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Flattering Themselves
Steve Rushin
February 19, 2007
LONG BEFORE George Costanza began calling himself T-Bone, humans—and superhumans—were giving themselves nicknames, from God (who announced Himself to Moses as He Who Is) to Rod Smart (who announced himself to XFL fans as He Hate Me).
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February 19, 2007

Flattering Themselves

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LONG BEFORE George Costanza began calling himself T-Bone, humans—and superhumans—were giving themselves nicknames, from God (who announced Himself to Moses as He Who Is) to Rod Smart (who announced himself to XFL fans as He Hate Me).

"A nickname is the heaviest stone that the devil can throw at a man," wrote William Hazlitt, but that stone is heaviest when a man throws it at himself. The man who nicknames himself is placing a bet on the future, especially if that nickname is The Future, as Kelley Washington anointed himself at Tennessee. In four years in the NFL the Bengals wide receiver has started six games, suggesting that The Future is not wide open.

For every Ju-Yun Kim, who rebrands herself as Birdie and then does birdie the 18th hole to win the U.S. Women's Open, there are 20 Freddie (FredEx) Mitchells. If the former Eagles and Chiefs receiver is delivering anything today, it's probably Domino's.

Speaking of Domino's: Is that the franchise to which Brandon Phillips was referring when he called himself The Franchise? The second baseman has since been disenfranchised by the Indians and dealt to Cincinnati, much as Steve Francis is with his third NBA team since fancying himself Stevie Franchise.

His Knicks teammate Stephon Marbury christened himself Starbury, much as his team calls its decrepit home The World's Most Famous Arena, which in turn has hosted Michael Jackson, the self-styled King of Pop. And so it goes in sports and entertainment, through an endless, delusion-filled hall of mirrors.

Of course, athletes have always called themselves by flattering sobriquets when nobody else would oblige them: Think of Thomas ( Hollywood) Henderson, Lloyd (All-World) Free, Darryl (Chocolate Thunder) Dawkins.

But never before have so many been so self-smitten. The NBA is all a.k.a. The Suns' Amar� Stoudemire is STAT, for Standing Tall and Talented. Years ago Ruben Patterson labeled himself The Kobe Stopper, a nickname that backfires as frequently as your '73 El Camino.

The self-nicknaming phenomenon is a crossover from music, where it is sometimes endearing—think of Riley (Blues Boy) King—and sometimes overreaching: Anyone else catch the American Idol audition of a woman calling herself The Hotness?

In sports such nicknames almost always come back to haunt their owner. In college at Miami, tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. called himself The Chosen One. Then, after a motorcycle accident wiped out his second season with the Browns, he was The Chastened One.

One way to avoid such humiliation is to nickname yourself ironically. No one will think you're a jackass if you name yourself for a jackass, as country legend Alvis Owens Jr. did when calling himself Buck, after the family mule. (In the reverse of this, Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme nicknamed his filly She Hate Me, to honor Smart, his one-time teammate.)

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