Clinton, S.C., Friday, May 24, 11:32 a.m.
When I was a kid, the top driver in NASCAR was occasionally referred to on television and in print as “Dick Petty,” though the King himself always preferred “Richard.” If the announcer said Dick Petty won the Atlanta 500, the announcer didn’t know much about stock car racing.
When I was at Furman University, the head football coach and athletic director was Dick Sheridan. For part of that time, the coach at the University of North Carolina was Dick Crum.
When I started writing about NASCAR, one of the best guys in the business was the public-relations director of Martinsville Speedway, Dick Thompson. Bud Moore’s driver was Dick Trickle.
The name “Dick” was already in decline, even then. Furman players routinely used a crude nickname – strictly in private, of course – for Coach Sheridan. Sportscenter made more references to Trickle than, oh, Bill Elliott.
All because it became popular to refer childishly to a male organ as the “dick.” The word has many other synonyms. It has decimated the ranks of other names, most notably “Peter,” “Willie” and “Wally,” but they have survived.
Dicks have just disappeared. It also became widely used as a general term of derision. For more than 30 years, kids named Richard have increasingly said, “Call me Rich.”
Partly as a result, the letter “J” has reaped the dividends. A healthy percentage of male children are promptly named Jake, Jeb, Jed, Jordan, Josh and Justin.
Dick is gone, but it’s also pertinent to ask what happened to once-respectable names like Boyce, Boyd, Clarence, Preston, Rufus, Virgil and Zeke? And, for girls, whatever happened to Alma, Clara, Fern, Juanita, June, Mabel, Madge, Mildred, Nanette, Prue, Velma and Zelda?
I apologize for the inevitable omissions.
For what it’s worth, I think Dick is a perfectly respectable name. So is Peter, which is, of course, in the Bible. When I encounter a man today who introduces himself as Dick, I think it reflects strength of character.
And if I’d had a son, I would’ve named him …
… Bill or George, anything but Dick.
I’d like to close by apologizing to Johnny Cash and Shel Silverstein.