Why are nicknames used to identify characters in Freak the Mighty and are they good or bad?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Most people receive nicknames that somehow relate to personal character traits or physical makeup. Nearly all of the people in the novel go by nicknames which help to both explain and develop their characters. Max and Kevin go by nicknames that aptly fit them. Kevin, a twisted boy suffering from severe physical defects, is dubbed "Freak" as a child. It is a cruel nickname but one that Kevin doesn't mind since he does his best to accept the positive aspects of the term. He may be a physical freak of nature, but he is also a mental freak--a highly intelligent boy with an imaginative mind trapped in a dying body. This alternate persona allows Kevin to escape into the world of fantasy, where he can imagine being a knight or superhero. Kevin liked to go by "Robot Man" as a child, pretending that his twisted limbs could house "a laser cannon hidden inside these leg braces." Today, Kevin's nickname, Freak, may seem politically incorrect and insensitive; and though Kevin reveled in the name, the word "Freak" was eliminated from both the film version and paperback releases of the novel--simply renamed as The Mighty.

Maxwell goes by several nicknames: There is the shortened "Max," an ironically short name for such a large person; there was "Kicker," because he liked to kick everyone while in day care; there was "Mad Max," because of his brooding and explosive temperament; then "Max Factor"; and even "Maxi Pad," a moniker given to him by a "butthead" that didn't stick since Max "persuaded him otherwise." But Max took to the nickname he earned when he boosted Kevin upon his shoulders. Together, with Max's size and Kevin's brains, they became "Freak the Mighty"--"Which was pretty cool, even if I say so myself." As The Mighty, Max could escape from the world of the present--one that was not always happy--to a fantasy world where he was not picked upon or whispered about.

The story's other nicknames all help to explain their characters: Max's grandfather is dubbed "Grim" because of his dismal outlook on life. Max's father, a brutal man who killed Max's mother in cold blood before his son's eyes, is fittingly known as "Killer," a nickname in which Max wants no part. Tony D is "Blade," a young hood who carries a knife. And Kevin's mother is known as "The Fair Gwen," a romantic name that symbolizes her beauty and kindness as well as her exalted status (especially to Max) as a fantasy figure deserving of royal treatment.

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Freak the Mighty

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