What’s in a Name

Who cares? I say just give us one name that you like and stick to it. Let the other ones go.

I usually tell my SDPs that a nickname based on some kind of inside joke among a small group of people, and is really only funny to them, will rarely last in the long-run. Once that small group of people has moved on, the basis for the nickname tends to disappear with them, so I suggest they think big picture and remember first and foremost that camp nicknames are really for the benefit and fun of the campers, not other staff or SDPs.

That isn’t to say that good camp nicknames can’t come from good stories. Some of the best ones are ones that have a great story to go along with them, and a story that can be appropriately told to a group of campers… capeche?

At the opposite end of the spectrum, however, I have also seen camp settings where nicknames were required of all staff and junior staff, and they were just arbitrarily made up on the spot without any real rhyme or reason to them: Leaf, Twig, Sunshine, Rainbow, Gluestick, Lugnutz or Whatever. Some stuck and some did not.

I think a lot of it has to do with the personality of the staffer and the amount of camp color he or she is willing to show.

In any camp setting, the whole key to the successful use of camp nicknames is to always remember that they are used just for fun. They are not secret identities that should be guarded like national security information. Never refuse to give a camper or parent your real name if asked. Don’t lie and tell them that your first name is really Goober either.

Finally, don’t forget to include the campers when it comes to coming up with camp nicknames. Whether it’s done as an individual cabin/tent group or camp-wide, fewer things will incorporate campers into the very fabric of a camp more tightly than to give them a way to join the “insider” level by giving them camp nicknames that become part of their camp identity.

It happened for me just that way when a lull in a table conversation provided me with an identity that has remained intact for over 25 years.

Conservatively, in those 25 years I have probably met and known over 2,000 people by name through three different YMCA camps. I’ll bet far more of them remember me by the name Slim than would have remembered me as John had I used my own first name instead.

John “Slim” Gillin is head counselor and SDP co-director at YMCA Camp Merrill M. Benson in Mt. Carroll, Ill. In the off-season, Slim teaches middle school in the remote Yup’ik Eskimo village of Hooper Bay, Alaska.

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