Most thru-hikers don’t go by their real names, they go by trail names. Tradition dictates that your trail name should be given to you by other hikers (preferably thru-hikers). In order for a trail name to really stick, you have to accept it and adopt it as your own. So, we have a little more control over our trail names than over our birth names. There’s a story behind everyone’s trail name (though some trail names have more interesting stories than others).
My trail name is Patches. It was given to me during my first week hiking in Georgia because of the banner/flag that I carry on the back of my pack, which is covered with patches. There is extra meaning in the name for me because the flag with the patches on it was a Chistmas gift from one of my brothers and his wife (she passed away in a tragic car accident a few years later). Each of the patches on the flag also holds memories of places that I’ve been, adventures that I’ve had, and people that I care about.
Just like birth names, trail names are not always unique. A couple of weeks into the trail, while I was still in Georgia, I started hearing rumors about another Patches. I finally caught up with him just north of Hot Springs in North Carolina. He’s 19, and was inspired to hike the trail in part to honor the memory of a friend of his that passed away unexpectedly. For his trail name, he adopted the name of that friends imaginary best friend. The two of us have hiked together a bit and cross-crossed each other multiple times on the trail at this point.
Other trail names have more light hearted origins, like Hog. He got his trail name after one of the wild hogs charged at him and scared him into awkwardly (and entertaining) climbing a tree. Choo Choo got his name because he hikes through everything like a train and doesn’t slow down. There’s also the couple named Huff, and Puff, because they huff and puff their way up all of the hills.
So far, I’ve only been involved in giving one group of people their trail names. I hiked for a few days with three awesome women from New England that were in their late seventies and early eighties. On the first of those days we were cheerily setting up camp and settling in when my friend Bud arrived feeling completely wiped out. The ladies were talking about how they’d hiked 16 miles the day before and 18 the day before that. At that point Bud and I were struggling to do 10-12 miles a day. Later in the evening he turned to me and said, “Man, I feel like I’m getting out hiked by The Golden Girls!” From then on, I couldn’t help but refer to them as The Golden Girls. They were pretty entertained by that, and the name stuck.