By John Leaf Special to Published Dec 17, 2011 at 3:23 PM

Here at the end of 2011, it's time to wrap up the nickname blog. For those of you who have been a faithful reader of the past 25 blogs, a sincere thanks.

Nicknames have been, and will remain I believe, an intriguing aspect of our everyday culture. Just ask "Snooki" or "The Situation," or "The Balloon Boy."

As you can imagine, I'm frequently asked where this passion for nicknames came from. And I always find myself providing the same simple answer; from within, and that epiphanies like this, occur in times of brokenness.

The other answer I give is also consistent. Most of the time, "The thought of doing this is absurd, but the thought of not doing it is even more absurd." This notion came to me via Gregg Levoy's seminal work "Callings: Living an Authentic Life." Get it and read it.

I started this nickname nonsense back in the summer of 2008, at a time of personal brokenness, and soon after I had returned from a short, self-imposed silent retreat and sabbatical at a monastery in northeast Iowa, some 200 miles from Milwaukee. Every year, I try schedule a week for a time for spiritual renewal, reflection and meditation, to remove the static in the attic, so to speak, in an ongoing attempt to live my life from a place of meaning.

Shortly after returning, I was sitting at a local coffee shop, when the desire to pursue and invest energy in the story-telling opportunities embedded in nicknames, came to me. I have always been fascinated with etymology and onomastics. But I have also been enamored with nicknames, and the obvious intimacy of them. So often, they tell a great story, and are also verbal short-hand for what makes someone tick.

As I have come to learn, some people's entire lives have been defined or re-directed by their nickname. People like "Wheels" and "Fifi the Hat Lady" and "Boots" Gordon, and "Pablo" Solomon, and so many others.

Ever since then, the Universe has been moving the ball down the nickname field for me, in spite of me, and opening doors and providing opportunities well beyond my wildest instincts. The goal in all of this is not to appear on Oprah or Ellen, but to honor the process in a daily way, that both provokes thoughts and brings joy.

In January of 2009, the well-known Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Jim Stingl was kind enough to write his column about the nickname project. And since then, I've been blessed to appear on the WUWM 89.7-FM Lake Effect radio program with Bonnie North. And I have also been a guest lecturer on the topic of transmedia at Marquette University and Concordia University. I also spoke at The Great Lakes Writer's Conference at Alverno College, and appeared in the local BizTimes and the Ozaukee News Graphic, as well as chatted with Steve Palec on WKLH 96.5-FM radio, on the topic of the role of nicknames in music. I also spoke to a large group of people at a Spreenkler event in December of 2008.

All progress demands sacrifice, and I would be horribly remiss if I didn't mention the names of some very important people that have given me more support, sacrifice and encouragement than one should ever deserve. It has not gone unnoticed. And as Paul Tillich said: "The first duty of love is to listen." And listen they have.

In no particular order, the least I can do is mention:
Emmy-winning, local TV and documentary producer Steve Boettcher, Amy Wrobel, Logan Bazzar, Howard Hockstad, Steve Glynn, Mark Concannon, Blake Samic, Drew Glaubke, Steve Heston, Brett Patten, Peter Giersch, Steve Morales, Tim Kobussen, Paul Westermann, John Frazza, John Wood, Sunshine, Timm Gable, Steve Riege, Erica VH, Drew Kanyer, Jim DeJong, Alysha Shertz, Linda Menk, Jeff Lincicome, Ed Purcell, Nicole Fairchild, Greg Tess, Becky Tesch, James Schnepf, Dave Steck, Wade Taylor, Jeff Heath, Carl Wuornos, Janet, Bart Adrian, John Carlson, Jim Lake, Jeryl Swantack, and last, but not least, all of my immediate family. If I have forgotten anyone else, my apologies.

Lastly, I'm grateful to Andy Tarnoff at, for allowing me to give voice to this nascent nickname project.

My continued agenda for this project is a long one. Among other things, I'm working on a presentation to provide "in service" programs to local grade and middle schools, to educate kids about how a mean-spirited nickname on the playground is a sub-set of bullying. I'm also continuing to pitch a nickname sizzle reel to a short list of cable TV outlets for potential programming. I'm also working on a documentary pitch about small towns with quirky names. And I'm in conversations with some local TV stations and programs about appearing and doing a regular feature about nicknames in sports and life.

One other thing I know is that you can continue to follow the nickname project on my website,

Thanks. It's been a buzz and a blessing. And, as we say at the end of every yoga class, Namaste.

John Leaf Special to

John Leaf was born in western Illinois, a mile east of the Mississippi. College in Chicago. He holds a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Leaf was goalie on the soccer team and captain of the golf team in college. He cut class to ride the "L" to see Cubs games, hung out for hours at the Art Institute and bent the brain doing graduate school in Theology.

He spent three mind-blowing summers in coastal British Columbia, as a resort photographer. He worked and lived in Minneapolis. He did hard time at a bank on LaSalle Street in Chicago and learned about PR, working at big firm a block off Michigan Avenue, while living in Evanston.

Now Leaf is just living the dream, under the radar, in Cedarburg. He's passionate about nicknames and launched his website three years ago.

He dabbles in yoga and cycling. Fishtailing as always, and taking a whack at life, like everyone else.