. Vaguely interesting, at a bare minimum. (An academic paper by Robert Kennedy and Tania Zamuner calls these kinds of nicknames “Homeric,” which I kind of love because it’s a reference to the poet Homer but also captures that homer sports fan vibe).

The key point is that most modern hockey nicknames aren’t good nicknames because they’re not real nicknames at all. If your last name is Jones and people call you Jonesy, you don’t have a nickname. Yet. But maybe you should.

But first, we have to do something very important …

Step two: Stop asking the players what their nicknames are

Sure, players are terrible at assigning nicknames, at least publicly. Therefore, the whole problem is their fault, right? No. Not at all.

It’s not their fault. It’s ours.

All of us. The media. The fans. We’re the ones who are supposed to be coming up with nicknames. That’s supposed to be our job. But at some point along the way, we all decided to offload it onto the players. And again, they’re terrible at it.

The problem was buried right there in the first sentence of step one. “Ask around an NHL dressing room.” Why are we doing that? Who cares what the players call each other? That’s not where great nicknames come from.

Do you think Georges Vezina’s teammates were calling him “The Chicoutimi Cucumber” when they played cards on the train? Of course not. They probably called him Vezzy. But we don’t know that, because nobody ever asked them, and rightly so. Some old-timey sportswriter came up with The Chicoutimi Cucumber, everyone else went “that’s awesome” and a nickname was born. Vezina himself didn’t get a say. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Back then, you had to rely on a handful of anointed media to come up with creative names, which worked well enough because most of the good ones were drunk at all times. Later, as cable TV and sports talk radio spread, you might occasionally get something generated by fans that was able to break through the filters. But today, in the age of social media, literally anyone can send a thought out into the world and see it gain traction. And sports nicknames are exactly the sort of fun-but-meaningless content that should be thriving on Twitter. We should be living in a golden age of nicknames.

But we’re not. And it’s because literally, nothing good has ever come from Twitter we all got lazy and just decided to ask the players to do it. Shame on us. It’s not their job, it’s ours. Let’s take it back.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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