Friday, December 19, 2014

Some thoughts on nicknames

I've been thinking lately about how quick we are to give professional athletes nicknames, though we rarely give nicknames to other celebrities. Oh, there's Madge (thanks, Brits!) and Mimi and J-Lo (a name Lopez dislikes), but those celebrities are of the larger-than-life variety, and are therefore the exceptions. But with athletes, we're quick to provide funny and/or affectionate names.

Some WTA nicknames--A-Rad, AnaIvo, JJ--seem inevitable because they are shortened forms of the players' names. Many of us referred to Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez as simply MJMS. Svetlana Kuznetsova is still sometimes caused Kuzy, though she has repeatedly asked people to stop calling her that (her friend Martina Navritalova appears to have missed all of those memos). Some call Francesca Schiavone Francie, some call her Schia. And some nicknames, of course, are simply names players grew up with, like Masha and Kiki. Then there's Li Na, whose countrywomen and -men have long called her Big Sister Na.

Probably the most famous WTA nicknames are the ones invented by Bud Collins, and Collins' masterpiece is Fraulein Forehand, his name for Steffi Graf. Other famous Collins creations include Rosebud (Rosie Casals) Chris America (Chris Evert), The Barcelona Bumblebee (Arantxa Sanchez Vicario), and The Siberian Siren (Maria Sharapova).

Collins calls Caroline Wozniacki The Golden Retriever, but she has more often been called The Great Dane. And though Wozniacki is usually called Sunshine, it's interesting to note that she has several nicknames, and two of them involve canine species.

There have been many other nicknames for WTA players. Amanda Coetzer was known as The Little Assassin, Chris Evert was called The Ice Maiden, Rennae Stubbs was always Stubbsy, and Martina Hingis remains The Swiss Miss. On this blog, Dinara Safina was usually referred to as Thrill Ride.

Todd Spiker is so good at creating nicknames that he has nicknamed national groups of players as well as individual players. The Bannerettes represent the USA, the Hordettes are the Russians, the Swarmettes are Romanian, and the Pastries, of course, are French.

Spiker's name for Justine Henin was La Petit Taureau, while her countrywoman, Kim Clijsters, was known as Belgian Barbie (there's a context to that). Who can forget Punch Drunk/Punch Sober (Elena Dementieva) and La Trufflette (Marion Bartoli)? And then there's my personal favorite, Queen Chaos (yes, gentle reader, that would be JJ).

Sabine Lisicki is often called Boom Boom, a nod to both her big serve and the big serve of her countryman, Boris Becker. Andrea Petkovic is known as either Petko or Petkorazzi, her self-created alter ego. In 2013, Leif Shiras referred to Simona Halep as Halepeno, but the name doesn't seem to have stuck. I, for one, would like to hear Shiras and his colleagues make another run at that.

And speaking of commentators, perhaps no one is worse at creating WTA (and ATP) nicknames than Brad Gilbert, whose WTA "masterpiece" was Wicker Chair (Yanina Wickmayer).

I think we give players nicknames as a way of establishing a kind of fan intimacy. We love tennis not only for the game but also for the varied personalities that make up the tour. They give us theatre, and we give them pet names.


Todd.Spiker said...

Ah, don't forget your own "Bulgarian Woman of Mystery." ;)

Though it surely didn't start that way, as each year passes, "Belgian Barbie" has almost become a term of endearment. ALMOST. :D

Maybe Kim is secretly keeping a Serbian Good Luck Charm in her pocket? Krunic would nearly fit. :)

Diane said...

Okay, Bulgarian Woman of Mystery (the puzzling Pironkova, of course) and Serbian Good Luck Charm (WTA Backspin's name for Aleksandra Krunic, inspired by her Fed Cup doubles exploits). I probably left out some others worth noting, so anyone, feel free to add!

Diane said...

Well, here it is: I forgot The Ninja! Coined by Courtney N. for Aga, of course, and now in wide use. Really, my brain is broken.

Anonymous said...

Monica Niculusku - Super Glue!