Sort of a right of passage, or maybe just more of a tradition...
It has become a standard that a thruhiker be given a new, nontraditional name on the trail. It has been so for some time, and continues so every year.
It is fitting. In a way, life on the trail is a whole different existence from life in general. You live differently, think differently; you make perfect sense to others out here in the woods, but become completely lost when you step back into society when you first arrive in town.
For many, this may be a step away from "normal". For others, this is a whole new beginning. Thus it is fitting that we go by new names, at least while we walk the trail.
Some people come to the trail with a new name already decided. I met "Bird Man", he goes by the name due to his love of birds, and his hobby is owning large birds. He goes so far as to carry a bird hat, and leaves bird stickers at shelters.
"Runner" is called so because for many years he was a runner.
Some of the best and most creative names come from the trail itself. Many thruhikers will just walk the trail, and let the others, who are a part of the experience, name them. "The Flash" got his name from heading to a tree to do his business at night, but forgeting to turn off his headlamp.
"Steps" got hers because she was counting her steps for the first week or two.
"Sleeping Beauty" got his name because he snoozed for 18 hours on a zero day.
I walked onto the trail open to what would come for my name. I did write "Wanderer" initially, as I feel like that describes my outdoor personality. But when people asked my name, I used my real name, and said the trail hasn't named me, yet.
Over the course of a few weeks on the trail, I have been given four names already.
The first one was mentioned by K-Doe, who refered to me as "Main Man", in reference both to my home state of Maine and my being a friend. It was only mentioned that once, though, and did not stick.
"Mainiac" was my handle for a little while. I do not recall who initiated it, but it was in reference once again to my home, and also my ability to hike far and fast.
It was my name for a little while, but I did not care much for it. I didn't feel like a Maniac, it didn't sound right to introduce myself as Maniac, and also another person was being called by the same name this year.
Runner, a great thruhiker whom I've had the pleasure of running in to a few times on the trail, coined the name "Walking Home". Since then, it has become my common trail name.
I like it. It has a nice sound to it. And it is fitting, I think. It is also a nice conversation starter, since upon learning my name, one also has a sense I am probably from near the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
At the Norris Hostel in Hot Springs, a discussion came up about my name.
"I like it." said one.
"But wait, what if you decide to hike the Pacific Crest Trail someday? You would have to change your name." Said the other.
"You can't change a trail name! It stays with you forever!" Said the first.
I ended the conversation abruptly. "Guys! How about I finish THIS trail before I even consider worrying about ANOTHER long trail??!!"
And so, as I continue up and down these great mountains every day, I am known to those who walk with me as "Walking Home". With trekking poles in hand and a smile on my face, it feels right.