By John Leaf Special to Published Jul 04, 2011 at 3:23 PM

Would MTV's runaway hit "Jersey Shore" be worth a gander, without the nicknames of the characters? In many ways, their nicknames have a huge voice in the vocabulary of our current pop culture.

How do nicknames play out in pop culture today? Let's look quickly at three categories: a TV show, broadcast news and the music industry, for starters.A

A TV show: MTV's "Jersey Shore."

Perhaps for the first time in the history of television, the popularity of the TV show hinges almost completely on the nicknames of its characters.

"The Situation," "Snooki," "JWOWW," "Vinny" and "Pauly D."

Heck, they even have a for-profit, web-based program called the Nickname Generator. Without their nicknames, the characters would seem lost at best, and a whole lot less interesting.

The crazy money and fame that has landed at the feet of these once "no names" is clearly the result of their nicknames. They are instantly famous, they are idolized and their nicknames have come to literally define their lives. Plus, their ability to leverage other legitimate career opportunities is a direct result of the sense of identity carved out by these goofy monikers.

Lest you doubt the importance of these nicknames, "The Situation" hired an attorney to try to trademark his nickname. He lost the case in the fall of 2010. Strip the "Jersey Shore" cast of their nicknames, and they might quickly become persona non grata.

These MTV "Jersey Shore" nicknames have become living conversations in America, and have quickly been accepted and woven into the fabric of the American dialogue, for better or for worse.

Broadcast News

How famous would the following people be without their nicknames? Falcon Henne? Coltin Harris? Lena Reppert? Do you know these people without their very famous nicknames?

Probably not. It is only by the sheer weight and visibility of their nicknames that they have become instant "celebrities." And, rightly or wrongly, they will only be known forever more by their nicknames.

So who are Falcon, Coltin and Lena?

The "Balloon Boy," the "Barefoot Bandit" and most recently and sadly, "The TSA Diaper Lady."

All three of these people were given a nickname in an instant that will follow them, and define them for a lifetime.

The Music Industry

How many people in the music industry are completely known by their nickname or at least a mononym?

Clearly the trend in the music industry is toward a nickname, or at the very least a mononym (a one word name) and persona. Usher is considered a mononym. And what kind of parent would it take to look at their little bundle of joy in the hospital and say to themselves, "I know, let's name him Snoop Dogg, or Jay-Z or Kurtis Blow, or Lil' Kim"?

And as we all know, Sting is really just a guy once named Gordon Sumner.

In the end, I guess if my official birth name was Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, I might have come up with Lady Gaga, too.

Let me know what you think.

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.