Rules? What Rules? I Changed My Trail Name
Trail Name Rules?
Trail names are a long-standing tradition in the long-distance hiking community. Although you can choose your own name, they are traditionally given to you by other hikers. A good example is my buddy Gramps. In the early days of his hike on the AT, hikers introduced themselves around the campfire in Georgia, saying where they were from, and how old they were. Most of them were barely 20 years old and when Jeff told them his age (almost 30) they called him Grandpa, which got shortened to Gramps. It lasted for over 1200 miles, so it seems to have stuck and that’s how he signed the trail logs.
The variety of trail names and the stories behind them are almost endless. Trail names are often a fun icebreaker and make it easier to remember people you meet on the trail. There may be countless guys on the trail named Dave, but probably only one with the trail name, Upchuck! It also allows hikers to remain somewhat anonymous, especially when hiking solo. Names are often inspired by personality quirks, trail mishaps, and sometimes food. I’ve met hikers named Pesto, Skippy, Chicken Wings, Ramenator, Schnitzel, Cheese Whiz….
Speaking of food, one of the funniest trail name moments I’ve experienced happened over food. I was tagging along with a tramily of AT thru-hikers who stopped in Daleville to resupply and satisfy their hiker hunger. As we walked up the road to an Italian restaurant, I could barely keep up. They were hungry for some real food!
After placing our individual orders at the counter, we sat down at a big table. Soon after, a server came by with a tray of food and said, “Chicken parm and a pepperoni pizza for Ryan.” Everyone looked around the table, not knowing each other’s real names and wondering who Ryan was. Santa sheepishly raised his hand, and everyone giggled. That was followed by “Baked ziti and a large house salad for Kylie.” Again everyone looked around and laughed when Skippy raised her hand. This went on for every member of the tramily that had a trail name. (I didn’t have one yet, or so I thought). They had been hiking together for several weeks and didn’t know each other’s real names!
Personally, I’m fascinated by the perceived “rules” for how trail names “should” be chosen. I’ve asked countless thru-hikers their opinions on the subject. Some describe strict rules, some not so much. The consensus of most successful thru-hikers is often quite different than what you might find in an online discussion. They are pretty laid back about it, often relating it to the “Hike your own hike” ethos. Bottom line: Don’t take it seriously, ignore the rules, and have fun. In that spirit, the Trek even has an online Trail Name Generator. It’s worth a look and some laughs!
When someone asks about trail names in an online forum however, it often turns into a spirited debate. Here are some real, but anonymized, comments from a recent online discussion:
I love seeing people’s trail names, but I’m a little confused. Some say it was “chosen” or “given” to them on the trail. How/when does that happen? Don’t hikers just pick their own trail name in advance?
You don’t make up your name – the name finds you.
the tradition started with people naming you. But now it is very common for people to name themselves. I think it takes away from the experience when people name themselves but that’s just me.
You don’t “have” to be given it by someone else. But it kind of kills the spirit and fun of it to make up your own.
Most are given their trail name on trail. It’s then authentic, based on how others perceive the personality the hiker has become on trail. If one gives themselves a trail name, then it is based on who they are before hitting the trail or a person they want to be on trail.
Take the chance. Trust others to name you. I never would have chosen the trail name I was given, but it fits my true trail personality perfectly.
You think we’d make those up? We ain’t that pretentious.
Some people have a different trail name they use on each trail or different parts of the country.
No trail name is yours until you introduce yourself with it.
That being said, there’s nothing wrong with giving yourself a name if that’s your cup of tea.
Nope the best trail names are the ones with great stories behind them.
it happens by magic so just let it happen.. that’s the best part… the trail provides..
takes a bit of fun out of it if you do imo.
Self-appointed trail names tend to be aspirational or how they want to be viewed; trail names assigned by others tend to be quirky.
Social Media has killed the coolness and anonymity of trail names.
There are very strict, rigidly enforced rules for trail names. You can either pick your trail name, or someone else can give it to you.
Your trail name is yours forever, unless you want to change it. If you want to change it, just change it.
Third-person, First-person, I’m Confused
Another quirky thing about names is how hikers often use their trail name and speak in the third person when posting about their journey online. They often end up switching between a third-person to first-person voice in the same conversation.
Rather than borrow a real post without permission, I created an example that is pretty typical. For the fun of it, I used The Trek’s Trail Name Generator for the names so as not to accidentally hijack someone’s real trail name!
Following the Rules
My own trail name came about organically on the AT. A few names had been bounced around. Twelve Pack was the first, but also Inside Out, Hold My Beer, and a few others related to trail magic. Twelve Pack seemed too easy. Yes, when I met this group at the trailhead, I had snacks and a cooler of cold beer that I shared for breakfast. So that’s how they thought of me. But I wanted something more profound. Little did I know others had already adopted it for me, and it stuck.
Gramps introduced me as Twelve Pack to Spun Candy, who recorded our conversation for her YouTube channel. I was thinking that being called Twelve Pack on video might make it official, but I hadn’t accepted it yet. A couple hours later, we ran into some other hikers at a shelter who said, “Twelve Pack? We’ve heard about you.” It seems Gramps had been calling me that in the trail registers for several days. Gramps looked at me, shrugged, and grinned. It was official!
I got used to it. In fact, I responded immediately when someone called out “Twelve Pack!” in a crowded brewery in Gatlinburg and on the streets of Harper’s Ferry when I was in town visiting friends passing through on the AT. I even received mail at my home addressed to Twelve Pack. I started to embrace it. And going forward, that will continue to be my name on the AT.
Different Trail, A New Trail Name
But I defied the “rules” and changed my name for the Long Trail. My new trail name is ‘Porkie.’ Okay, so I’m choosing a different name, but why Porkie?
When I tell people my trail name, they usually look a little puzzled at first. Yes, I could afford to lose a few pounds, but I don’t look or sound like the cartoon character. Some ask if I’ve adopted the porcupine as my spirit animal. Yes, a porcupine would be an interesting choice, far less obvious than the popular wolf, bear, eagle,… but that’s not it either. I’d like to think my spirit animal is the brook trout.
Porcupines were ubiquitous on the Long Trail in Vermont back in the 1930s when my father hiked the trail. His LT journey is the inspiration for my current hike, and anyone who’s read his hand-written account of the hike noticed his constant obsession with “porkie.” So, it seemed like a no-brainer to me, even if I was defying the “rules.”
Why All the Hatin’ on Porkie?
He wasn’t alone in the obsession with porcupines. The 1937 LT guidebook included this suggestion in bold type: “Kill hedgehogs on sight and remove their bodies so they will not create a nuisance.” In those days, there were no natural predators, and the porcupine population grew out of control. The porkies caused extensive damage to the lodges, camps, and lean-tos. Other written accounts from that era also talk about encountering and killing numerous porcupines. In doing some research, I found some really good historical info on the prevalence of porcupines on the LT and the damage they caused. But that may be a topic for a future blog post.
Since adopting this new name, I’ve been hoping to encounter and photograph a real porkie on the trail. Last year I came across a large specimen on the AT one evening after setting up camp near Rausch Gap. I went down the trail to fetch some water, and there he/she was, guarding the trail and blocking my path to the spring. I didn’t have a rifle, club, or ax handle to do battle as in the stories I read. The best I could do was hurl some insults at Porkie. He waddled away… and I felt guilty about my behavior.
When I started my hike of the LT last year, I had the chance to try on this name to see how it fit. I like sharing both the name and the story behind it. It’s a keeper! I’m hoping to run into another porkie on this hike so I can grab some new photos, maybe even a group selfie!
Long Trail Class of 22/23.
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