The Irish tradition of not getting names right is so you don't lose the run of yourself

This week Colm O’Regan is here to voice everythign you’ve ever thought about people getting names wrong!

The Irish tradition of not getting names right is so you don't lose the run of yourself

I’m shouting briefly at my email inbox. It annoys me, way more than it should. Someone has sent a message to my email address, which helpfully has all of my name in it, and got both ends of my name wrong. The clue was in my email address!

In my experience, it’s mostly Irish people get names wrong. I think we have a tradition here of not getting names right as a way of showing that we don’t want you losing the run of yourself. The Lidls, the Tescos, the Easons, the Chris Eubanks, the euros — all had a little bit added just to show they had to EARN our respect.

And the thing is that once you become familiar to someone here, they’ll probably call you by your nickname anyway. So you may never be called by your actual name.

Nicknames can be helpful or a hindrance. A TD with nickname usually stands a better chance of being elected. But the placement of the nickname is important. It has to be in the middle with a “the”.

It indicates they are a bit of a character and makes it harder for them to be blamed. That’s why Shane Ross will be blamed for the length of the bus strike but if he was called Shane The Skudger Ross, he’d probably get away with it.

Gangsters get nicknames too but mostly they are made up by journalists who can’t use their real names unless they’ve been convicted. These nicknames achieve absolutely nothing except to give younger gangsters something to aim for.

If you want to give them nicknames maybe The Man Who Gets Poor People Addicted or The Lad Who Threatens Businesses With Arson If They Don’t Hand over Their Profits would be more apt.

Funnily enough, the word nickname is itself a sort of nickname. It’s an example of what is known as rebracketing where a word is changed because of a misunderstanding of where the syllables are.

It happened in the middle ages where there was very little space between the letters and most common example was a confusion where there was an ‘an’. A nickname used to be an eke-name.

Eke meaning “additional” or “increase” and is the same word as used in “eke out” meaning to make go further. So when you are having absolutely legendary banter with your mate and calling him Jonser, you are increasing him medievally.

(By the way rebracketing is also the reason we have an adder and not a nadder and an umpire and not a numpire. Take THAT one to the pub and throw it out as a fact during an ad-break in the match.)

Colm is reasonably nickname proof. It doesn’t go well with an ‘o’ (Colmo sounds like a detergent), a ‘ser’ (Colmser evokes an awkward quango title. “The charity has been placed in administration following an investigation by ColmSer.”) There is possibly scope for ‘y’ but only Colly. Colmy sounds a little unsettling. “He stood too close to me. I found his presence colmy.”

Nicknames can be problematic if you are not guaranteed they have widespread use.

We had nicknames for people, growing up and in some cases, I never knew the person’s real name, which is fine if restricted to internal use. But on more than one occasion, I accidentally lifted the lid on the family nickname operation as I blurted out a name that no one else in the locality knew.

Anyway, my real name’s at the top of this. Yiz have no excuse. (Or I could let it go, in case I get called The Whinger.)

  • Follow Colm on Twitter: @colmoregan @irishmammies

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