How the ‘Boston Tickler’ Got His Name
As soon as reports emerged of a man breaking into homes to tickle sleeping people’s feet, the hunt for a sobriquet was on.
When Boston.com ran the May 27 report that a man was breaking into homes around Boston College and tickling peoples’ feet, the hunt was on…for a nickname. The original report read:
Teddy Raddell, a BC junior, said he was jolted from a sound sleep at 5 a.m. on a Sunday in October by the sound of someone running down the stairs of the house he shares with several fellow Boston College students.
“I thought my roommate had fallen down the steps,” Raddell said, “but then he started yelling. I got up and he said that he had woken up to someone touching his feet.”
Like other students, he said no valuables were stolen.
There were a few non-starters in the search for an appropriate nom de plume. Boston.com called him simply “The Tickler,” and others followed their lead. This had the advantage of making him sound like a particularly inept Batman villain, but it didn’t stick. Barstool Sports tried “The Ticklemonster,” more of a one-off joke than a sobriquet. Jon Stewart (yes the story is that national in scope) on Thursday referred to him as “Boston Weirdo.”
But within a day of that May 27 Boston.com story, news outlets began reflecting a new consensus.On Twitter and in publications as varied as Buzzfeed and the Washington Times, he became known most frequently as “The Boston Tickler.” Now, the name has come full circle, and Boston.com is running with it, too.
It was sort of inevitable. “The Boston Tickler” doesn’t just evoke the name of a more lethal serial criminal “The Boston Strangler.” It mimics the basic form of many serial killer nicknames. Slate magazine once explored the history of nicknaming criminals and found that the heavy creative lifting is usually done by tabloid newspapers:
How do serial killers usually get their nicknames? They almost always originate with the tabloid media and are usually a relatively uncreative combination of location and crime. The “Boston Strangler” strangled people in Boston. The “Axeman of New Orleans” killed New Orleanians with an ax. The “Skid Row Slasher” … you get the idea.
Sometimes there are plays on the names of previous nicknames like Jack the Stripper. Often, there is experimentation before a suitable name is arrived at.
Jack the Ripper was at first called the “Whitechapel Murderer,” then “Leather Apron” after a local shoemaker became a suspect. When Richard Ramirez started invading homes and killing women around Los Angeles, he was first dubbed the “Valley Intruder” by a police officer, and then the “Midnight Stalker” by local papers, before “Night Stalker” stuck.
But neither New York tabloids nor the Boston Herald seem to have had much to do with this nickname. (You think it’d be ripe cover material for the Herald.) Metro Boston seems to be the first local outlet to use the full nickname “The Boston Tickler,” at least that we could track down. But in this case, the name feels less like the creation of a brand-savvy journalist and more like a spontaneous conclusion arrived at a thousand different ways by a thousand different people. Probably it has floated around B.C. before, where his presence has been rumored for a long time now.
And it makes sense. Why break the boring formula and get creative when, after all, the irony is that we’re giving a classic mass murderer nickname to someone who tickles people’s feet? His alleged crimes are disturbing, sure, and should be taken seriously by police and folks in the area. But there’s obviously a touch of amusement to the news coverage (see: Jon Stewart) that an overly serious nickname only serves to highlight.
No, the “Boston Tickler” is simply what he must be called. The tabloids have nothing left but to catch up and start working on their puns for the next time he strikes.