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What’s in a Name?

Isn’t it odd when you meet a person with the same first name as yours? The series of consonants and vowels you try to build an identity around can also be attached to another person. And you know he or she has the same building project going on, but with completely different elements even though the series of letters nominally matches yours.

“Hello, Nancy!”

“Hi, Nancy!”

So goes my conversation with the Nancy at the grocery store check-out ever since we discovered that her name badge matches the first name on my credit card.

I am guessing this puzzle called identity is why we enjoy nicknames so much. ¬†Especially the ones we choose for ourselves, though it seems pretty funny to have to “personalize” our own names!

I’ve been thinking, though, that even those nicknames others have given us have a lovely I-stand-out-after-all quality to them. The oddest ones always have a great story to go with them. And while we might meet people with the exact same name, we never meet someone with the exact same story. Maybe it’s the story that we settle into like a cozy cushion and the nickname is just the short form of the narrative that has us the little heroes in the centre?

Nancy Hank was/is one of my mother’s nicknames for me. Now I live far from my family on the East Coast, and I feel strong nostalgia for this old nickname. “Hank” is a wonderful counterbalance to the sometimes-annoying sing-song cadence of “Nancy.”

Where did it come from? That’s the story part.

Back in the 1920s, my grandmother was widowed with two children to look after. My dad was quite young, maybe seven years old. So she ended up remarrying, landing a rather full-of-himself widower who needed a wife-cum-housekeeper with a bonus step-son-cum-unpaid-labourer. Hedley was the name of this rescuer. (Survival was all the romance my grandmother needed at the time.)

Hedley with smoking friend, John MacDonald

Hedley was a bit on the stuck-up side of things. And frequently he didn’t bother to learn or remember other people’s names. And while he may have used the usual “Joe Blow” to refer to some man or other, he used for the woman’s generic “Nancy” or “Nancy Hank.” My mom swears that I was not named in response to old Hedley’s standoffishness, but that is the origin of one of my nicknames as a child.

It was much later in life that I discovered that in Hedley’s day there was a famous racehorse whose name was Nancy Hanks. Perhaps he thought more highly of the women around him than he let on? Or maybe like me he liked how the “Hank” gave some ballast to the up-down of “Nancy”?

Later still, I learned that the racehorse was named after Abraham Lincoln’s mother.

Nancy Hanks 1886-1915

Only a few people use this nickname for me, but when they do I feel such a wave of affection.

In looking for a moniker for this blog, I decided to go with Nancyhank. After writing this post, I have realized that it is storytelling which is at the heart of my blogging. Storytelling and storysharing are so crucial to our humanity and sense of community. I raise a glass to the people I will meet–whether they share my first name or not–and the stories we will exchange.


Hello world!

This is play! Words are delectable! Stories are the air in the balloons!


By Nancy Hank