Why is Jeffrey referred to as "Maniac" in Maniac Magee?

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Everyone calls Jeffrey “Maniac” in the book Maniac Magee because it is a nickname that has stuck. He was given the nickname due to his talent as a runner and the unconventional way in which he lives his life.

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Jeffery Lionel Magee earns the nickname Maniac Magee because of his unconventional, reckless lifestyle and memorable accomplishments, which have become legendary in the racially divided town of Two Mills, Pennsylvania. After Jeffery's parents died in a tragic trolley accident, he was sent to live with his confrontational Aunt Dot and Uncle Dan in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. Eventually, Jeffrey could not endure any more of their arguing and ran away to Two Mills, which was two hundred miles away. Once Jeffrey arrived in Two Mills, he began performing legendary athletic feats that astonished his peers. On the first day that Jeffrey arrived in Two Mills, he made a miraculous one-handed catch during an eleventh-grade gym class and ran off the field before anyone could identify him.

Later on, Jeffrey climbed over the frightening Finsterwald fence to save Arnold Jones. Jeffrey then appeared at the Little League field and proceeded to hit four home runs in a row off the best pitcher in town, John McNab. John McNab then pitched Jeffery a frog, which he successfully bunted as the infielders struggled to capture it. Jeffery rounded all the bases and became the first person ever to hit a "frogball for a fourbagger." After hitting the frogball home run, Jeffery earned the nickname Maniac Magee and continued to accomplish nearly impossible feats. Maniac Magee managed to untie the famous Cobble's Knot, was one of the only white people to cross the racial divide at Hector Street, and even beat Mars Bars in the race running backward. Overall, Jeffery Magee earned his nickname for his unconventional lifestyle, impressive athleticism, and inspiring accomplishments.

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If you had to ask Jeffrey “Maniac” Magee what was in a name, he’d tell you that names mean a lot and that if he had the choice, he would rather be called Jeffrey than Maniac. However, he doesn’t get much of a choice in the matter after he is nicknamed “Maniac” as a result of the phenomenal athletic feats that people have seen him performing. Just as an example, at the age of eleven, he ran away from the home of his aunt and uncle, who had had custody of him in the aftermath of his parents’ death. He literally “ran” away, running a couple of hundred miles and winding up in Two Mills, Pennsylvania.

Part of the reason why he ends up with the nickname of “Maniac” is that he runs just about everywhere he goes and can hit a home run every time. He also has some other interesting quirks, such as being allergic to pizza, not going to school despite being a voracious reader, and having an uncanny ability to untie knots.

In a nutshell, people started calling Jeffrey “maniac” because he was quick on his feet and did not fit into any social norms. While being a thoroughly good person at heart, he simply would not stay in any situation in which he was uncomfortable or unhappy.

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Maniac Magee gets his nickname after his feats have all the kids at school talking about him:

Nobody knows who said it first, but somebody must have: “Kid’s gotta be a maniac.”

And somebody else must have said: “Yeah, reg’lar maniac.”

No one knows his real name before they give him his nickname, so it is easy for all the kids in both East and West End to forget he may have had any other.

Maniac is named by the community, and he doesn’t like it. He would prefer to be Jeffrey because it’s the only thing he has left from his parents, but almost everyone still calls him Maniac.

The few exceptions are those who become like family to him—most notably the Beales and Grayson. The one time Mrs. Beale calls him Maniac, he tells her:

“I’m Jeffrey. You know me.” Because he was afraid of losing his name, and with it the only thing he had left from his mother and father.

Mrs. Beale smiled. “Yeah, I know you all right. You’ll be nothing but Jeffrey in here. But—” she nodded to the door—“out there, I don’t know.”

Maniac values his identity. He shows this by placing importance on things like his real name and having an address.

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The title character in Jerry Spinelli's Maniac Magee is born Jeffrey Magee and lives roughly the first decade of his life being called Jeffrey. Upon coming to the town of Two Mills after leaving the home of his aunt and uncle, Magee accomplishes a series of significant athletic accomplishments that lead to him earning the nickname of Maniac.

One of the significant events occurs when Magee shows up on a football field and intercepts a pass intended for the super-talented James "Hands" Down. Another of the accomplishments occurs when Magee shows up at the Little League field and subsequently hits multiple home runs off of the previously "unhittable" John McNab. Lastly, Magee rescues a kid who is being bullied by high school students and dumped into the yard of Finsterwald—who everybody is afraid of, except for Magee.

With Magee's sudden and dramatic burst into the town of Two Mills, the nickname Maniac seems to be appropriate.

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In Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, why does the protagonist tell people his name is Jeffrey when everyone calls him Maniac?

Jeffrey's name is all he has left from his parents.

Jeffrey does not think of himself as a legend because he wants to be a normal kid with a normal address. The way Jeffrey’s nickname starts is that he is a stranger in town.  It is actually kind of sad.  No one knows who he is, and that is part of why they call him Maniac.  

Nobody knows who said it first, but somebody must have: "Kid's gotta be a maniac."…

And that was it. Nobody (except Amanda Beale) had any other name for him, so pretty soon, when they wanted to talk about the new kid, that's what they called him: Maniac. (Ch. 8) 

Jeffrey has a name, but what he doesn’t have is a family.  He wants an address.  He wants people to know who he is.  He wants to belong.  This is why he moves in with the Beales when they offer to let him stay, and why he goes down to look at the street number.  It doesn’t matter to Jeffrey that he is white and they are black.  He wants to be Jeffrey.  Amanda introduces him by name, though she does have to ask him his last name. 

Jeffrey does get tired of being called Maniac, even by people that he knows. 

And pretty soon everybody was saying it … and, finally, in the kitchen one day … Mrs. Beale said it: "You that Maniac?"

He told her what he told everyone. "I'm Jeffrey. You know me." Because he was afraid of losing his name, and with it the only thing he had left from his mother and father. (Ch. 14) 

Jeffrey’s name is important to him because it is all that is left of his family.  His parents died, and he ran away from his aunt and uncle because they were dysfunctional.  They were not ready to be a family.  

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