What’s in a nickname? Depends in NHL if it is Homeric or hyprocristic

Like the players, they tend to be simple rather than eloquent. Along with Zambonis and missing teeth, they form part of the game’s prosaic charm.

Bobby ‘The Golden Jet’ Hull was a decorative nickname but not practical during play for his Winnipeg Jets teammates. Bruce Bennett / Getty Images
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Who would you rather have on your team: Gino and Sid the Kid, Tazer and Sharpie, or Dewey and Quickie?

Those would be Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp of the Chicago Blackhawks, and Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings.

Hockey nicknames are surely the most quaint in sport.

Like the players, they tend to be simple rather than eloquent. Along with Zambonis and missing teeth, they form part of the game’s prosaic charm.

It has been widely observed, in Canada, that hockey nicknames tend to come in two forms.

One, you take the first part of the guy’s first or last name, then add “-er” at the end.

Two, you take the first part of the first or last name, but add “-ie”.

But that is not the whole story.

For an explanation of this system of nomenclature, we turn to a 2006 paper in the journal American Speech by Robert Kennedy of the University of California at Santa Barbara and Tania Zamuner, now of the University of Ottawa.

They note that “discussions of athlete nicknames in the academic domain are not known to us other than our own previous work on the subject,” that being a 2001 paper.

They begin their more recent paper by broadly dividing nicknames into two types: the hypocoristic, such as Sharpie and Quickie, and the Homeric, such as Sid the Kid.

Players tend to use the former, and sports writers and announcers the latter. In the Iliad, Homer refers repeatedly to “swift-footed Achilles” and “flashing-eyed Athena”.

At the rink, other nicknames along these lines have included The Great Gretzky (Wayne Gretzky), The Golden Jet (Bobby Hull), The Chicoutimi Cucumber (Georges Vezina), Le Gros Tou Tou (Serge Bernier), Sideshow Bob (Darcy Tucker) and Chris “Mad Dog” Kelly.

Whereas the Homeric names are decorative, the hypocoristics are functional.

If you wanted Gretzky to pass you the puck, you would do better to alert him with a shout of “Gretz!” than with one of “The Great Gretzky!”.

To this end, the authors note that hypocoristics “are never more than two syllables”.

Alas, the statistical part of their paper does not answer the question of whether “-er” or “-ie” is the most common suffix in hockey nicknames.

Taken together, though, such “vocalic suffix” usages accounted for 52.4 per cent of the 1,734 nicknames in the study.

The “-s” suffix sound, as in Gretz, was used in 9.4 per cent of cases.

Surprisingly, 38.1 per cent of nicknames did not have a suffix at all, but instead were shortened versions of the player’s name, such as Fish for Fisher or Cass for Cassels.

Other examples in recent times include Kip, Mess, Pop, Quack, Tik and Yash.


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