You’ve surely come across trail journals from people with names like Stomper and Funky Butt and wondered who in their right mind would give their children those monikers. And the answer is: no one. These aren’t the names that parents gave their squealing babies at birth. These are the names that they adopted on the trail. And they are an important and interesting part of AT thru-hiker culture.
So what’s the deal with trail names, anyway? Anyone setting off to spend many months hiking in the wilderness is making a clear choice to leave their normal life behind, at least for a little while. The adoption of a trail name is a symbolic way of helping that happen. Joe or Jim or Jennifer may live in the city and have a job and a mortgage and a cat to take care of. But they have chosen to leave those responsibilities behind and become White Wolf or Thumper or Firefly. And White Wolf, Thumper, and Firefly? They don’t have all those responsibilities. All they have is the daily grind of putting one foot in front of another.
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Trail names are also useful in that they make it easy to remember who you’ve met along the way. There’s a pretty good chance that you’ll come across a couple people named Emily on your journey but you probably won’t meet more than one hiker called Moonbeam! A fitting trail name will set you apart from your peers and help others remember who you are, if only for a little while.
Trail names can be acquired in many different ways. Most AT thru-hikers wait until they are on the trail for their name to be found or given to them. A funny incident in the woods or a unique personality quirk can make for great trail name fodder. The guy that saws wood loudly in the shelter all night might be called Lumberjack. The girl who subsists entirely on quinoa might find herself being known as, well, Quinoa. Needless to say, if you’re going to have a trail name bestowed upon you by someone else, you’re going to have to be a good sport about it! Some hikers take matters into their own hands and give themselves a trail name before they set out. While this is a little less adventurous and authentic than acquiring one along the way, it does prevent the dilemma of being called something you don’t especially like!
While there is certainly no rule saying that you must adopt a new name for the duration of your hike, trail names are definitely a big part of AT culture. If you introduce yourself as Joey you may feel a little left out of the thru-hiker world. That is unless, of course, you were given the name Joey due to your constant need to be carried around like a baby kangaroo – in which case you will fit right in!