Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What's in a Name?

I am a man of many names. Yes, I have alternate identities.

There is my give name, then my nickname and my online name.

As for my given name, my parents gave it to me shortly after I was born. I guess most folks get named that way.

My nickname is Bear. It is something I picked up somewhere along the way during my adventures in life. However, it didn't start out being what it is now. My nickname has gone through a variety of changes until it finally settled down. During my military career, I was called The Mad Russian (a reference to what, I don't know), Ol' Yeller (a reference to a small, plastic, yellow coffee cup I used for a long time), Larry (a shortened version of my given name), Enzo (the Italian version of Larry) and finally, the early stages of my final nickname, Kodiak and Grizz (a reference to my rough, tough NCO attitude resembling that of a grizzly bear).

During my second assignment to Alaska, I didn't make a good impression on my bosses at first. Several errors on my part made them question my capabilities and after several changes in my job positions, I was finally placed in media relations where I handled almost all media queries regarding the base. It was in that position which I made a name for myself and was one of only two people on base authorized by a three-star general to talk to the media. I'll get into that in a future post.

During that assignment, I worked for the 21st Tactical Fighter Wing commander in the public affairs office. However, there was also the headquarters for the Alaskan Air Command on base and there was a public affairs office there also...and they were higher up the chain of command. In other words, my office was subordinate to them. The command office was run by a full colonel who had a good sense of humor. Shortly after the general told him I would be included in the short list of people able to speak for the Air Force at Elmendorf AFB, the colonel began calling me Kodiak. If you know my last name (Sobkoviak), it's not a far reach from the last six letters. He also developed a joke regarding the nickname.

First, let me explain something. In Alaska, there are Brown Bears...big mean Brown Bears. There are also bigger and meaner Kodiak Brown Bears...known as Kodiak Bears. Now for the joke. This colonel enjoyed telling the joke around me, and I didn't mind it, as it added to my reputation. It went like this:

Q. What's meaner than a Brown Bear?

A. A Sub-kodiak!

Well, the nickname Kodiak came about and it stuck....for a while.

Fast forward to Scott AFB, in Illinois three years later. Someone there had heard about my Alaska nickname and mentioned it to someone else. For some reason however, no one liked it, but a new one came about, which was actually a growth of Kodiak. Someone there began calling my Grizz, in reference to my rough demeanor similar to that of a Grizzly Bear.

Several years later, I was transfered to Clark AB, The Philippines. One of the first things I did there, was join an intramural softball team. When I did, I was asked what number I wanted and name I wanted on the back of my shirt. I picked the number 26 (for Billy Williams, my favorite Cubs ballplayer) and my then current nickname, Grizz. But the people at Clark didn't like calling me Grizz, so they started calling me Bear.

The name stuck and when someone asks me what they should call me, I said, "Bear." The nickname Bear for me was popular with everyone on base who knew me. Clark was my last assignment in the Air Force and was badly damaged in a volcanic eruption. During the aftermath of the eruption, everyone left on base (about 1,200 at first) carried multifunction radios around for communications. The radios were capable of clear air transmissions, private channel transmissions, scrambled transmissions, telephone calls, and a few other things I can't remember. When you needed to contact someone, you would say call-sign of the person you wanted to contact, then your call-sign on the clear air channel. Everyone could hear what was said on that transmission.

However, if you wanted to talk privately to the person, you would punch in a set of numbers for the person you were calling and talk away and no one would be able to hear the conversation. It was a rarely used capability as there were limited channels for private conversations, but the higher ranking officials often used the private channels to talk between members of their staff.

However, there were several times when I would get a private channel call from my boss regarding something I needed to do. Generally, he would punch in my code and say, "Bear?" into the mic and wait for my reply. Then there were several times when the vice commander needed to contact me and he would do the same thing, but follow-up with his call-sign. At first he would say my call-sign, then his. But then he began saying, "Bear...(his call-sign which I don't recall)." The first time he did it, it took me by surprise. But I got used to it. Then one day, the general in charge of the post-Pinatubo activities called me. "Bear...Gator here." I grabbed my brick (what we called the heavy, brick sized radios we carried around) and replied, "Bear here...go Gator." He asked me to track down my boss and have him contact his office immediately. I replied in the affirmative and that was that. I was the only person on the radio net who would be referred to by his nickname, rather than call-sign.

Today, people still call me Bear to my face. I have promoted a book about Clark AB in which I am prominently featured in the final 100 pages. The author of the book uses my Bear nickname in it and some of my friends have picked it up and now use it when calling me.

Finally, there is my online persona. If you're reading this post, you know the title of my blog. Ashrunner's Rants. I also have Ashrunner's Photo Safaris (my Flickr account) and all the forums I belong to, I am known as Ashrunner.

I developed that persona when I first started an online life many years ago. It was somewhere around 1993 or 1994 when I joined AOL. I had actually tried to use Ash Warrior as my nickname there, but for some reason (probably too many letters) it wouldn't take. After several moments of thought, I decided since I've had three volcanos dump ash on me, and once, was forced to flee the occurrence, that Ashrunner would be a good name to use. So I entered it, it was accepted and a legend was born.

For the most, I'll answer to any one of the names listed here. But if you see me in person, please call me Bear.


Misty Dawn said...

I call you Bear :-) but, you're never mean and gruff with me ;-)

WolfGirl said...

I've always loved seeing the evolution of a nickname - and Bear is a great nickname. It's as if there is some element of that evolution can be applied to the words we speak today.

Example - Cinderella's glass slipper. In the original story it was actually a fur slipper, but was mis-translated from French because the words are very similar "vair" (fur) to "verre" (glass).

Fascinating stuff! :)

Ashrunner said...


The odd thing is many moons ago, somewhere around 430 of them, I was in Michigan. One day while visiting with a friend, she walked in on me while I was scratching my back. I put back against the corner of a bookcase in her living room and like a bear, moved back and forth. She saw that, started laughing and jokingly referred to me as her "Bear-friend." She would call me that for a couple of months, but had changed it to just plain Bear. But it didn't catch on and I was called other names. 8v)

Lilli & Nevada said...

Ok so i am posting here too, reading all of your file, My husband was also in the AF and located in Alaska, Middleton Island, gulf of Alaska. He was a radar operator.
Now no were did i see your age so how long has it been?
You can email me private if you would rather.nevada@bendcable.com