Saturday, August 20, 2011

Nicknames: Caribbean Context

I'm so psyched right now, because I just met PIKACHU (from Pokemon) in the train station!!! I love this country! (Yes, I'm aware that I'm 4 years old. I'm cool with that.)

Today, I'll be talking about nicknames, Caribbean Style.


In many parts of the world, people with long (and even not-so-long) names, go by a shortened version of their name. Charles becomes Chuck. William becomes Will or Bill. Richard becomes Rich or Dick. Jennifer is Jenny or Jenn. Jessica is Jess or Jessie.

Not so in Bim, and presumably the rest of the Caribbean. If your name is Victoria, you're Victoria. If we call you Mike, it's probably because your name is Mike, not because we've shortened it from Michael. There are a few exceptions: Jennifer still goes to Jenny a lot, and if you ask to be called a shortened version of your name, you will be. But Charles is pretty much never Chuck.


So, if not from shortened names, where do nicknames come from in the Caribbean? Some of them are the pet names parents use before they've named a child. A school friend of mine, Kemal, was called "George" while he was in the womb, and is still George to this day. We even had a Prime Minister called Jon Michael Geoffrey Mannigham Adams and everyone called him "Tom".


As you might have noticed above it's perfectly common for real names which are completely unrelated to a person's actual name to become their nickname. This gives rise to an interesting side effect: sometimes you know someone your whole life, and don't know their real name until you hear their obituary.

This is the case in my father's family. His oldest brother's real name is Dennis. Everyone knows him as "Clyde". Evelyn is "Patrick". Keith is "Johnny" or "Cap" and my Dad, Vernon is "Charlie". In fact, after my grandmother's first husband died, she kept her last name so that all the kids would have the same name. So people from the neighbourhood invariably try to find Charlie Bancroft (his father's last name) instead of Vernon Gittens. lol!


Some people are called by their last names. This is most common with guys. Like a friend from school was Barker. Noone ever uses his first name. It's weird because his sister also went to school with us and we called her by her first name. Even though we don't shorten first names, last names get turned into pet names all the time. Clarke becomes Clarky. Brathwaite becomes Brath. Prescod becomes Pressy. My last name, Gittens becomes Gitts.


Some nicknames come from a physical trait. The tallest person in a neighbourhood or a group may be "Tallies" or "Tallman". The shortest is "Shortman". The fattest might be "Fats". If the guys out on the street are trying to talk to girls they don't know, they'll call the thin ones "Slims" and the fat ones "Thickness". They red-skin (light brown) ones are "Reds" and the dark ones are "Darkies".

On the flip of this is the ironic nickname. There was a man who was 400 pounds (at least). His nickname was Tiny!


Some nicknames arise out of a story about a person. a guy at school brought apples every day, and he became Apples. The nicknames with stories to them can get really crazy. Here are a few examples. I'll give you the story if I know it.

Auto Mac- a mechanic
Zero- he was thinner than 1
Sandfly - small, fast and annoying (field hockey)
Pawn Cow - supposedly pawned his mother's cow to take a girl on a date. lol.
Teno - Scores so many goals, it's like a 100, 10-0 =ten o
Sluggy - Supposedly does everything slow except sex. lol.
Urkel - after Steve Urkel from tv's Family Matters
Iron Pig
Cat - for being sneaky
Fox - for being sly
Big Dumb
Shanno Foot Cockroach
Mice Milk- I don't know the story behind Mice Milk, but the best thing is that there are two ppl with this nickname at my church!

All of the nicknames in that list belong to men. It's comparatively rare for women to get nicknames. I guess in Caribbean culture, the man is more an entity of the entire village, while a woman belongs to her family and her specific group of friends or something like that.


Sophia said...

I hadn't given the idea of nicknaming my characters much thought, but after reading this it will be fun to try! That'd be a good way to slip in some backstory, explaining your random nickname to someone who doesn't know the story or just showing that there's a shared history between characters.

S. said...

what would my carribean nickname be? interesting post!

Sidrah said...

LoL.. I loved the list. Shanno Foot Cockroach?? OMG.

Pikachu is cute!

trump said...

Id like to invite you folks to come to Amish Stories for a recipe for "Famous Pennsylvania Dutch Sticky Cinnamon Buns" along with a book signing schedule for Amish fiction writer Wanda Brunstetter for Pennsylvania and Ohio as well as a contest to meet her. I hope everyone so far is having a great weekend. Thanks everyone. Richard from Amish Stories.

Shirley Anstis said...

Great! I found a book on Barbados nicknames when I was researching mine on nicknames in Grenada. The Grenada stories are interesting, educational, entertaining and vary around gender and age. You can find out more
Loving your blog too.

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