Bizarre nicknames originate in bizarre ways

November 20, 2020 — by Carolyn Wang

Two weeks ago, in a failed attempt to focus on my math homework, my eyes wandered around my room until I came across two pencils.

At first glance, they seemed like perfectly useless, wooden pencils that just happened to be stuck in the loneliest depths of my old desk drawer. But as I looked closer, I could begin to make out thick, black letters that were engraved into the pencils’ exterior:

“Carolyn Cauliflower Wang.”

As much as I would love my middle name to be Cauliflower, it is sadly not. In fact, I don’t even have a legal middle name. But as a sixth grader at Ardenwood Elementary in Fremont, I got it while attending the school’s annual sixth-grade science camp.

I still remember that scene vividly. A group of around 15 12-year-olds sat on wooden logs in a grove of sequoia trees, as deep in thought as sixth graders could be. 

We were tasked by our supervisor, using the moniker “Maple,” to come up with a nature-related nickname that we would be called for the rest of the time we were at camp.

It was the obligation of my peers to come up with the coolest names possible. A steady stream of “Tsunami,” “Bluejay,” “Iris,” “Dhalia,” “Magnolia,” and “Amaryllis” echoed through the forest, and each student would nod approvingly at yet another perfect name. Until it was my turn.

My first thoughts were names like Crysthanne or Ellwood, but I knew that I needed to come up with something better. It had to be something special. Something sensational. Something that would annoy the heck out of everyone else once I broke the chain of perfect nicknames. And what could be more special than the blandest tasting vegetable in the world?

“Cauliflower,” I blurted. 

*Cue the crickets chirping.*

“Sorry, could you repeat that?” the supervisor asked.

“Cauliflower,” I said again, smiling innocently.

It might have just been my imagination, but everyone going after me seemed to be a little more confident in their chosen nicknames.

Once the camp ended, the supervisors gave us presents so we could remember our special time there. So that was how I ended up bringing four wooden pencils home, two of which had the name “Cauliflower” printed between my first and last names.

You might think that’s as funky as a nickname can get, but my history of hilarious nicknames started much earlier.

In kindergarten, my friends and I wanted to be a “Food Friend Union,” and our names would be based on food. Today, I still call them Pannie (pancakes), Peas, Sausage, Egger (egg) and tofu. I was Walnut, due to the eerie resemblance of walnut to Wang.

As first grade continued on to second and third grade, my name evolved even more, from Walnut to Wang-nut to Wang-a-ba-dang to Wang-a-nacho to Wang-a-nacho-gangnam-poo-style (please don’t ask) to Nacho.

In  fourth grade, as I was walking out of school with one of my BFF’s, we heard a mother call her daughter Nasho. Naturally, my nickname evolved again from Nacho to Nasho. Eventually, it just shortened to Nash.

Then, after a short phase of “Cauliflower” for the duration of science camp, I moved to Saratoga in seventh grade. 

To socialize at a new school, I resorted to making jokes that I used to fall for back home. Naturally, that joke evolved into another nickname too.

“Look, there’s a seagull!” I’d say to everyone I interacted with (fully knowing there was no seagull to be found). After a successful year of tricking people to look behind them for seagulls inside the locker room and repeating the now-old joke on April Fools to my friends and my ninth grade teachers, people began calling me Seagull, one that still lasts today.

As a result, if you hear someone call me Nash or Seagull at school, via Zoom, or on Discord, don’t be surprised. In fact, I’ve even begun keeping a list of those nicknames, just so I don’t forget them when I get new ones in college.