Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for Nicknames

by Kim Van Sickler

[Kim's posts will all relate to her MG historical fiction novel with a paranormal twist: MuleskinnerHere's the pitch: An extraordinary canal dog gives twelve-year-old mule driver, Clay, the conviction to fight against a highly suspect Indenture agreement his pa supposedly signed...right before Pa was found swinging from a tree above Lonesome Lock.]

Canalers and places on the Ohio Canal frequently developed nicknames. For instance Captain Pearl Nye, a canaler who later wrote and performed stories and songs about life on The Silver Ribbon (nickname for the Ohio Canal), was known as Skinny. The locks the canal boats passed through developed their own colorful nicknames as well. Some of my favorites that I worked into Muleskinner are: Lonesome Lock, Black Dog Crossing, Johnny Cake Lock, and Whiskey Lock.
A dapper man standing near a waterfront.
Captain Pearl Nye, nicknamed Skinny
Lonesome Lock circa 1892
Many of my Muleskinner characters have nicknames as well. Clay, my muleskinner (slang for a mule driver) is Bird, a name he was given that he hopes refers to how he sings rather than, as he suspects, his scrawny build. Gloomy and dark Cap'n Loomis Sheridan was nicknamed Mossy by his younger brother, Owen. The name derives from a shortening of the slang term moss-backed, which meant drunk. Owen never calls Cap'n Mossy to his face, however. And Cap'n Sheridan refers to his bushy-haired younger brother Owen, the bowman, as Whiskers, when he's irritated with him. 

I embraced the nickname culture when writing Muleskinner. I couldn't resist!


  1. They had such fun nicknames back then. Awesome you used them in your story.

  2. Adds depth to your characters--thanks for the backstory for the nicknames. My protagonist, Lillie, is called Lillie-bean by her brother. SHe is very light skinned and it just came to me one day. I never explain it (maybe I should (?) but it's a play on the word "vanilla bean."

  3. Nicknames can reveal so much about a character.

  4. I love nicknames! The more the better, and the quirkier, the better.

    True Heroes from A to Z

  5. Interesting, Kim. It's details like this that give historical fiction that necessary edge of verisimilitude, where you could actually believe it really happened. All the best with the novel. :)

    A tip: I don't know if you're aware of this, but "fiction novel" is a redundancy that makes agents cringe. Calling it a historical novel, or a work of historical fiction, is sufficient.

    1. Good tip. However, I'm identifying the story as belonging to the genre "historical fiction". I am not saying that it is a fiction novel. :-)

  6. I love nicknames. It can get confusing if characters have too many names, but sometimes I can't help myself. I'm reading DANGEROUS by Shannon Hale right now. Most of the characters have nicknames.

  7. I love the use of nicknames. I did the same with my novel (LIKE A RIVER). I learned from my husband's & sons' military service that members of our armed forces frequently call each other by nicknames, so I employed that device in the book.

  8. Nicknames add a touch of nostalgia... especially as you get older, and reminisce about past events/people