A recent visit to our nation's heartland reminded me of the old-timey custom of nicknames. At least, I assume it's old-timey because no one seems to have them any longer.
My mother-in-law had five siblings. She herself was known in the family as "Mag." Not so different from her real name, Margaret, so that hardly counts. But my father-in-law was known to many as "Cy" (or maybe "Si," no one is sure) which bore no relation to either of his real names. Also nearby in my wife's family are her uncles: "Bud," "Doc," and "Pudgy" (who isn't). In my own family, I had a grandfather known as "Deke" (I'm told it was short for "Deacon"), an uncle Bud; another uncle whom everyone called "Johnny" although John was not one of his given names; an aunt nicknamed "Tissy." And we're all familiar with Ronald "Dutch" Reagan and George "Dubya" Bush.
Most of those names belong to people born in the 1920s or 1930s. They tried to continue the tradition, I guess, but it didn't seem to stick quite as well with those born in the 40s and 50s. My brother-in-law will answer to "Pigeon," but he prefers his real name; my grandmother called me "Governor" when I was little but nobody but her picked that up (maybe because we seldom saw her in our army-family peregrinations around the country); I have a cousin called "Skeeter" but I haven't seen him in probably 40 years and I'd be willing to bet he doesn't answer to that name any longer.
So, it's observation based on skimpy evidence, but nowadays I don't hear much evidence that anyone really has good solid nicknames anymore. Am I wrong?
Useless fact for today: My dictionary informs me that "nickname" stems from an old English form "eke" meaning "also" - i.e. "an eke name" yielded the word "nickname" that we use today. (Or that our grandparents did, anyway!)
That in turn makes me wonder whether other cultures use nicknames; in my experience, they do but perhaps not so widely as we used to. It also makes me wonder if the practice might have something to do with fooling the devil, as in some cultures children aren't given a "real" name until they're a year old.