Stop: Hammertime (What’s Your Kid’s Camp Nickname?)

Boys and girls get to reinvent themselves at summer camp

“How was camp?” I asked my 11-year-old stepson last summer as he climbed into the car from his weeklong June golf camp.

“Good,” he said, looking mighty cute in his required preppy outfit and his signature shoulder-length long hair. As we drove home, he told me he liked the teenage counselors, and he had cool kids in his group. “There’s this guy Johnny Blue-Lips,” said my stepson. “He’s one of the kids.”

“Johnny Blue-Lips?” I asked, surprised at the Vegas-Mafia-esque nickname for a golf-playing, suburban 10-year-old.

“Yeah, he came in one day after eating blue water ice,” explained my stepson, “so the counselors named him that. And then there’s Nutcase,” he continued blithely. “He was in my group last year, too.”

“What! Doesn’t this kid, uh, mind being Nutcase?” I said, alarmed.

“No, he likes it,” said Dyl matter-of-factly. “The counselors call him that too. No one thinks he’s nuts, it’s just that he’s got the word ‘case’ in his last name. Nutcase thinks it’s funny.”

One thing about my stepson is that he’s actually incredibly kind. I’ve never heard him say a mean word about another kid, so if he said these kids didn’t mind their goofy nicknames, I knew it had to be true. “I’ve got a nickname too,” he said. “It’s Hammertime.” Turns out his tennis racket’s called a Hammer, and he likes to do the MC Hammer “Can’t Touch This” dance with his counselor between turns on the tennis court. As he described the joking around he and his friends and counselors do, I realized that as much as life has changed, camp fun and its attendant nicknames are still around nearly 30 years after my own days at Girl Scout camp in Collegeville. Now that was a fun camp—hot, full of mosquitoes, with balky horses and a dining hall that served government-surplus cheese at every meal—but somehow incredibly fun. If memory serves, I was called Green Giant at that camp, being considered tall at the age of 12. (I stopped growing that year, topping out at 5’5”.)

The thing about camp is that you’re only Hammertime or Johnny Blue-Lips for a few weeks of the year, then it’s back to school and just being regular old you. Camp is one of those rare opportunities as a kid to be someone completely different than you are all year long at school. And if silly nicknames go with that, that’s part of the fun, and in most cases, it signifies belonging (unless the names get mean, which thankfully hasn’t happened at the camps our guys go to). Anyway, there’s a new kid at camp this year, the boys told me, called Eggroll. “I don’t know why he’s called Eggroll,” said my stepson. “But it’s a cool nickname.”