Whatever happened to nicknames?


Anyone who has ever googled themselves has probably been surprised and disappointed to find that there are other people in the world with the same name. Even though we have never met anyone with the same surname, there are bound to be others out there, and if that wasn’t galling enough, some of these people’s parents didn’t even have the decency to think up their own first name – they had to use ours.

Take the legendary British broadcaster Alistair Cooke, who brought BBC listeners his Letter from America every Sunday for nearly 60 years. He must have died safe in the knowledge that – as far as famous people went – his name was unique and unmistakably his. The Alistair Cooke, not one Alistair Cooke.

But just a year after the great man’s death, someone else of the same name came into the public eye. That was when a young cricketer called Alastair Cook made his debut as an opening batsman – and future captain – for England.

Minor differences in spelling that don’t alter the sound when spoken. Suddenly there were, to all intents and purposes, two Alistair Cookes.

What was needed here was a nickname or two. But no, in the modern sports world there exists a shocking lack of creativity. Alastair Cook is known as Cooky, Stuart Broad is Broady, Joe Root is Rooty. The only variation in English cricket is that if your name is longer than one syllable you might be given ‘ers’ on the end, rather than ‘y’. Thus Mike Atherton is Athers, but Michael Vaughan, whose surname is only one letter shorter but pronounced as one syllable, is Vaughany.

Howlin wolf
He used to howl like a wolf, but originally he Chestered like a Burnett

Let’s face it, most names are pretty boring. It’s better than being known as a number or a code of randomly-generated letters, but all the same, we’re all unique, so why can’t we be called something unique?

One area that is particularly rich in nicknames is black American music, which has given us such characters as Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter), Muddy Waters (McKinley Morganfield), Lightnin’ Hopkins and Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown.

Then there were Edward Ellington, better known as Duke, and William ‘Count’ Basie.

Less well-known characters probably only find their way into the media nowadays by dint of having a nickname. Step forward Bumblebee Slim , Sticks McGhee, Walter ‘Papoose’ Nelson, Scrapper Blackwell and Daddy Stovepipe.

‘As right, Biggie. You da king

Alone among modern cultural groups, rappers like a good nickname. The Notorious B-I-G (AKA Biggie Smalls, AKA Christopher Wallace), Dr Dre (his first name is Andre) , Puff Daddy (P. Diddy), Ice T, Vanilla Ice and so on.

Isn’t this confusing, when the world increasingly likes to keep tabs on us? I was once challenged in a bank when I tried to cash a cheque with my name on it. “Why is it made out to Chris when your name is Christopher,” the keen young jobsworth asked in all seriousness. An older colleague gave me a break on that occasion, but what would they do if a music legend walked in with a cheque made out to Eminem.

David Evans (left) and Paul Hewson of U2. Oh, all right, The Edge and Bono

“But on your driving licence it says Marshall Mathers, Sir.”

Or perhaps he walks in with a cheque made out to his real name. “Where you get this from, man? You ain’t no Marshall Mathers. You Eminem, I got all your rekkerds.”


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