Opinion — You can call me Sal

Nicknames and the human connection they create

Dallas Wiertella

What is it about nicknames that are so intriguing? For those of you who don’t listen to the podcast, know me or have heard of me beyond the byline, my name is Dallas Wiertella … but I just go by Sal. 

I think one of my favorite reactions is when people who do just know me by Sal find out that it is not my real name. Dallas is not a dead name. I don’t hate it and try to hide it. Instead, Sal is similar to calling someone by their initials, like CJ, or calling someone by the shorthand version of their name. 

I like to think of my life not as one long story, but as a movie series sectioned off into smaller films. In Akira Kurosawa’s films “Yojimbo” and “Sanjuro,” Toshiro Mifune’s character is never really given a proper name. Since these movies are implied to take place with the same main character without ever being brought up, this nameless character just exists in the framework he is presented in — the film. When the character is asked his name in both films he just looks out of the window and picks one based on what he sees: Kuwabatake (mulberry field) and Tsubaki (camellia bush).

In short, and less convoluted, this character lives his life and tells his story within the film, so we just get whatever name he sees fit. To relate this to my article, I am him. 

The story of Sal is not as cool. In the simplest explanation, my mom calls me Sal because my name when spelled backward is “Sallad,” which is almost salad. I hated it, so my mom shortened it to Sal and I just gave up fighting it. When I finally came out of my shell in my sophomore year, people just naturally had shorthands or nicknames so I just said “you can call me Sal.” So, here I am.

It has come to the point where even my official name for NMU’s housing website of RAs is Sal. Has it gone too far? Maybe. But like Sanjuro, I am only defined by this frame of my life, which is college. Being widely known by a nickname gives me a feeling of closeness even to a stranger. As friends give friends nicknames, I already have one you can use which brings us one step closer to losing the formality of acquaintance. 

The naming of people is important as it distinguishes us from inanimate objects as well as other humans. I feel grateful for not only the experience of having literally everyone refer to me by a nickname, even in a professional setting, but it also has made me into my own legend. To Dallas, Sal is the best version of me and the best version of me is my own hero. 

If I were to give this rambling a moral I would say that we can choose who we want to be.  Because of that, I encourage you to live your life like you are in a movie. Be your own icon. Be your own Sal.