## Archive for April 3, 2015

### If Mathematicians Had Nicknames

Her name is Tara, but she should expect her friends to call her by a different name from now on.

Not knowing all seven dwarfs is forgivable. Not knowing that *sneaky* isn’t spelled with two *e*‘s is less excusable. That she committed both errors simultaneously all but guarantees that her friends will call her Sneaky for the rest of her life.

Or maybe it’s only a guy thing to give nicknames to their friends for colossal fails?

If a guy had made this mistake, his best friend would have texted him before the show was over:

Nice guess, Sneaky.

I got a nickname in a most inglorious fashion. After an Ultimate Frisbee tournament in Fort Devens, MA, we headed to the local bar and ordered a round of Irish car bombs.

The problem was, the Guinness arrived in a 16-ounce plastic cup, and the shot of Bailey’s and Jameson’s arrived in a 10-ounce plastic cup. When we tried to drop the smaller cup into the larger cup, it floated. We spent a good half-hour debating how we’d get the shot to the bottom of the larger cup, and I seemed to offer more ideas than most. The bartendress, finally tired of my yammering, looked at me and said, “Okay, **cupcake**, you gonna talk about it all night, or you gonna drink it?”

All I could think was, “Dear Lord, I pray that my friends didn’t hear that.”

When I turned around, they sang in unison, “Cuuuup-caaaaaake.”

It stuck. That was 15 years ago, but there are those who still call me Cupcake on the Ultimate field. And sadly, there are those who still call me Cupcake when they run into me at the grocery store. Nothing like your seven-year-old, father-worshiping son asking, “Daddy, why did that man call you ‘Cupcake’?”

Sadly, famous mathematicians don’t have nicknames. At least not cool ones, not generally. Sure, Euclid may be the “Father of Geometry,” but his friends didn’t call him that when they were drinking mead around a campfire. And while textbooks may refer to Leibnitz as the “Aristotle of the 17th Century,” none of his peeps did.

The only two cool mathematician nicknames I could find — and by “cool,” I mean that they didn’t start with “Father of” — were “The Passionate Skeptic” for Bertrand Russell and “The Samian Sage” for Pythagoras. Granted, it’s not like “The Italian Stallion” for Rocky or “The Master of Disaster” for Apollo Creed, but mathematicians aren’t generally nickname-acquiring types.

But I think mathematicians deserve nicknames, so here are some suggestions for your consideration.

- Leonardo “No Questionacci, No” Fibonacci
- Pierre “Not Fer Pa” de Fermat
- Leonhard “If She’s Squeaky” Euler
- Carl Friedrich “Anyone’s” Gauss
- Blaise “Little” Pascal
- John “Cock-a-Doodle-Do” Napier
- Benoit B. “Benoit B. Mandelbrot” Mandelbrot
- “Chortlin'” Lewis Carroll
- Maria “Which Witch” Agnesi
- George Bernard “Dirty” Dantzig
- Emmy “I Barely” Noether
- Girolamo “I’m Sick” Cardano
- William “Off the Charts” Playfair
- Alan “Fac” Turing
- Charles “Too Much” Babbage

To be sure, the **best thing** you could do right now would be to leave a comment in which you refer to me as “cupcake.”

—

While most nicknames above are silly, like the nicknames given to football by players by Chris Berman, some of them may require an explanation.

- John Napier once covered a black rooster with lamp soot to catch a thief.
- Benoit B. Mandelbrot is the “Father of Fractals,” which are self-repeating.
- Lewis Carroll coined many words, including
*chortle*. - The Witch of Agnesi is a famous curve.
- Girolamo Cardano was an infamous hypochondriac who predicted his own death.
- William Playfair invented line graphs, bar charts, pie charts, and circle graphs.