In nickname only

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A DELIGHTFUL footnote to the long, distinguished career of Averell Harriman was his nickname, ``the Crocodile.'' He was so dubbed by his friend, the columnist Joseph Alsop, because of Harriman's toughness and wiliness as a negotiator. Far from being insulted, Harriman liked the nickname so much he used it as his code name in confidential diplomatic cables. I have longed to have a fascinating nickname like ``Crocodile.'' When I was in high school, a classmate was nick-named ``Puma.'' I thought it was the most delicious and desirable nickname I had ever heard. It implied someone lissome, sinuous, exotic, and slightly mysterious.

I would have given almost anything to have a nickname like that. But hearty, stocky winners of essay contests sponsored by the Sons of the American Revolution are not nicknamed ``Puma.''

One of those landmark class reunions is approaching, and I'm thinking of going back for it. I wonder if Puma will be there. What is she like now?

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Maybe she is married to someone like the president of a huge auto company. If you were the president of a big auto company and had a wife nicknamed ``Puma,'' wouldn't you name a car after her? After all, we have Cougars and Jaguars. But no Pumas.

What a sensation if you were at a reunion and they asked what you had done since graduation, and you could modestly lower your eyes and murmur, ``Well, General Motors named one of their best-selling cars after me.'' No one has ever named anything after me. The doll is pure coincidence.

Unfortunately, at this stage in my life everyone who knows me also knows I don't have an interesting nickname. Perhaps if we make a major relocation and start over with a whole new group of acquaintances, I could introduce myself with the sort of nickname I yearn for.

My little brother did just that at age 10. I was chaperoning him and other boys to an out-of-state camp. As the boys first met and exchanged names, George announced, to my amazement and out of the blue, that his name was ``Mouse.'' And so he was known all summer.

I myself would pick something more exotic. Not ``Crocodile,'' perhaps -- too masculine. But there are lots of other sleek, speedy members of the cat family. Maybe I could be ``Cheetah'' -- though somehow that might be misunderstood. After all, I want people to trust me.

For the time being, while I wait for a nickname with the 'eclat of ``Crocodile'' or ``Puma,'' I've had to settle for ``Grandma.'' It does have many good connotations, even if they don't include lissomeness and intrigue.

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