When we are born parents name us. In the tradition of Native Americans a person receives several names over a period of time. So “Cry of the Owl” is given at birth, by the family, and later on a “sacred” name between the child and the shaman, and then again in adolescence another, until finally the person is an adult and given one that sticks. In Europe kings often changed names once coronation day arrived. If you joined the French Foreign Legion you could tell them you were whoever the hell you wanted to be and that’s what they called you. Actors change their names all the time. Kelly Kamalelehua Smith is known as Kelly Preston, and Roy Harold Scherer Jr. was Rock Hudson.
So you get stuck with a name, unless you are royalty, an actor, or a member of the Lakota people. It’s on your birth certificate, drivers license, and social security card.
On the AT people change their names. John Smith doesn’t become Randall Cannon, and Mary Jones doesn’t become Jasmine DeLisle. Instead John Smith is named by other hikers. Usually it will have something to do with an incident or character trait.
Let’s say John Smith is twenty days in and the group he is hiking with makes it to town. The first thing John does is hit an all you can eat Chinese buffet, and cleans it out. John Smith is dubbed “AYCE”, All You Can Eat.
“Hey have you seen John this week?”
“John Smith. The guy we were hiking with last month. He was supposed to hang back a little so we could all go into Damascus together.”
“John, the guy that got us kicked out of Taste of Shanghai.”
“Oh, you mean All You Can Eat!”
It’s a nickname system, because to hear people tell it, it’s just to hard to keep a person’s real name straight. Here’s the problem: Some people are showing up with a name already bestowed upon them, by themselves.
I’m not a purist about this thing. I’m not putting a hand on each and every white blaze to prove to myself I thru-hiked the AT, but I’m also not going to give myself a nickname. That would be sacrilege. Maybe I am a purist.
If I get named “Rice Burner” I want to earn it by actually burning rice in my cook kit. If I become “No Sole” I want to earn it because my shoes fell apart. Showing up at Springer calling yourself “Rock Salt”, for whatever reason, doesn’t mean anything. Why? Because when you come out of a privy with toilet paper stuck to your shoe you will always be “White Ribbon” until the day you summit Katahdin. You earned it, you live it.