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Detailing Bridgeville nicknames from the ‘old days’

July 18, 2018

A recent message from Don Colton reminiscing about the “old days” resurrected the subject of nicknames and the perception we all have that this practice was especially prevalent in Bridgeville 70 years ago. To quote Don, “Of all the different places I have lived, Bridgeville stands out for seemingly having a huge penchant for nicknames. Why do you think this is?”

The first question of course is whether or not this was unique to Bridgeville or to that specific time period. Like many other octogenarians I scan the obituary notices each morning, hoping to get through them without finding the name of anyone I know (or my own!). It is not unusual to see nicknames mentioned there, perhaps four or five a day. Today yielded “Giggles” and “Chief.” I can’t detect any correlation between them and hometown, age or ethnic background.

Based on the large number of folks with the same perception as Don, I am inclined to agree that this practice was indeed unusually popular in Bridgeville in those days.

The Facebook page entitled “You know you’re from Bridgeville when …” contains numerous posts associated with local nicknames. My favorite is from its administrator Josh Watson, ”… the cops call you by your nickname instead of your real name!”

Don’s message included 17 examples he remembered and suggested this phenomenon as a subject for one of my columns. I responded by sending him a copy of the list of Bridge­ville nicknames compiled by Don Toney and his clique of Baldwin Street alumni a few years ago. It tabulates nearly 250 nicknames, including a number of duplicates — Moose Fagan, Moose Sam and Moose Vosel, for example.

Don Colton’s list included Buzzy Fryer, Bumpy Petrick, Johann Maier and Boone Rankin as candidates to be added to the Toney list. Rankin is a questionable addition; his full name was Paul Boone Rankin. We will leave that decision up to the official Nickname Tabulation Committee.

The practice does not seem to be limited to the 1940s. John “Speedo” Capozzoli and Aldo “Buff” Donelli were Bridgeville High School football stars in the mid-1920s. I wonder though how prevalent it is today; it would be easy to convince me it peaked seventy years ago.

We are assuming that “Bob” for Robert, “Bill” for William, “Don” for Donald, etc., do not qualify as this type of nickname. Dale DeBlander reported that his mother deplored that practice and carefully selected names for her sons that had no such automatic alternatives. Her good intentions were thwarted when her youngest son, Wayne, was promptly christened “Pete” by his contemporaries.

Some of the nicknames were so embedded that the person’s real name was nearly forgotten; for example, Skip (Louis) Colussy, Tiny (Clyde) Carson, or Cutter (Frank) Cortazzo. My personal favorite on the Toney list is “Coal Shanty” — it’s hard to imagine how Frank Calabro acquired that sobriquet.

At any rate it does appear appropriate for us to formally revisit the topic and submit additions to Don Toney’s list. My contributions, from the Class of 1949, are “Jake” (Don) Schullek and “Crunch” Wilbur Oelschlager.

John Oyler is a Tribune-Review contributing writer. He can be reached at 412-343-1652 or joylerpa@icloud.com. Read more from him at mywutb.blogspot.com.