The Fine Art of Name Calling

When I was in college my roommate, Gloria Tata, called me Magpie. I didn’t understand why at the time, having only associated the word with that of a large, black, squawking bird.

At 5’1” and 90 pounds, fair skinned and red-haired, I didn’t see myself as a crow anymore than I saw her as a Po-Tata, a nickname that sprang to mind but was never uttered because I instantly censored it as knee-jerk, uninspired, and possibly used as a tag to taunt during her school yard years.

Instead I simply changed the inflection and called her Ta-Ta, as if saying “so long” or “goodbye” whenever greeting her.

I first met Gloria one afternoon at the Wayne State University Student Union in Detroit after buying the last piece of pie, cherry, my least favorite, just before a cafeteria worker put out plates of blueberry, my pie of choice. The place was so packed it took a while to find a seat, and when two were finally vacated, Gloria plopped down beside me, each of us spying a preferred pastry on the others tray.

“Trade?” we said, simultaneously. It initiated both our friendship and a series of subsequent exchanges. We liked each other’s winter coats better, so we traded. We like each other’s watches better, so we traded. We even traded boots, bangles, and binoculars – mine being more compact to her large lug-arounds.

At the end of the semester I was ordered to find other lodgings as retribution for missing my 10 o’clock curfew at the dormitory one night and awakening the dorm mother by howling like a desolate dog. It was just as well. I felt suffocated living on a hallway of freshwomen who joined ranks to form instant cliques concentrated on rushing various sororities.

Fortunately, a two room plus bath unit opened up on the third floor of the only independent apartment building left standing on campus that I happened by at the exact moment the superintendent placed a For Rent sign in the lobby window. Knowing I couldn’t afford the place alone, I signed on the dotted line, certain of Gloria’s willingness to join me. She did.

Gloria looked remarkably like Marisa Tomei (who wasn’t born until December of that year so, technically, Tomei would come to look remarkably like Gloria). She was a straightforward, high-spirited girl whose only college aspiration was to find a man to marry – which she did within a matter of months. Never mind that he was a much older, slovenly, heavyset biker. To Gloria he complemented her newly acquired black leather jacket, ankle tattoo, Chantilly perfume and Chiclet gum-smacking act.

I don’t know what happened to Gloria. She left without warning to ride off on biker-boy’s back seat, her long black hair tied with a red bandana and all her belongings stuffed into a brown paper bag. But the memory of her and those two terms of endearment linger still – even though I never met another Ta-Ta, and no one ever called me Magpie again.

Instead, people refer to me with a variety of other monikers. My siblings call me Madge, Marge, Margie, Jill, and Willish. (Jill is my middle name. Willish is a mystery.) My grandma called me Little Marguerite. A fellow in high school called me The Little Red Fox. Different people have called me Megan, Smadge, both Marjorie and Mornigstar (though never together), Missy, McQ, Midgie, Ginger, Rusty, and Blush. Two longtime, older female friends in their 80’s still refer to me as The Kid, and another lady from way back calls me Opal. My sweetheart mostly calls me Pumpkin. And, before she died in 2006, there wasn’t a day gone by that my mom didn’t call me Dolly.

But I’m thinking – maybe Gloria was the one who got it right from the get-go.

magpie : noun
1. a long-tailed crow with boldly marked plumage and a raucous voice.
(It fits, albeit my plumage is red. As for my loud voice, it tends to crow about almost everything.)

2. used in similes to refer to a person who chatters idly.
(So I’m told, and may come to prove, here.)

3. Origin, late 16th century: Middle English nickname for the given name of Marguerite + pie.


That would be me – à la modus operandi.

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52 thoughts on “The Fine Art of Name Calling

  1. Seo Pressor

    After reading your blog post I browsed your website a bit and noticed you aren’t ranking nearly as well in Google as you could be. I possess a handful of blogs myself and I think you should take a look. You’ll find it’s a very nice tool that can bring you a lot more visitors. Keep up the quality posts

  2. Sonya Xena Buynak Petro

    Wonderful blog post hunny!! Love your take on things 🙂 Xena is a nickname I magically acquired one night at karaoke from my bff..LOL, and it stuck – I loved when my dad called my Sauny.(he passed away in 2010) a short version of Sonya, my Uncle still calls me that, and after my sister was born, I became Sissy to my dad for years 🙂 I love the way you can look back on things and find the good in them 🙂 ((hugs))

    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      They call nicknames terms of endearment for a reason – surely You were your dad’s crown of glory. It’s wonderful you have that to treasure with his memory. I bet he was a great dad. Thanks for letting me in on that.

  3. Kay Stigleman

    Well, Marge U Rite, what a great first blog!! Looking forward to many more from you and thanks for sharing the Wayne State experience. Being from the Detroit area too I can picture WSU as it was back in the 60’s. Now, best to stay away. Sorry you’re having trouble with our fb gestapo. Hopefully they’ll back off soon!! Peace and love, my friend.

    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      I can’t even imagine what changes must have taken place in the last 50 years Kay, but if it’s like most places, remaining in memory is the only way to go. Thanks for your thumb up. Xo!

  4. Michelle

    Always enjoy your witty writing, Marguerite! Thanks for sharing. Look forward to reading more. Quite a following for your first blog!

  5. Cheyne

    Love this post! Great first entry. Name calling is indeed a fine art, depending on who is doing the honors. Nicely done – and brave! There’s no flippin’ way I would tell anyone my family’s nicknames for me. 😀

  6. Bren Nelson

    Magpie is perfect!! Only one who has great, instant affection for you would easily give you that moniker. I love your storytelling, the style and ease that makes me — the reader — feel included. You made me feel good by reading your story. Please keep ’em coming!!

  7. Amy Dawson Robertson

    Such a nice reminiscence, very finely realized. Seems like a such a different time. You really have a knack for the personal essay, McQ. Of that impressive litany of names, I think my faves are Willish and Smadge!

    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      My brother, Kit still calls me Willish, which has the last name of Millish. It’s very dear to me. As for Smadge, the younger brother of a colleague who’d just returned from Vietnam called me that from first meeting. We hung out for awhile in NYC before he flew the coop. Funny thing about nicknames – you never forget the people who gave them to you. Never ever.

    2. margueritequantaine Post author

      My brother, Kit still calls me Willish, which has the last name of Millish. It’s very dear to me. As for Smadge, the younger brother of a colleague who’d just returned from Vietnam called me that from first meeting. We hung out for awhile in NYC before he flew the coop. Funny thing about nicknames – you never forget the people who gave them to you. 

  8. Mary Anne Frett

    I like your blog. Names are such a funny thing. We rarely if ever have a word to say about what others call us. Sounds like you’ve had a lot of choices to go with. I see you as a Sparky. Something about that mischievous look in your eyes.

    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      That Sparky name is PERFECT Mary Anne, especially since my dog’s name is Sparky and I’m already trained to come when called. And you got my number on those eyes. Thanks for the nametag. I feel honored.

  9. Helen Boudny Fremin

    Dear Magpie, I love this story. Although I only know you from your Facebook persona, I look forward to your comments. I look forward to reading many more in the year to come and hope you continue to contribute to your blog.


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