Just a Volunteer Here Myself

One can not, or one ought not, nickname oneself. This is not a hard-and-fast social rule, but it is similar to the unspoken rule about not declaring oneself humble. The person who volunteers that he or she is humble often is not at all humble. An exception comes when the humble person is speaking self-deprecatingly.

Every once in a while, I have desired a cool nickname, a moniker that precedes me wherever I roam. “Lefty” is a great nickname—Steve Carlton and Phil Mickelson both carry that name with distinction, but I am right-handed. No one goes by the name “Righty.” “Write-y”? No. No one needs a nickname that is a pun, a rhyme no less, and would always need a follow-up explanation: “‘Cause he calls himself a writer, get it?”

“No. No, I don’t.”

(As with many social rules, there is a “Seinfeld” episode dealing with the self-nicknamers among us. Click on the link for a recap.)

In the twelve-step fellowship rooms in which I voluntarily spend parts of my days, we know each other on a first-name-only basis for the most part and professions do not enter into the discussion. I rediscovered my inner first-grader’s desire for a nickname upon coming into recovery years ago; over time I met Mark the Musician (not me), Biker John, Refrigerator Bob, Tall Paul, Awesome Tom, Mike the German.

Not since I appeared in “Guys and Dolls” in high school had I encountered so many descriptive nicknames. I sent out a silent plea for months: “C’mon, call me … ‘The Professor.’ C’mon. Pleeeeeease.”


For a while, I was “Other Mark” whenever I shared the space with Musician Mark, but then his schedule took him away from our group. To my face I was sometimes addressed as “Other Mark,” and I loved it. “Hey, ‘Other Mark’!” A nickname, finally.

When the first Mark’s schedule changed once more and we shared the same space once again, he became “Other Mark,” oddly enough, which returned me, somehow, to a nickname-less life.

Mark is a perfectly fine name and for obvious reasons I can not imagine life carrying any other name, except for Steven, which is my middle name. Even though I know this is not scientifically correct, I “feel” that I am a Mark as much as I feel brown-eyed or right-handed, two things I was born with and are genetically “mine.” My experience of life is utterly Markish. But “Mark” does not bend into many nicknames, however.

A woman I dated used to call me “Markie,” and she remains the only person who has called me that, or whom I have allowed to call me that, or who still calls me that sometimes, and no one else has tried. (Among my radio comedy show group of friends, I have a nickname that has nothing to do with my name.) When one is named Mark, one is sometimes called “Marcus” and “Marcus Aurelius.” And that is that.

Oh! and there is the Wahlberg Effect, which is known to every person named Mark of any age, but especially those who have walked (and danced) on this planet since the late ’80s. Marky-Mark. On behalf of every person named Mark who enjoys the experience of bearing this name, please stop calling us that. For some of us it is demotivating. (I seem to have become immune to it, so call me whatever. It is as inevitable as sunshine following a summer’s rain that when someone—usually male, I have found—learns that one is named Mark they will call you “Marky-Mark” at some point.)

But as seen with poor George in the “Seinfeld” episode mentioned above, those who work at nicknaming themselves wind up trapped with an insulting name, like “Koko the gorilla.”

If all fear of being nicknamed Koko or “Four-eyes”—when I was a kid, my glasses were so incredibly thick that that unfortunate nickname was often used once and then quickly abandoned by bullies out of simple sadness for me—if all fear of being pinned with a negative appellation could be removed, I suppose I would ask all of you to call me …


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This column appeared twice, in March 2015, and June.

The WordPress Daily Prompt for October 22 asks us to reflect on the word, “Volunteer.”

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