How Pledge Nicknames Come About

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When I pledged in Fall 2010, I was given a nickname that derived from the striking resemblance I shared with a former brother: Pete. Pete was a tragic tale of potential gone to complete waste, the Len Bias of brothers. That might be a bit of an overstatement–he didn’t overdose on cocaine, and was, in fact, living a healthy life back in Maine as a UPS driver–but Pete’s story was heartbreaking nonetheless, as he did fail out of school by sophomore year. Due to this reason, whenever I fucked up, brothers addressed me simply as RePete. Any time I failed a pledge test: “Fucking RePete.” If I dropped a pass in an intramural football game: “Dammit, RePete.” At the time, it irritated me, but simultaneously inspired me to become better in every facet imaginable to shake the nickname and the stigma that partnered it.

Looking back, I was rather fortunate to have such a tame nickname. Most of the time, brothers just think of the most diabolic, emotionally crippling, fucked up thing that pops into their head and associate it to a specific individual for his pledgeship tenure, or worse yet, hitch it to his identity the remainder of college. There’s no real science or art to the pledge nickname; it’s purely reactionary.

In honor of the upcoming release of “Total Frat Movie”–one of the characters receives a truly debilitating nickname–here are the reasons pledge nicknames come about.

The Handed Down Nickname

Every fraternity has nicknames that are handed down from one pledge class to another. In our case, every semester, we bestowed the name Fungus upon one poor sad sack of shit. These weren’t the kids who got blackballed immediately or were in serious jeopardy of getting depledged. No, this person was always the worst pick of the litter who did just enough to stay in the good graces of the chapter. One of two things would result in this tradition of shaming: either the kid was motivated to prove all the asshole brothers wrong, so he would blossom out of his cocoon and emerge as a tolerable and contributing member, or he would become a self-fulfilling prophecy and be a decaying eyesore within the organization. However, the handed down nickname does not result in that individual becoming a compassionate and understanding man of higher character. He will quickly forget the trials, tribulations, and his daily struggle with the unfortunate nickname and be at the forefront of berating the newly selected pledge class’s Fungus, or your fraternity’s equivalent.

First Impression Nickname

The majority of pledge nicknames are generated during these first interactions with brothers. This could be a result of several factors, including appearance, demeanor, voice inflection, or even a drink they’re holding. Does the kid look remotely like David Graf from “Police Academy”? Easy, he’s now referred to as Sgt. Eugene Tackleberry. Does he have the enthusiasm of Nick Saban or Bruce Bochy? Go the ironic route with something like Spark Plug. Was the kid holding a vodka-cran when you first approached him? Then don’t bother with a nickname–he won’t be around much longer. Little to no thought is put into these uncreative nicknames, but for one reason or another, they usually stick.

Nickname By Action

Pretty self-explanatory. These nicknames are badges of honor, disgrace, or repulsion. They’re commonly coined after a night of drunken debauchery, straight idiotic actions, or sexual escapades. I had a pledge brother who notoriously liked to toss girls’ salads. To each his own, kids, but clearly this was the kind of shit (pun intended) that warranted proper recognition. He was appropriately dubbed Caesar, a name he shamelessly owned and was coy enough to leave girls wondering what the fuck it meant. Another pledge brother popped an air mattress when he took his girlfriend to pound town. Thenceforth, he was known as Needledick. These nicknames are by far the most meaningful, because they represent not just the person, but usually a hilarious story.

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