“Name Calling, Jan. 16, 2018

If you could choose your own name, what would it be? Have you ever had a nickname that followed you through life, nipping at your heels like a dog with the mange?

I’ve had several. Some were more tolerable than others.

When I was born, my mother named me “Sharon Lee.” I don’t know why she chose “Sharon.” Apparently, it was a popular name for girls at the time. Some “Sharons” wear it well, but for me, it never quite seemed to fit.

“Lee” was my mother’s middle name. I’m proud she wanted me to have it. It was a part of her that I could hold onto forever, that could never be misplaced or stolen or sold at a yard sale.

I lost her long ago to cancer, but I still have her name. It’s the only thing she left me. Besides her hands. They come poking out of my sleeves everyday.

My first nickname came from my stepdad. I was 4 when he married my mother. From the start, he called me “Grannie.” Why? He said I was like an old woman always worrying about other people’s business. I didn’t take it as a compliment. But I grew rather fond of it. He died soon after my mother. His last words to me were, “Take care of yourself, Grannie, you hear?”

No one calls me “Grannie” any more. My kids call me “Mom” or “Mama.” My grandkids call me “Nana.” My husband in a good mood calls me “Hummingbird.” I love those names. But some days, I miss hearing “Grannie.”

In second grade, I had a classmate whose name I wished were mine. I could barely wait for roll call every morning to hear that lovely appellation come sliding off my teacher’s Southern tongue: Yolanda!

Isn’t that the best? I was sure my mother had made a mistake. I was meant to be a Yolanda.

But no. As fate would have it, I would not be called “Yolanda” or even “Sharon Lee.” I would be called — and I may regret telling you this — “Bird Legs.”

It started on the playground while picking teams for “Red Rover.” One of the boys pointed to me and yelled to the team captain, “Pick ‘Bird Legs’! She’s skinny, but she’s strong!”

It was not a term of derision, just a simple point of fact: My legs were matchsticks. For years I’d hear, “Red Rover, Red Rover, let ‘Bird Legs’ come over!” And I would run like the wind.

After college, when I left the Carolinas for California, I was sure I left “Bird Legs” behind. I gave my three children beautiful names that somehow got shortened. Joshua became Gosh. Joanna became Nan. (She’d have been Yolanda, but her dad said no.) And Baby Nathan was Nate the Great.

When the kids started school, I worked at a local newspaper as a reporter and columnist. After the column was syndicated, I worked at home in my pajamas.

One day my editor (his name is Fred, but I call him Fernando) phoned to tell me that a former classmate had seen my column online and called to ask if I was the person he grew up with.

“Nice guy,” said Fernando, “we had a great chat. So, were you really called ‘Chicken Legs’?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I snarled. “It was ‘Bird Legs.’”

“I like ‘Chicken Legs’ better.”

That’s what Fernando has called me for years. I feared he might use it as a byline on my column. But he’s retired now. I seldom see him. No one else calls me “Chicken Legs.” Some days I miss it. But not much.

Imagine my surprise this Christmas to get a package from Fernando. What on earth could it be? I tore it open and stood blinking at … a pair of socks?

Wait. They weren’t just any socks. They were adult-sized knee socks, cleverly designed to look exactly, I swear, like bona fide, real live, chicken legs.

I wish you could see them.

I might promise to wear them to Fernando’s next birthday wingding. On one condition: From now on, he has to call me “Yolanda Lee.”

Or maybe “Yo” for short.


  1. Peggy Nodine says

    Hey “Bird Legs”, I think that nicknane became official when Mr. Pridmore started calling you that instead of Sharon. He loved nicknames and had one for all of us. But since you already had a nickname he just made it offical. I think we even put it in the yearbook under your picture as your nickname. You will never get rid of it I guess. Great times and great memories. I kinda like “chicken legs” too. Cute. Love you and miss seeing you. Come home soon. Love, Peggy “Wolfie” Nodine

  2. I wonder how many other people were called “chicken legs”? I was, and didn’t like it. It wasn’t until I was grown up and saw a picture of me as an elementary student that I could see why the other kids called me that. My legs were mighty skinny.

