A Rose is a Rose is a Gnat Magnet?

Something I’ve been thinking a lot about as I gear up for my thru-hike is what trail name I’m going to use.  I don’t know where or when this custom started, but most hikers assume a new identity, a sort of alter ego when they embark on a journey of this magnitude.  It’s part of the adventure, a symbol of shedding the past and leaving the real world behind.  It’s a way to be both anonymous and unique, to reinvent yourself and be whoever you want to be for maybe the first time in your life.  You use this name for everything — meeting other people, writing in the trail logs or registers — and it lingers in the hiking community even after you finish your hike.trail log2

So how do you get a trail name?  There are two ways. The most romantic and traditional is the Zen method.  You’re trudging along in the woods when fate has you coming across a Yoda-like sage, a Wise Woman or man who instantly sees past your sweaty exterior to your inner spirit and christens you with a meaningful name that captures the essence of who you are.  Or (and this is far more likely), another hiker spots you doing something distinctly unglamorous like falling in the mud, and voila, you’re known as Mud Face for the rest of your hiking life.

The other method is to choose your own name before someone beats you to it.  But where do you begin?  Here are some common ways:

-You can use a physical attribute such as Black Beard, Big John, Tiny Tim, etc., as long as you’re okay with being identified by how you look.

-Your name can reflect your hobby or career.

-Some people choose names based on where they’re from, much like snow birds wearing their state ball caps or college kids sporting an Alma Mater t-shirt.  The only problem is that in any given year there could be a dozen people called Big Sky on the trail at once.

-Your name might reflect who or what you hope to become.  Speed hiking record holder Jennifer Pharr Davis chose her trail name, Odyssa, with that in mind.register

-Your name might reflect your personality, whether it be whimsical, funny, dangerous, or irreverent. Just make sure it’s something you can live with long term.  After you complete your thru-hike you might give speeches to school groups or appear in the local media.  A name that seemed cute on the trail might not sound too appealing then.

Other tips:

Make sure it’s not too common. The trail is filled with Walkers, Striders, Ramblers, and Seekers.  Use your imagination to come up with something that fits only you.

Don’t choose something too obscure.  The other day my husband told me he was considering 2M18 as his trail name.  This totally baffled me until he explained that he has lived in two states beginning with the letter M for eighteen years each (Montana and Maryland).  Unfortunately, that name is hard to understand, hard to remember, and even harder to say out loud.  Maybe M18 would work – it has sort of a James Bond, MI-5 kind of sound to it.  But it’s also a motorway in the UK.

As for me, I’m still debating my options.  I’m a writer by career, but Hemingway sounds way too pretentious, Scribbler too dismissive.  I don’t really want to focus on my age or height.  My hiking style consists mainly of tripping over rocks and roots, not something I care to emphasize.  And the only other thing that distinguishes me right now is that while I’m hiking I attract an inordinate number of bugs.

So, I’ll keep on thinking, hoping that the perfect trail name pops into my head.  Or maybe I’ll get lucky and find Obi-Wan Kenobi waiting around the next bend.  If I do, I’ll be sure to let you know!







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Comments 8

  • Amy : Sep 7th

    My trail name, Quest, was given to me by a dear hiking friend and has become my nickname at home and work. It also help me name my blog. I am sure there are many with the same trail name but I love it! It just feels right… with a splash of dedication and adventure!

  • Gail Barrett : Sep 7th

    That’s a great name! It’s easy to say and remember, plus it has a great meaning. You’re lucky to have been bestowed with the perfect name! Keep your fingers crossed that I can find a name that nice:)

  • Mark Stanavage : Sep 7th

    I’m looking at your picture and because of the colors I’m thinking ” Leprechaun “. Or “Joan Wilder”, the romance novelist from Romacing the Stone. I had the same issue. Chef covered all the bases for me, but I didn’t want to be one of 24 “Chef” ‘s. Mistaken identity could mean I inherit someone else’s bad karma. I took Zaphod from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, for many reasons. It fits well.

  • Gail Barrett : Sep 7th

    Oh, I love that movie, Mark! It’s a romance classic:) My husband is a retired Coast Guard commander, so I was thinking I could be Master and he could be Commander. Lol. I doubt he wants to call me Master, though…

  • Linda Vance : Sep 7th

    I’m kind liking Gnat Magnet for you, Gail. You watch out or that might stick….. Hey, do you have Type O blood? Did you know that Type O attracts more mosquitoes than any other blood type?

  • Gail Barrett : Sep 8th

    Actually, I’m getting used to it, too, Linda:))). I guess it can be my fallback name if nothing better comes up. And no, I don’t have type O blood. (What an interesting fact, though!) I don’t attract mosquitoes, or at least I haven’t so far, maybe because I douse myself with bug spray before I hike. It’s just the gnats that seem impervious to the spray. I use a variety of repellents, and nothing works.

  • Paul Boulay : Sep 8th

    In 78-79, mine was “Paul Bunyan, ’cause I got one”. I eventually had the surgically treated in 1985.

    • Gail Barrett : Sep 10th

      That’s a great name, Paul! It’s funny and appropriate. Sorry about the bunion, though.


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