Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What's in a Name?

What's in a name?
In ancient days, many cultures encouraged parents to name their children based on traits they'd observed.
Some would assign a name based on their hopes for the individual
(to become a great warrior, hunter, or person of wisdom).
Still other societies include naming protocols that identify where someone comes from or who their parents or ancestors were.

Then there's the nickname.
A name given to someone later on.
Nicknames are a universal phenomenon.
We give them to our sports heroes and everyday workmates,
our friends...and our enemies.

It seems like everyone's got a few nicknames - some they like,
some they'd like to get rid of.

Among gondoliers, nicknames are practically a requirement.
In every American servizio I know or have known, if there's more than one guy working there, there are nicknames.

In Venice, like in the US, rowers couldn't avoid getting a nickname if they wanted to.
In her book "Free Gondola Ride", Kathleen Ann Gonzalez mentions many clever, descriptive, or funny names assigned to the various gondoliers she meets in Venice.
Names like "Campagna" (because he lives on the mainland - which to a Venetian is like living in "the country"),
or "Diavolo" (because his eyebrows tip up at the ends - giving him a devilish look),
"Pes/Pisciolino" (known as the "little fish" or "goldfish"),
"Condom" - hmm, I think I'll just leave that one alone.

Some gondoliers in the US have real names that are easily modified to sound more Italian:
Steve becomes "Stefano",
Larry is "Lorenzo",
Joe can be "Giuseppe".
John - "Gianni", Bob - "Roberto", George - "Giorgio", Mark - "Marco", Jack - "Giacomo", Paul - "Paolo".
You get the idea.

Some gondoliers don't have it so easy, if a guy has a name like Darrell or Scott or Brian, he might want to help himself to one of the more fun names, like "Massimo", "Bepi" (short for Giuseppe), or "Giovanni". It seems like there's a "Giovanni" in every gondola operation out there.

Some operations have hierarchies, complete with fraternity-like hazing.
More established ones have senior gondoliers who have been known from time to time to assign nicknames to newer gondoliers.
I thought about including some of the more humorous ones I've heard in other places, but it occurred to me that some of those guys might be working to shake those names, even as I write this.

Do something amazing or stupid, have a noticeable feature, or make an ass out of yourself in a memorable way, and you're likely to end up with a new name to either embrace or try and get rid of.

Without identifying who they are, here are some of the nicknames I've heard in my own operations.
We've had our fair share of luigis, Paolos, and even a Guido or two. 
We had a Gepetto, a Don Giovanni, and even a "Tommy the Garlic Boy".
A few have earned the prefix "Crash" before their names, one guy got branded with "Crash Test" before his name.  believe me, he earned it.

Anybody want to share their favorite gondolier nicknames?

My favorite one lately?
The "Oar Snapper!"

All of the images in this post were taken during the 2013 US Gondola Nationals.

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