  3. Holly Budzinski says

    I Love reading your column…..you always can put a smile on my face!! In my Family I was one of six…..two older brothers and three younger brothers!! As a teenager whenever I met a new guy…….. I would tell them my name was “Sharon”!! I don’t know why I picked Sharon!! I just knew I hated my name, as it wasn’t very common!! I received the name “Holly” by being born 3days after Christmas!! As an adult, I’ve grown to Love my name!! Growing up, one of my older brothers gave me the name of “Scrub”!! He said it was because I was the “Scrub” of our Family!! Like a litter of puppies……. I was the different one!! 5 Boys and Me…… Scrub!! I never liked that name…..at all!! But I would give anything to hear it again from my dear brother who passed away 11 years ago!!! Another thing I can relate to, is that I LOVE Tomato sandwiches!! Tomatoes on white bread slathered with Miracle Whip!!!
    Keep writing your stories and making me Smile with your Memories!!! Thank You!!

  4. Susankovarick says

    My brother Jack 4 years older was Beetle in high school 1950. Why? Don’t know. But I became Little Beetle and just loved the recognition from his basketball buddies.

  5. Well, you already know my nickname; it’s kind of funny, because like you, I carry a part of my mother with me always; my middle name is my mother’s first name…Virginia. My father told me once long ago that he wanted to name me for the character in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”, so I guess we’re both “Rose of Sharon’s”. We used to call my oldest grandson Nash Tater (as in mashed potatoes) or Tater Tot. But at almost thirteen, he prefers just plain Nash. 🙂

  6. Georgann Butterfield says

    With a name like Georgann, you can imagine my nickname easily shortened to George, at least among my friends. My dad was named George, and they really thought I was going to be a boy. Surprise!! Over the years, George has become Georgie and Geo.

    My family and close family friends called me Toot. Never sure why!! All of those old timers are pretty much few and far between.

    Love your stories so much. They always bring back some memories.

    Thanks Bird Legs. Yo!

  7. Eileen Kelly says

    My dad called me Twig or Bird Legs bc of my skinny legs (which I inherited from him). In college, I took a swimming course for the PE requirement. The teacher used to yell to me, Hey Twiggy, quit talking and swim!” Of course a lot of people can’t say Eileen so I have been Ellen, Elaine, Irene and various others. The guys I hung around with called me Elizabeth or Betty.

  8. I had to laugh when I read today’s column! My mother and her sisters all had chicken legs! We would laugh because they all looked so similar. They were all busty with these skinny legs. Nope. I inherited my father’s legs…chunky! My father called me Jaybird, but no one else did. Fortunately, it did not stick. All the women in our family had nicknames until the day they died. So much love in those nicknames!

  9. Donna Glembin says

    My brother started calling me Zibble back when we were in middle school. Actually it was Der Zibble (Der being a derivative of Dear). Somewhere along the line it got shortened to Zib. Thirty some years later he still calls me that, I’m not sure if he even remembers what my first name is.

  10. Kate Sciacca says

    Dad called me Boomer, I have no idea why ? Our third oldest, Joe, took it upon himself to nick name the five below him. Ann became “Antiques” and then just “tiques”. Vince became Beanie and then plain “beans.” Rob became Probelone (like provolone cheese with a ‘B’)and then just “Probe” ….Tony became “taredens.”
    He’s continued this tradition with his wife (who was Elaine all her life til she met Joe, then she became “Laney J”) and his three sweet kids.
    It’s an endearing trait, who knows WHY some folks find “special names” -maybe it’s just their way of saying “you are special to me!” ?
    Happy New Year Bird Legs!

  11. Weeks go by that I don’t even get to hear my name. My husband won’t say it. He calls me ‘hey’.

  12. Davey Myers says

    Hey Chicken/Bird Legs, what happened to Rose of Sharon? I liked that one and like you to Yo!

  13. Beth Heeren says

    My brothers called me bird legs too! Also stretch.

  14. Betty Bewley says

    My mom was going to name me Sharon Gay but dad beat her to it and named me Betty Gay. Just one nickname my first 2 years in college was Gabby. Imagine my surprise when walking across another college campus over 600 miles away to hear someone calling “Gabby.” Love is found in names of all kinds. Love Grandmommy.

  15. Queenie and big red were my nicknames growing up. Both from my dad who has been gone 33 years now. Queenie

  16. I never thought my name was hard to pronounce. But for reasons I won’t go in to, this kid in our 5th grade could not say “Sheila”. With a southern drawl he decided I would be called “Chilly”. My brother latched right on to that & began calling me Chilly-Chili Beans-& then just plain ole Beans! Amazingly some 55+ years later family still calls me Chili & Beans & I answer to any of them! ?

  17. Elaine Mccaffery says

    Oh how I love your columns. I was thinking the other day how I used to hate the nickname my dad gave me; Jake. When I was married my husband and a neighbor called me that too. Now that I’m older how I’d long to be called that again. Funny how what you write brings back some fond memories for me. As always, thank you.

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