Introducing Camp Names at Your Camp

Camp Names Add To Your Summer Camp Magic

Aqua in the agua at Pearce Williams

Aqua in the agua at Pearce Williams

I love camp names.

(We have been having an on-going debate on the Summer Camp Professionals Group on Facebook about whether it's good or bad to have camp nicknames)

Although, when I attended Celtic Sports and Arts Centre as a teenaged camper, I fought against camp names.  I grew up at Camp Kintail where the staff didn't have nick names and thought it was a weird barrier between the staff and campers at Celtic .

When I worked at Celtic, the next summer, I asked the director, Lumpy, about why they had started the camp name tradition when they created the camp only a few years before.

He said something that has stuck with me for 25 years: Camp is a magical place and we will do anything we can do to accentuate that difference between camp and home.

Ever since, I have believed that camp names are part of what makes our unique world special.

What if we've never had camp names?

If I was going to implement camp-names for next year the first thing I would do is send out my "manifesto" talking about why I believe camp is important and why I want to make it a separate and magical place.

I would then spend the rest of the winter talking about the things that we do well to create that magic and I would ask for ideas of ways that we can do more.

Eventually I would introduce the idea of camp names and ask the camp community how they felt about that as a signal to kids that camp is not part of the mundane world.

The truth is that camp names won't stick in the first year - especially for staff that the kids have know by their real names. The names will stick for anyone who is new.

Like all new camp traditions... by year 2 people will believe it was always that way.

Aren't camp names a form of lying to the campers?  Will parents trust their children to a BamBam?

We addressed those issues head on: Staff were always to introduce themselves with their "real" name and a firm handshake. I would always say "Hello, my name is Travis Allison, at camp everyone calls me Zoic. I'm the Camp Director."

There is also a staff picture board in the courtyard (the sun around which everything orbited at our camp) with people's real names, camp names and their position on it.

Our kids new our real names and knew that we just preferred to be called by our camp names.

One camp director (in the Camp Pros discussion) said that it would be hard to remember a staff member's real name when it comes time for a reference... I figured that I always needed to know more about a staff member than what they were called at home so it was just one tiny piece of the information that I could recall about them. Truthfully, you just get used to remembering that stuff.

[Come back Monday for my follow-up post: Rules for Approving Camp Names at Your Summer Camp]

Do you have camp names at your camp?  What do you think of the idea?