New version of ‘Niles Nicknames’ booklet published
By Sean Barron
When Harry Pissini was 4, little did he know that the next-door neighbor’s milkman would be responsible for giving him a nickname that would stick for nearly eight decades.
“It started out with a wheeze [that the milkman overheard], and he came in one day and said, ‘I’m going to start calling you ‘Weezer,’” recalled Pissini, 82, of Niles.
Pissini was one of several people who spoke recently at the Ward-Thomas Museum, 503 Brown St., about the circumstances surrounding their nicknames.
They also talked about the new version of the “Niles Nicknames” booklet.
The booklet, published earlier this year, alphabetically lists 1,331 current and former Niles residents by first and last names as well as nicknames, which range from quite common to very obscure and original.
Examples of familiar names are “Lucky,” “Pete,” “D.A.,” “Jay” and “Sal.” Some unusual ones include “Simi Rimi,” “Spitoon,” “Phippy + Flip” and “Shakespeare.”
Pissini, a retired auto-body repairman who also worked as an estimator for State Farm Insurance, said the nickname stayed with him through his years in the Navy.
“Everybody, even my customers, would call me ‘Mr. Weezer,’” he fondly recalled. “Today, they still call me that.”
An ill-fated haircut around age 10 by his father led to the sobriquet “Fuzzy” for George John.
“I found out he wasn’t much of a barber; he was more of a talker,” the 85-year-old John said with laughter. It took most of the summer for his hair to grow back, recalled John, a retired industrial-arts teacher in the Mathews School District and lifelong Niles resident.
What happens if you have difficulty pronouncing the word “three” and it sounds as if you’re saying “creek?” Joe Perone of Girard found out at a young age, when a neighbor tagged him with the nickname “Creek,” he said.
Perone, a four-year World War II Navy veteran and 60-year painting contractor, recalled that, during his youth, many kids shared his first name. Over time, nearly everyone inherited a nickname; some kids’ real names were unknown by most people in the neighborhood, he said.
Perhaps there are as many ways to acquire a nickname as there are nicknames. For Jim Nicastro of Howland, it was the combination of a song and a friend’s desire to try a little parody.
Nicastro, 61, who worked 37 years as a financial agent, recalled how the friend once watched Nicastro comb his hair back when the Beatles’ song “Bungalow Bill” was playing. It wasn’t long before the friend changed the song title to “Pompadour Pete,” which explains how Nicastro’s nickname, “Pete the Pomp” was born.
“A lot of close friends call me ‘Pete,’” he added.
Even though he isn’t in the booklet, Gary Coupland bought a copy of “Niles Nicknames,” in part because it brought back many memories, he said.
Coupland, who retired as director of engineering at Warren-based American Welding & Manufacturing Co., said he may buy additional copies for his family.
The idea for the booklet started when several members of Niles High School Class of 1943 reminisced and recalled other classmates’ nicknames, explained Audrey John, the museum’s curator and wife of George John.
The Niles Historical Society began collecting names and published the first booklet in 2002, which contained about 700 names, John said. About three months later, a second one came out with 540 additional names, she continued.
Both versions sold out, so the decision was made to publish the current version, John added.
To obtain a copy of “Niles Nicknames,” call the Niles Historical Society at 330-544-2143.