Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 30 April 2021
Primary Language: English
Context: Initiates in the Trojan Marching Band all receive a special nickname known as a “Band Name.” Traditions surrounding band names vary by sections. Some sections, like the drumline, name all of their initiates by the end of the first two weeks, others wait until the end of the semester, and most sections name throughout the semester whenever they come up. Band names can be chosen for just about anything that the section finds humorous about the initiate, and they’re often puns that combine multiple aspects of that person.
Main Piece: My informant, CN, told me the story of his name, “Tiny Dancer”. When he was a freshman, used to make small dance movements when he talked as a way of gesticulating. At one point, one of his classmates decided to quit the line by not showing up to a practice. When another member pressed him on where that classmate went, he recounts that he said “She’s *gone. Like, she’s not coming *back” (with gesticulations at every *), but the drill instructor didn’t understand what he meant. His upperclassmen thought this was funny, so in reference to an Elton John song, they named him Tiny Dancer.
There’s also a sort of ritual about how naming becomes official. CN told me that, when the upperclassmen have decided to name you, they take your lanyard that holds your printed name and band logo. That night, they flip it to the blank side and draw a picture to represent your name, and the next day after sectional practice ends they will keep everyone back. They call the initiate to the front of the group, and say something like “Due to constant dancing on the field with tiny dance moves and wearing different kinds of sunglasses, the drummer formally known as CN shall henceforth and forever be known as Tiny Dancer.” The exact phrase “The [player] formally known as [parent given name] shall henceforth and forever be known as [band name]” is consistently used to mark the transition from non-band member to band member.
Band names are not only the mark of induction into the band, but they’re also legitimate nicknames. CN tells me that most of his friends in the band call him “Tiny” instead of his parent given first name, and those friends often introduce him to others as Tiny. In CN’s words “Band names become a part of our identity…” and when his band friends call him by his first name it feels off. As a way of cementing band names into the band member’s identity, even when the band name doesn’t stick as a functioning nickname, whenever someone says something that references someone’s band name, they “take a lap” (See Trojan Marching Band: Band Camp Traditions).
Thoughts: Nicknames are a common and simple form of folklore, especially when the nicknames are tied to a liminal, or transitional, periods. Traditions involving nicknames of initiates often mark a level of acceptance into a group. This is just as true in the Trojan Marching Band, where members in their first year in the band receive a band name. I believe that the concept of band names is both interesting and consistent with previous analysis that humor is often a medium for liminal periods. By accepting a band name that jokes about an aspect of one’s personality, one can be better accepted into the group because they’ll know more about the humor that group expects from them. From the perspective of the TMB, band names can function as a sort of alternate identity that links everyone in the band to something greater. Where once there were a few hundred instrument-playing students, there are now a few hundred band members, and that distinction is made in part through band names, among other traditions.