At first, Sandy Cain's friends joked with her a bit about the storm that shared her name - and was on its way to her home.

"They were saying, 'Oh, you'll do anything for a little name-recognition,'" says Cain, who, as Hurricane Sandy made its sudden approach here in late October, was making her first foray into a field in which name-recogntion is a prized commodity: She was running for City Council in her hometown, Absecon.

And Cain admits she even got a smile herself out of a storm that came bearing her name. But a few days later, nobody in South Jersey was smiling anymore about Hurricane Sandy, the worst storm to hit the region in 50 years - if not the most destructive storm in local history.

No, it isn't easy being named Sandy in South Jersey now, in a post-Sandy world.

Cain thought about that recently, when she found a concert T-shirt from one of her favorite musicians, Jimmy Buffett, and his 2006 tour. She likes the Buffett end of the shirt, but when she got it, she also enjoyed the fact that the back of it featured a list of that year's hurricane names - and Sandy was on that list.

"Then, it was cool - 'Oh, they're going to name a hurricane after me,'" says Cain, a teacher in Galloway Township. "But now, you still feel so bad with everything that's happened" in and after the storm.

Most of the spray-painted, plywood signs have come down - "Sandy go home" and "Go pound Sandy" and more - but that name can still draw a reaction in Sandy's path of destruction.

"Every Sandy is hearing stuff," says Sandy Denardis, of Little Egg Harbor Township, who has used that nickname for most of her life, which is "over 39 years" long now. "You know, the usual things, 'You're causing a lot of trouble. ...' They're teasing me."

Sandy Warren, of Atlantic City, also has gotten "lots of teasing. People say, 'Ah, you changed your ways. You got nasty.'"

She knows it's all in fun, and it's not enough to make her think about changing her name - or start to use her given name, Sandra, which also is the natural birth name of most female Sandys.

"The only time anybody calls me that is when it's somebody who doesn't know me - or my mother when she wanted to make a point," said Warren, who has 72 years of experience at being called Sandy.

Sandy Kahn, of Ventnor, also didn't think about any name changes - but she has noticed her name seemed hard for some people to say. Right after the storm, it even felt kind of odd for Kahn to introduce herself to anyone, especially after the answers she got from doing that.

"A couple of people called me 'Mrs. Kahn,' rather than use my name," says Kahn, who had "a bit" of damage herself in the storm, but knows she was lucky compared to a lot of people around South Jersey.

Bob Essl wasn't worried about offending any actual or potential customers of his restaurant, Essl's Dugout, when his wife, Sharon, directed a message to Sandy on the plywood they used to board up the popular breakfast-and-lunch restaurant.

"Sandy, no soup for you," the sign said, but Essl couldn't think of Sandys who would have seen it - except maybe his old friend, Sandy Valenti, of Galloway Township.

His restaurant did get flooded, as did a lot of its neighbors in the low-lying West Atlantic City section of Egg Harbor Township. But the Dugout was back in business quickly, thanks to floor drains that worked well, to days of help from loyal friends - and to windows that stayed whole behind wood, and that snarky Sandy sentiment.

Valenti, the mother of a former Essl's waitress, joked she feels "a little abused lately" as a Sandy, but said she actually hasn't heard much teasing about her name.

"But I find my head turning a lot, because I hear my name being mentioned so much," she added.

This newspaper's own archives can give an idea of how common a combination of letters Sandy has become in our local world lately. In 2011, that word appeared - in any context and any form; as name, adjective or otherwise - in 441 stories in The Press, or an average of about 1.2 per day. In 2012, the word showed up in 1,583 stories, or 4.3 per day. In the first 10 days of this young year, "Sandy" made it into 117 stories, or nearly a dozen each day.

"It certainly gives you more attention than you've had in 65 years," says Sandy McAfee, of Marmora, who adds her best friend since high school is another Sandy.

Her buddy's last name is Walter, she lives in Millville, and "we've both noticed that we've become very popular lately - but not in a good way," adds McAfee, who passed a few leftover Sandy-slamming signs on Ocean City's Boardwalk just last weekend.

And even if they have the start of a Sandy support group right there, McAfee - and every other local Sandy who talked about the name - doesn't see any need to start or join such a club.

Dr. Sandy Lieberman, an internal medicine specialist who lives in Egg Harbor Township and practices in Galloway Township, says he really hasn't heard much at all about his nickname from friends, or family, or anybody. And he figured he might.

"Sometimes people who don't know you will associate a name with something on television, some event or famous person," he said. "I was worried about that, but it hasn't happened."

The nickname's new notoriety also hasn't made him think of a logical switch - he could easily go by his given name, Alexander.

But, he realized, "If I didn't use Sandy, my real name could be the first (hurricane) this year," he said.

For the record, the actual leadoff name on the World Meteorological Organization's 2013 list of Atlantic hurricanes is Andrea. Given its history, Sandy will no doubt be formally removed from the rotating, six-year list later this year by the WMO.

Sandy Bosacco, the captain of the Stone Harbor Beach Patrol, says he also hasn't gotten much ribbing about his nickname. The only time he came close was when he was ordering a pizza the night before the storm hit - and got a strange reaction when he said his name was Sandy.

"You'd think there would be more of it," says Bosacco, a 30-year veteran lifeguard. "But it's almost like something people don't want to talk about. They don't find any humor in it."

Sandy Gingras, an artist who owns two stores on hard-hit Long Beach Island, has good reason not to find much to laugh at in the Sandy saga. Her home and one of the stores, in Surf City, "did just fine," she says. "The Beach Haven business was underwater - 42 inches. That's not so good. But we're rebuilding. We're making headway."

Gingras has some experience with intimate pieces of her life suddenly getting hijacked by negative associations.

"My birthday is Sept. 11," she says. "So that was my first glimmer," in 2001.

She still sees some signs around her home island inviting, or ordering, Sandy to stay away. She doesn't take them personally.

"I'm not paranoid," she said. "But we'll see what the next big disaster is. If it's my last name, I'll really feel like the universe is picking on me."

Sandy Cain can say with confidence even a post-Sandy world has no grudge against the current Sandys of the world. Or at least her hometown doesn't.

Just eight days after Hurricane Sandy hit South Jersey, the people of Absecon elected a political rookie named Sandy, handily, to represent them on City Council. Sandy won - despite all the name-recognition.

Contact Martin DeAngelis:

609-272-7237