Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Yours, Ernie

Brimming with anecdotes and sly humor, Hemingway was an affectionate, witty writer even at an early age—which was especially evident in the many whimsical nicknames he invented.

Naturally, his family members were the first to be bestowed with unique monikers. Although he addressed his parents “Mama” and “Papa,” he had a rich reserve for his five other siblings. Leicester, the baby of the family, was also known as “Dessie,” “Lessie,” and “Bipehouse”; Carol, the second-youngest, was “Dee,” “Deefish,” “Nubbins,” and “Nubs.” His sister Madelaine he called “Nunbones,” “Nunny,” and “Sunny,” while Ursula was “Ted,” “Urra,” and “Urs.” But perhaps his most affectionate nicknames he reserved for his eldest sister, and frequent correspondent, Marcelline. He called her “Ivory,” “Marc,” “Marce,” “Marse,” “Mash,” and last but not least, “Masween.”

When he became an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross in 1918, many of his comrades became lifelong friends. Hailing from another Chicago suburb, Lawrence T. Barnett served in Italy with Hemingway, whom he called “Lawry,” “Barney,” and “Marby.” Another Chicago native, his friend Howell G. Jenkins was known as “Carp,” “Fever,” “Jenks,” and even “Lever.” Hemingway could also be devious: he addressed William D. Horne, Jr., another fellow ambulance driver, as “Horney Bill.”

Hemingway’s closest female friends weren’t spared, either. Marjorie Bump was one of his close friends growing up (she lived near the Hemingway’s summer home in northern Michigan); he nicknamed her “Marge,” “Barge” and “Red.” (His nicknames for Marjorie’s younger sister, Georgianna, were more pointed: “Pudge” and “Useless.”) Katharine Foster Smith (Bill Horne’s sister) was one of his close friends before his marriage to Hadley; he addressed her as “Butstein,” “Stut,” and the rather mundane “Kate.” However, he came up with his most unusual (or endearing?) nicknames for his wife, Hadley: “Binney,” “Bones,” “Hash,” “Poo,” and “Wicky Poo.”

Last but certainly not least, Hemingway’s creativity with nicknames even extended to himself. In his early letters, he signed off with not only “Ernie,” but also “Oin,” “Oinbones,” and his middle name “Miller.” He also went by “Old Brute” and “Wemedge.” In high school he was called “Hemingstein,” which was often shortened to “Stein” or “Steen.” If he was in an artistic mood, sometimes he only drew a foam-topped beer stein.

Clearly, there was more to Hemingway than his most famous nickname, “Papa,” would suggest.

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