Photo Credit: George Oates
When your name is Ann, you don’t need a nickname. It’s one syllable, three letters, a name that can double as an article, an indefinite article at that. So when I joined a singing group that included another woman named Anne, and they asked me if I had a nickname they could use, I was stumped. My father never called me Punkin, my hair isn’t light enough for Blondie. There wasn’t even a distasteful nickname—I had never been Fatty, or even Four-Eyes for any extended period. Yet a founding member of the singing group had already laid claim to Anne. (She spelled it with an “e” on the end, a superfluous affectation, like “Ye Olde” in a shop name.) She was first, so I had to be the one to switch, to become someone I never was before.
“You must have had a nickname sometime,” one of the singers said, leaning forward.
It began to seem like a character defect, never having had a nickname, even a repulsive one. As if no one cared enough about me one way or the other to call me out as special.
We were sitting in a semicircle, so I was surrounded by people who probably had exciting nicknames in their past, names as fabulous and hidden as a superhero’s secret identity. Diva. Cinnamon. Lightning. I could imagine those kinds of names, but no one had ever given one to me.
Ann is a very plain, unobtrusive name. I think that’s why so many people have it as a middle name—so it won’t outshine the first name. Often when I introduce myself to another woman, she’ll exclaim, “Ann is my middle name!” as if I have never heard this before. Like she’s saying, “You’re not so special—that name of yours? I’ve got it too. Of course, it’s not good enough to be my first name, but still, it’s an acceptable second string. I’m sure it works out fine for you.” Often she’ll follow up with, “How do you spell it? Oh, mine ends with an ‘e’.”
As I sat there with nine singers watching me, waiting, I flashed frantically through my life, looking for some brief period when I was called something else. I rejected the few weeks in grade school when I was called “Ann-a-than” as part of some odd childhood rhyming name fad. There was a Ron-a-thon, too, I remember. In fact, he was the first to have the nickname. Ann-a-than was just a copy of his nickname—it wasn’t even uniquely mine.
The rest of grade school, nothing. Junior high school, mercifully, nothing. High school, nothing. College, nothing, nothing, nothing. Then I hit upon it.
When I was in my first job out of school, writing computer manuals for factory-management software—which, come to think of it, was a job a lot like the name “Ann,” sturdy, non-descript, a job that no one was very passionate about—I finally got a nickname. A coworker and I played the lottery, dreaming of escaping our warren of teal cubicles. “We’ve got to win!” we’d say, changing it to, “We’ve got to win big,” after we hit four numbers out of six and pulled in an astounding amount in the low three figures.
Finally, one day, my lotto partner, Smokey (now there’s a nickname!) said, “Maybe we’d have better luck if we started calling you Lucky.” And so, every Thursday morning when it was time to check our numbers, she’d say, “Ready, Lucky?” I’d trot over to her cube, she’d unfurl her newspaper, and we’d read numbers until our hopes of becoming millionaires came to nothing. Again. But for the brief time it took me to walk from my cubicle door to her desk, I was Lucky.
Being called Lucky reminded me of Johnny Apollo, a Tyrone Power movie in which Dorothy Lamour played the gangster’s moll. “They call me Lucky,” she pouted, lowering her extreme eyelashes until her eyes were sultry slits. She had that silvery, smoky glow that only sirens in black-and-white movies have, and a fur coat that wafted whenever she moved.
I looked at the singers around me, the pianist with her graceful hands hovering ready over the keyboard.
“Well, you could call me Lucky,” I said, tentatively. But inside, I was lowering my eyelashes and raising one shoulder seductively so it slipped out of the fur coat, revealing a shimmering evening gown. “They call me Lucky,” I purred. “With a ‘y,’ not an ‘e’.”
Ann Hillesland’s work has been published in literary journals including Open City, North Dakota Quarterly, The Los Angeles Review, NANO Fiction, SmokeLong Quarterly, Bellowing Ark, Going Down Swinging, The MacGuffin, and Red Wheelbarrow, and is forthcoming in the anthology A la Carte: Stories that Stir the Foodie in All of Us. She is a graduate of the MFA program at Queen’s University of Charlotte. Email: annchw[at]pacbell.net