Mike Doyle writes from Jonesboro:
“In ‘Words' June 28, you wrote that you hope Arkansas State U. shows imagination in selecting a new ‘nickname.' I teach at ASU (College of Communications) and this issue is on the front page of the local newspaper quite often, and also on radio and TV. I'd like to bypass the selection issue and concentrate on something perhaps more relevant to your column — the misuse of a word.
“Numerous local media have referred to the Indians being replaced with a new ‘nickname.' But ‘nickname' can't be appropriate, can it? The Oxford American Dictionary defines it as ‘a name given humorously to a person instead of, or as well as, his real name.' So, John Wayne's nickname was ‘Duke.' (Although John Wayne wasn't the actor's real name, anyway.) And Louis Armstrong's nickname was ‘Satchmo.' These are nicknames because they substitute for real names. But if U of A's ‘nickname' is the Razorbacks, and UCA's ‘nickname' is the Bears, and ASU's ‘nickname' (for now) is the Indians, then what are the real names for which these are being substituted? They don't exist. Those are simply the mascot names.”
Of course. What happened here — I may as well come clean — is that I foolishly left my computer unguarded and someone crept in and changed “mascot” to “nickname.” I take full responsibility.
Random House says that a nickname is “a name added to or substituted for the proper name of a person, place, etc., as in affection, ridicule, or familiarity.” Philly is a nickname. Razorbacks and Indians are not. (But Hogs is a nickname for the Razorbacks.)
Like ASU, Arkansas Tech University is considering changing its mascot. I'd be sorry to see Wonder Boys go. It's one of several distinctive names found in small-college Arkansas football, along with Boll Weevils and Muleriders. I happened to be watching a Canadian Football League game on TV the other day, and heard a defensive lineman identified as “an old Mulerider from South Arkansas.” The name of his college team probably wouldn't have been mentioned if it were Lions or Bulldogs.