What’s in a (nick) name?

On January 21, 1952, at 7:30 pm at Holy Family Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama, I entered this world. My parents christened me Thomas Gossom Jr. after my dad. While that is my given name, over the years I’ve also been given other names. Some of these were out of fun; others are a play on my name. To me they all signify different episodes of my life.

Tommy is my childhood name. I was Tommy until I went to college. On the rare occasion these days when I hear “Tommy” directed at me, I know the person is from an earlier episode in my life. Those who still exist in Tommyland are comfortable there, perhaps a reflection of a more innocent time. I remember the cashmere jacket I had with “Tommy” written in script across the left chest area. It was cool! At least I thought so.

Radio is another one of my childhood names.This one was between my close growing up buddies and me. We all had nicknames. Cool, Bubba, Duck, Blood, and Radio were our handles. We were close then and still are today. I don’t remember how the nicknames came about. But I do remember the Radio was always on.

Possum Gossom was bestowed on me by my high school Coach Richard Porter. I think he came up with it because it rhymed with Gossom. Twenty years after high school, I was working on In The Heat Of The Night in Covington Ga. Having checked into my hotel I visited the gym next door. They had a track so I took a few laps. I recognized the man and woman walking in front of me. As I passed them, I turned and with a big grin greeted my coach, whom I had not seen in twenty years, “Coach Porter,” I grinned.  He grinned, “Possum Gossom.”

Thomas wasmy name in high school and college as a football player and student. It has risen again, as I enter the fourth quarter of life.

Coach has followed mefrom being the B Team football coach at Parker High School until today with the guys I was lucky enough to coach. It was a special time for us. I am proud to have had that experience and those guys in my life. Occasionally in Birmingham, I’ll hear “Coach” directed toward me. Before turning around, I know it is one of my guys.

TG, G, The G weremy initial years. People dropped my name and called me by my initials. These years overlapped my college years and young adult years. TG became a nickname among my teammates. It still is with many. The G was an ego trip one of my friends laid on me. Yeah, I liked it.

Dark Gable is up there near the top of my list. When I started acting, and flying back and forth between my hometown and Los Angeles, the maintenance guys at The Birmingham Airport whom I had gotten to know, christened me “Dark Gable”. I would even wear my shades indoors for them as I headed to baggage claim.  I loved the name then and now. Those guys gave a lot of love to Dark.

There were other names, some not so complimentary. Most of those were associated with my role in integration. White Boy was a name bestowed on me by some of the less enlightened in my black neighborhood. It was meant to be a slur on me as I went to private school with white students, and wore a white shirt, tie and blue or gray pants every day for twelve years. I grew to like being different.

Monkey, Baboon, Gorilla, The N word, and other disparaging words were thrown at me when I became a pioneer athlete in both the integration of my high school and college. I suppose it was an effort to discourage me from moving ahead in athletics, business and life. It didn’t work. The scars have healed. The memories rarely make me sad anymore. It was a time I was passing through on my way to now.

Thom came about as I began a television career as both a newscaster and an actor. The different spelling highlighted my name in the credits. It has stayed with me throughout my adult life.

I am still a hodgepodge of all my different years, names and episodes of my life.

When it’s all said and done, I’ll settle for Thomas Gossom Jr.

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