January 26, 2013

What's In A Nickname?

What's In A Nickname? 

Ralph Elmer "Grunt" "Terjessen" Greenwood
My father's 1942 Senior yearbook 

I have always enjoyed nicknames. I'm sure it comes from my childhood. I don't think my father called me by my real  name until I was in my 40's. Over the years my father called me any number of endearing nicknames; Peanut, Bub, Bud, Slug, Junior, Clyde, Clarence, and Buckshot, but never John. When he talked to others about me I was always Johnny, never John. All my childhood friends and relatives still refer to me as Johnny. There is one nickname that my father Ralph and I shared. It is not the most glamorous nor enviable nickname. My father was known far and wide as Grunt Greenwood. In my teens I was known by my closest circle of friends as Little Grunt. The origin of the name Grunt was born on the football field. Apparently with every three point stance young Ralph had to get in, it included an old man sound that I now make when have to pick up my dirty socks. Whether habit or heft, squatting or bending, a deep rooted grunt was the result. Thus a nickname was born over seventy years ago. What's amazing about this whole story was my discovery that it was included in my father's yearbook. Gladly I do not have the same distinction. 

The second nickname discovered when I unearthed this piece was, "Terjessen". I didn't know how to pronounce it, let alone know what or who it was referencing. Thank goodness for Google and the internet or I would probably never know the answer to my question. My initial search kept sending me to Norwegian ancestry sites. Nothing that showed up made any sense. Since my grandfather was heavily involved with speed skating I thought maybe it was a famous Norwegian skater. I had to look a little deeper. In the middle of my search I had a hit that looked promising. It was a 1942 newspaper article from the area that referenced a, "Stretch Terjessen." He was a local basketball star of the New York State Basketball League. He played for a team named the Glens Falls Lions. The article referenced an upcoming game between the Glens Falls Lions and the Troy Trojans at Troy's La Salle Gym. Bingo, I had a winner. I have no doubt that was the origin of dad's second high school nickname. I'm sure dad saw the Lion's Stretch Terjessen play at the Convention Hall on Broadway in Saratoga and assumed his idol's nick name. 

So in my search for a sign from Clem I stumbled upon another sign, another mystery to follow. It reveled another piece of family history. I can't explain how much fun this mission has been so far. I hadn't finished this piece and I got an email from a life long friend. He told me he had been following my blog. He shared a memory of my father that I could faintly remember. He threw out another Saratoga entrenched name and asked if I remembered it. Not only did I remember the name I instantly saw another vein of gold running down another shaft in the gold mine. 
Yes, I'm glad to say, another sign...


  1. What a fun project! It must be quite moving to acquaint yourself with your father as a young man.

  2. Your project gets more interesting as you mine for your "gold". Wonder if my parents had year books when they were in school. Time to write my their alumni association. ~~ barbara