My Superpower is a regular guest column on the Skiffy and Fanty blog where authors and creators tell us about one weird skill, neat trick, highly specialized cybernetic upgrade, or other superpower they have, and how it helped (or hindered!) their creative process as they built their project. Today we welcome Mur Lafferty to talk about how the power of giving nicknames relates (not quite) to The Ghost Train to New Orleans.
My super power is dormant; I haven’t used it for years. Like most powers, I didn’t realize I had it until the power had gotten out of control.
I have the power to give people nicknames that stick.
I started with myself — totally unintentionally. My name wasn’t Mur when I went to college; it was just a pet name my parents called me. But there was another woman named Mary in our suite of eight, so I decided since very few people knew me, I could start introducing myself as Mur. It worked. Now only my aunts, bankers, and doctors call me Mary. Everyone else calls me Mur.
(If I had power to affect banks, then I certainly would try to do more than give nicknames.)
Later, I just playfully gave people names. My friend Marq always introduced himself as “marq with a q” so I decided to give him another Q, because one wasn’t enough. And I liked the neat, pseudo-palindrome look of bookending, so I named him QMarq. He has been Qmarq for the past 18 or so years now.
My best college buddy, Jason, was “Colin” for years because we had a secret toothbrush club. Aside — long story short — at a pharmacy we had found personalized toothbrushes that did not have the common name Jason, but did have names like “Colin” and “Sheena,” so we took secret identities in our toothbrushes. My husband became “Alex” for a while because of the same thing happening with personalized shot glasses. That got weird when we got a Christmas card from my stepdad’s daughter (we’d met her once, so saying “stepsister” feels odd) who said Merry Christmas to me and my husband Alex. And she had never seen the shot glass.
After realizing that my nicknames stuck like napalm, I tried to be aware of it and not give anyone a name that they would hate me for, but I overstepped my bounds. A tall, thin friend looked like a ginger Peter Weller, so I named him Buckaroo Banzai — Buckaroo for short. He hated it. (Madness, right? Who wouldn’t want to be compared to Buckaroo Banzai Peter Weller? Not Dexter Peter Weller, cause damn, the man didn’t age well, but in his youth…) But it was too late.
He was angry, and I was mortified. Once his roommate started calling him Buckaroo, I realized I had officially used my power for evil. I didn’t know how to atone. You don’t go back from nicknames. I didn’t know what to do, so I stopped using it. Now I only accept others’ nicknames, I never give them out myself. Every once in a while I consider doing it, but I remember my vow and keep nicknames to myself, or characters in games we play. (Nearly every character in Arkham Horror has a nickname, including the guy who is so bland I’ve named him “No Nickname.” And yes, these names stick.)
If I were a fiction character, holding this power back would make me eventually have a buildup of unused power and explode in a pseudo-sexual way and suddenly everyone around me would have a nickname, and I would become a star or something. An unnamed star, like SQ192. As it is, I just respect what other people wish to be called. Reality is much preferred in this case.
Mur Lafferty is an author, podcaster, and editor from Durham, NC. She began her writing career by podcasting her novels; her newest series, The Shambling Guides, is published by Orbit Books, the newest of which is The Ghost Train to New Orleans. In 2013, she received the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She has also received many accolades for her writing-centered podcast, I Should Be Writing, including the Parsec Award for Best Writing Podcast in 2007. You can find out more about her on the Murverse.