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What's in a Name?

09.29.11

Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Besides being experts in vineyard care, our farming crew is particularly adept at handing out nicknames. Viticulturist Aaron Fishleder (a.k.a. “Paton”) explains.

It’s that time of year again: harvest is getting underway. Soon, the vineyard crew will be hectically filling bins of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon for processing at the winery. While this is a busy and stressful time of year in the valley, it is also a time of great comradery and friendship.

The members of our vineyard crew spend so much time together that we’ve become a family. We know each other’s idiocrasies and aren’t afraid to have fun with them. (For instance, if you ever meet Rafa, feel free to ask him about his interest in alien abduction.) One of the results of this closeness is the nicknames the guys give one another.

I am not sure if there are any rules for assigning the names. Our Vineyard Manager, Brad Sorensen’s nickname, “Diego,” was given to him because the guys could not pronounce his real name. Oddly, “Diego” follows him wherever his goes.

I find that most of the crew’s nicknames are for given for life. Alfredo, who is one of our supervisors, has had the same nickname, “Burro” since the 1970s. I suppose a lifelong nickname is both a curse and a blessing. If you are lucky enough to be given a cool name, then you are set. All one can do is pity the poor person given a weird or funny name.

Take, for instance, another of our supervisors, Jose Luis, who originally started with our crew as an irrigator. At first he was given the name “Pipas” (Pipes). Jose Luis had that name for several years until one day he stepped on a nail and spent the next week limping on his sore foot. His nickname was quickly changed to “Pato,” which means “duck.” Too bad, Pato.

I, too, had the benefit of going through a name change. When we first started our farming crew in 2003 my nickname was “Patas Largas” (Long Legs). While I am a tall guy, this was not exactly a name that made me proud. After a few years, as the crew grew and we started farming more acres, my name changed. I am now known as “Paton” (Big Feet).

OK, so I can see how on the surface “Paton” does not seem any better than “Patas Largas,” but one needs to understand there is more to the name than making fun of my large feet. It is also a sign of respect. The word “patron” means boss. My guys told me they gave me my new nickname because it plays off of the fact that I am the boss. When I asked why my nickname could not just be “patron,” my foreman laughed and said, “You are already the boss. We can’t let your head get too big.”

I laughed. He was right. It could be so much worse for me. Ask Juvenal, aka “Bisonette,” (Little Bison) or Rafa aka “Pelón” (Baldy), who have two of the worst names on the crew. So Juvenal is as big as a large mammal. Is it a really good idea to risk making him angry? It’s not poor Rafa’s fault that he lost his hair when he was a young man. Wait a minute, do you think the aliens have something to do with the loss? A topic for my next blog.

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