Rugby nicknames

By Thomas J. Hamill

Recent commentary in the Scottish press bemoaned the fact that its entrants into whatever the Europeans are calling their international club league (that's not really a super league) are poorly equipped to compete in modern professional rugby. Not in terms of training, kit or playing style: in fact one of these clubs just beat Teichman's Newport, but in terms of names. Glasgow Caledonians and Edinburgh Reivers (whatever a reiver is) are examples. Of course, this fine Scot looked to the U.S.A. for examples of how to name athletic franchises, choosing "the Ultimate Warrior," "Macho Man Randy Savage" and "the Undertaker."

I'll digress for just a moment to point out that we do a fair job of naming teams here as well: Arizona Diamondbacks; Tennessee Titans; Charlotte Hornets; Albany River Rats; they all conjure up fighting images. I don't know where the Florida Marlins fit in, other than that they put up quite a fight and then get cooked. My guess is that Caledonians and Reivers go back to a kinder, gentler time when Americans gave teams fighting names like Packers, Phillies, Cardinals, Blues, Dodgers, Red Sox and Knickerbockers.

But I've never known rugby players to be short on the nicknaming department. In college we only played in Spring, so a bunch of us played for the town team, the Carlisle Gaelics. Even with our youthful addition, the average age of the club was 32, with a bunch of starters using the "4" numeral to start their age. We went to a tournament where we were listed as "Old Gaelic." The name sticks to this day. One name that didn't stick, thought up the morning after a team spaghetti dinner, was "Old Garlic." This discussion, of course, has nothing to do with the nicknames Morris has for Union.

It's probably a function of bringing a group of guys together. In my college fraternity, someone put up a copy of the composite and we gave everybody animal nicknames: "Orca" is a regional manager; "Sloth" is a division manager; "Beagle" is a partner in a D.C. law firm; "Ferret" is the Senate Minority Leader in Arizona. I was "Warthog" - the ugliest animal on earth. But we had nicknames on the pitch as well. After I blew out my ankle in my first match, I was always "Wheels." Scott Nasser, our scrumhalf, was "Abdul"; McMonigale was "Monk" and "Newcs" played on the seven year plan. "Gromo" is a story unto himself. While the college nicknames were a part of the mix, it was when I joined club rugby full time that nicknames became an institution.

Rugby nicknames take their own forms. Descriptive: "Dave the New Guy," "Pete the English Guy," "Gwim" (GWM).

Fanciful: "Rock Star," "Lobster."

Name driven: "Jake" (last name is Jaick), "Jimbo," "Dan-O," the Spicka brothers, "Spick" and "Speck," and "Foreskin" (last name is Foreman).

Action driven: "Shaky Pete," "Batman," "Dave the Unstable Guy." And then there's "Tom the Thief."

Rugby nicknames, however, evolve, sometimes even to other people. A college punk with average college game showed up one day and declared that he was "Flash." We promptly dubbed him "Flush." He has worked as hard as any player I have ever seen and now "Flash" fits. Moral: You can't nickname yourself. When "Dan-O" brought his brother John out, he became "John-O." John told me he didn't understand, but he was new to rugby. Once a guy showed up in white football pants, white cleats and white sweat suit, looking for all the world like a lost sperm. Name: "Spunk." When we found out he had game, he became "Hot Steamin' Jizz."

Then again, a nickname is something you can carry for life. "Dave the New Guy" joined the club in 1983, but he's still New Guy. "Sh*thead" now has kids, so he's called "Scheisskopf" (German for "Sh*thead"). One time Sh*thead was playing wing and running down the side line at the Long Island tournament. I yelled out "Come on, Sh*thead!" A player from another team said "ease up, he's not playing that bad."

Nicknames can change on the slightest whim. One Sunday morning, a drunk "Tex" and "Yorio" showed up at MyMy's door, after they had opened Hoovers at 7:00 a.m. They tried, with Jane watching, to get MyMy to join them (they were probably out of money). To a drunk Tex, MyMy is "MooMoo." You make the call.

Me, I was dubbed "Tom Terrific" at my third Morris practice by then president John Roy. Seaver was still pitching then. When Jimbo and I got wounded by older women at the Rusty Nail, I was "Tom Tetnus." When one of Simo's then girlfriend's roommates thought (wrongly, I assure you) that I stood her up in Belmar, I was temporarily "Tom Terrible." But generally, for convenience sake, I'm just Tom T. Quad rugby nickname? "Tommy Boy." That's gonna leave a mark!