Why I'm called Spike

In about 1984, I was living near Philadelphia (I taught at Bryn Mawr College for two years) and a former girlfriend of mine (Elizabeth Pedersen) was spending the summer in New York City. We arranged to meet for dinner. I took the train.

On the way to the city, I read the New York Times, and happened to look at the sports section (not something I do often), and I noticed that the baseball players seemed not to have the sorts of nicknames that I associate with ballplayers --- "Babe," "Tug," etc. Indeed, they seemed to have names like my prep-school classmates, names like Thomas Merriwether Cabot or Christopher McCutcheon.

After Elizabeth and I had had dinner and a few drinks, I happened to mention this to her, and she found it funny. Indeed, she decided to redress the imbalance: if baseball players had prep-school names, preppie-types should get baseball player names. She decided that I should be called "Spike McNally."

It would have ended there, on that slightly inebriated evening, if she hadn't sent me a letter a month later, just after I arrived at Brown. It was addressed to "John Hughes, aka Spike McNally." As it happened, it arrived on the same day that my colleague Tom Banchoff took me to see the graphics lab (I was a mathematician back then), and announced to those in the lab "This is professor John Hughes -- he's a new faculty member in the math department, but he's likely to be spending a good deal of time over here making pictures of interesting surfaces. I hope you'll make him welcome and help him out."

One of the students in the lab said "Oh, no...not another "John." We've got three already...what're we gonna call you?"

I, foolishly thinking that they would call me "Professor Hughes," said "I dunno...you could call me anything...you could call me 'Spike.'"

And it stuck...