Let’s talk today about nicknames. There are hundreds of thousands of them in daily circulation all around this island.
The fascinating element of their usage, however, is that there are many thousands of us who don’t know we possess a nickname at all and have never been addressed or hailed by it.
That is a pity, in my view, because the overwhelming majority of Irish nicknames I’ve encountered in all the provinces are oral works of art.
They almost invariably catch the soul and substance and positive or negative characteristics of the person to whom they have been attached, infinitely more accurately than any baptismal name.
And our nicknames usually do that with just one explosively expressive noun.
They are one of the richest facets of our culture.
Do you know if you have earned a nickname?
Have you ever heard it? Is it flattering or otherwise?
Would you consider it to be at all accurate?
Even if you have never heard it spoken to your face, you know though, don’t you, that it is constantly uttered behind your back.
You also know that you constantly use other folk’s nicknames in that fashion yourself. Is that not again the strange, pure truth?
I am excluding sporting nicknames from this issue. These are normally earned by the stars of the codes they garnish, and we all know them well. They are usually both complimentary and accurate.
I select just one from that sporting regiment of nicknames to make the point.
That is the Bomber Liston’s title. He earned that one, did he not, by scoring three goals against Dublin in his first All Ireland final and, as they said that day, bombing craters of shock and silence with each goal across the blue heart of Hill Sixteen.
In all his years since, that nickname, Bomber, keeps the memory of that day golden.
But it is the unknown thousands of nicknames of us ordinary folk that are, indeed,
Some of them are quite cruel, some are hilarious, they range all the way across the oral scale.
By and large, they are revealing, far more so than the Christian name or surname.
Some are ridiculous too,
especially the very common one on the female side of the coin. That is Baby.
There are many good ladies of advanced, genteel years in the country, who were called Baby because they were the youngest of the family, and the name stuck to them all their lives. It often still appears in brackets on their death notices. The truth, yet again.
Nicknames adhere like that. They are affixed with some kind of verbal superglue.
When my namesake second son, Cormac Og, was a baby, and you picked him up to put him to bed, he clung on to your hip so tightly to avoid bedtime that I nicknamed him Scobie, after the leading jockey at the time, Scobie Breasley.
Today, as he closes in on his 40s, nobody at all knows him by any other name. I did him no favours at all. I learned my lesson, though, and never nicknamed any of his siblings.
Myself, for what it is worth, I have two nicknames that I am aware of, and there may be others. The two I know about are not complimentary at all and, like so many nicknames, they feature a physical defect.
In secondary school long ago, a very popular comic featured a spaceman called Dan Dare, whose green and alien enemy was a creature called The Mekon. This creature’s visage was dominated by a very long nose.
Look at the photo above and ye will see I, sadly, am similarly equipped. Hence, I was christened Mekon. To this day, any time I venture back home, old classmates call me Mekon. I’ve learned to live with that, without pain.
The same feature emerged later. I was working as a
reporter in Roscommon and overheard three girls mockingly enough discussing the fruitless quest for romance by the young man they called Nose.
“He has more of a nose for news”, one laughed, “than he has for romance”.
It took some time for me to realise who they were laughing at. I, of course, never heard that nickname used to the rest of my face. That is the way it goes with nicknames.
There are great ones. Maybe yours is one of those.
I’ve encountered many along the road, almost all of them sharply accurate. A noted teller of tall stories, for example, was called Spinner.
Another of that ilk was Lip.
A man alleged to have avoided physical work all his life, so successfully it was said hair grew on the palms of his hands, was Slavery.
One called The Puck, after a billy goat, was so afraid of women that he fled the room when they entered.
A certain lady I’m glad I never met directly was Witchbitch.
It was accurate, over time.
Her first husband fled to England after two years. A second partner, they told me, was glad to escape to his grave in less than 10.
Two friends I knew who haunted those dry ballrooms of the past, three nights weekly. One, with broad shoulders, was mad for women, but his friend was totally disinterested in anything but dancing.
The women called them Humpty and Flatfork. Work it out for yourselves.
I could go on and on, but maybe the point is made already.
So, what is your nickname? Is it uttered to your face or only behind your back?
Do you genuinely think you have escaped having one
attached to your person?
Nose, aka Mekon, would love to know, and can be contacted via the email address above by responsible neighbours and friends in your community, any time.
This one could run and run.