Disclaimer: I am sure plenty of people get randomly assigned trail names by people they don’t know in their first few days and it doesn’t bother them in the least. This post is for people who are stressing balls over their trail name situation, like we were before and on trail…
It’s starting to be that time of year when A LOT of people are beginning their thru hikes. I have so many blogs I am trying to keep track of; its crazy. So I wanted to throw some advice out there for people who are just getting started about: trail names. Trail names are going to be a very stressful part of your adventure to start with. Kyle and I began to stress about them before we even started the hike. Should we just pick something before the hike even begins, just so we have something to say when we start meeting people? How long should we wait on trail before we choose something? How does something get chosen? What if people choose something we don’t like? Why is there no information out there about this!?! Seeing as how I was a total research hound I was upset no one was giving me the answers on this very stressful subject… so I am here, not to give you the answers per say, but to give you some insight.
First of all, do not stress about your trail name, or other people’s obsession with the fact that you do not have a trail name. Your trail name will come. You do not need to pick one before the trail starts, just begin by being yourself. Most people will not have trail names at first, you can all bond over this and there is something special about knowing those people’s real names later on. We met some of our first friends on trail, Steph and Simon, before then received the trail names Honeybun and Stinkbug, and even though they had trail names we almost always called them by their real names. To me this symbolized that there was something deeper there, that we knew them before they were completely trail-fied… so don’t be scared of that period of time when you don’t have trail names, it’s okay and it’s going to seem minuscule in the grand scheme of things.
For the love of god, don’t pick a trail name before you hit the trail unless you have hiked a long trail in the past and received one out there that you like or have a heavily used nickname at home. For example if you did a long section of the AT before and now you are thru hiking it, of course you should use your trail name you got during that section hike (if you want). Or if EVERYONE at home already calls you something trail name-esque like Nature-tree-trail-walker then sure, transition that into your trail name. But if you are just picking one at home because you are stressed about not fitting in, don’t worry about it!
Also, everyone will try to give you stupid trail names because your lack of one makes them uncomfortable. Don’t give into them unless it is something you want and feel good claiming. That person isn’t going to have to live with the shitty name they give you for 2,185 miles… you are. This is your NAME. It is your identity. The first thing people will learn about your for months. On our very first day we met a trail angel in the parking lot below Springer who was uncomfortable that we didn’t already have trail names and tried to name me something stupid like Lid or Brain or Overloaded because I started my hike with a brain on my pack… I told him to his face, “Thanks but not thanks, I am going to wait for my trail name to find me.” Once we were on trail though we felt the pressure to pick a trail name looming over us. People will push it on you all the time. So within the first week we had settled on trail names. I would be Wisp (because I got wispy hairs all around my face when I sweated… stupid trail name but it sounded nice) and Kyle would be Indy because he started the hike in an Indiana Jones style hat.
THE FIRST WEEK. Do you know how many weeks you spend on trail? So many! And if you go a few weeks, even a month without a trail name… it really isn’t a big deal! Wisp and Indy were stupid trail names, they had no story behind them and once Kyle stopped wearing his Indiana Jones hat there was no visual connection to his trail name. People usually assumed he was from Indiana or liked indie music…. who wants either of those things to define them? I got lucky, I was renamed after a rather unfortunate but hilarious incident involving a tiny pony and a shelter full of sleeping people (click here to see how I got my new trail name, Ponybear). Then I had a real trail name. One that had a fabulous story to go along with it, a story that got around, to the point that sometimes people would know my story before they met me.
Now that isn’t going to happen to everyone, obviously, but you do want your name to represent you and to be something you can get behind. Don’t let people name you after your state, unless you love your state more than anything in the world and you hype it up like there is no tomorrow. Don’t let people name you after an article of clothing you are wearing unless you are going to wear it all the way to Katahdin. Don’t let people just name you to assuage their discomfort in having to hear your real name. When the name fits you will know. So, DO let someone name you Doc because you are always offering medical advice. Do let someone name you Juke Box because you are constantly crooning. Do let someone name you Flavor Savor because you have a fabulous mustache that food bits are constantly getting stuck in.
It is okay to wait for your trail name to find you. Trust me, if you let it happen organically you will be much happier with it in the long walk. And believe me, a thru hike is a long walk.