What’s In a Name: A Really Tired Kick-Off Post

I think it’s safe to say we all know what a Trail Name is…

I got mine several years ago. Ironically, I picked it up off-trail, but it transitioned really well when I started section hiking the AT. Since then, I’ve been in situations where people go out of their way to give names to others, and I’ve had the opportunity to resist that. I’m relatively happy with who I am on trail and not interested in changing it – although I’m open to it if something comes up.

Isn’t that kind of a scary idea? That if you change or do something interesting enough while on the trail, you just change your name and become someone else. But if names mean something (and they should), then they shouldn’t be that easily disposable, right? While out on a pre-trail prep hike, I started to ruminate on what we put into names these days.

Where I’ve come from there’s a lot of nicknames

It could be that I’m also just a weirdo, but there is power in the titles and names that we give to people.  At work I call people “boss” to establish a particular relationship, and we differentiate between individuals and their responsibilities a lot with rank. While considering this, I reached out to a young officer to ask him what he thought about nicknames and their use in the military context:

“From an aircrew perspective, call signs are meant to remove rank so that there’s no hesitancy to maintaining safety of flight a senior ranking person is doing something out of pocket. I think that’s kind of an antiquated rationale. Today, I think it’s mostly to carry on a legacy.”

I disagree. There is absolutely a tradition in the aircrew world that “there is no rank in the aircraft,” and everyone has the right to call “knock it off” when things are going sideways. But when a mirror-bespeckled “Chad VandenThud” is dropping you into a Split-S because “he knows what he’s doing,” his callsign isn’t the thing that’s going to stop him. His callsign is going to reinforce what he’s doing because he’s not Captain Whathisname at that moment, he’s Thud.

Despite the horror of being suddenly inverted…

Generally, though, I think that’s a good thing. With callsigns you get to try out new things, establish new norms, react in different ways, and if necessary, yes, you can change your name or even stop being that person entirely. The image in my mind here is “Frank the Tank” from Old School, and isn’t that really all were talking about here?

Serendipitously, while working on what to write for my “kickoff post,” I ran across an old BPR episode that touched on this. The topic of the podcast was Post-Trail Depression, but Badger and Dr. Baker have a lot of good conversations about the idea that trail names are a person’s “Persona” (Episode 80).

I don’t think it’s possible to hike 2,200 miles and be the same person you were when you left. If anything, I think that trail names are a piece of that. You leave behind the person you were, and a filthy, smelly hiker takes their place. When you return, maybe that hiker dies a little, or maybe you get to continue being this new person. (The podcast I mentioned does address this some and is totally worth a listen.)

Of course, that’s why we do it.

This thing we do is transformative in nature. I’m certainly doing this because it’s transformative, and I think that’s true of most everyone. After all, no one goes for a long hike in the woods and expects to get nothing out of it. My own transformation starts in about ten days. My incredibly supportive wife and kids are accompanying me to Amicalola Falls where we’ll get the traditional photos. We’re doing the traditional stairs hike together and curse traditionally at them together before catching a night at the Lodge. After that, I’ll just be Tired until I come home.

Good luck everyone that’s already on the trail or starting. I’m looking forward to meeting you and learning who you are on the trail. Until then, fair skies and easy hills!



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