What's in a (nick) name?

 

Most of us leave our nicknames behind in the playground or the sportsfield, but for some people, including Chewy, Polo, Ming and Peaches, their nickname has stuck for life, and become part of who they are

‘OY, FOUR-EYES!” “Over here, carrot-top.” We’ve all been there, a nickname hurled at you, glaringly pointing out your most self-conscious feature. Most of us leave our nicknames in the playground or in dusty corners of our memories. Some live with a derivative of their name. For another group still, their nickname, often unconnected to the name they were given, stuck and stuck fast. Some chose them, others inherited them and more simply woke up one day and realised this is what they were now called. Most have learned to love their nicknames, adopting them as their own. If you call them by their given name, chances are they won’t realise you’re talking to them, so don’t be offended if they don’t turn around.

PAT ‘THE COPE’ GALLAGHER, POLITICIAN

“The Cope” derives from Templecrone co-operative, founded by my grandfather Paddy the Cope in Donegal in 1905. Gallagher was a common name in those parts and so was Patrick, so the locals called him Paddy the Cope. Patrick the Co-op didn’t rhyme and it was too long. Although, even with poetic license, it doesn’t rhyme.

It’s been in the family for 100 years and politically it’s been tremendous and great marketing. In Europe I am known as The Cope. I would say it’s been extremely beneficial – it definitely stands out. When my grandfather emigrated to Scotland he first saw the benefits of a co-operative. In his latter years he wrote his life story, My Story: Paddy the Cope. An Icelandic group of farmers and fishermen told me recently that it’s their bible. The name is synonymous with the family; everyone is known by their name followed by The Cope, but that sort of thing isn’t unusual around here.

NIALL ‘SLIPPERS’ MADDEN, JOCKEY

I got the name because my father was called “Boots” Madden. He got that name when he was 15 or 16 and working for Edward O’Grady. You know when you’re small and you’re given a pair of shoes or boots that are too big so that they last longer? Well, with his boots, the heel used to drop down as he walked so everyone could hear him coming before they saw him. And it stuck. I don’t know how I started to be called Slippers – a lot of lads try to take the credit for it, but I’ve had it since I was very young. Not everyone in school called me it, but anyone who was involved in racing or anyone on Dad’s side of the family did. It doesn’t bother me. Nobody calls me Niall now; if someone called me Niall, I might not turn around. When you’re called something so often, you get used to it. When I won the Grand National [at Aintree] everyone wanted me to sign things as Slippers. I have a little brother now and he is called Socks.

EOIN ‘CHEWY’ GILL, ACCOUNT MANAGER

When I was 15 and I used to play football, I had slightly hairier legs than the rest of the boys. Star Wars was pretty popular at the time and there was a character called Chewbacca who was a big, hairy guy. That’s how I got the name Chewy. I hated it at the time, it really bothered me, but after a year or so I had to roll with it. I had no choice. After a couple of years a lot of people didn’t know me by anything else. Now after 15 years, people only know me as Chewy. When I was DJing I was known as Chewy and so it took off in a whole other chapter of my life. There are only a few people, mainly my family, who call me my real name. Sometimes I wonder is it time to put it aside and move on, but I’ve been called Chewy for half of my life now and it’s a part of who I am. It was a part of my growing up. If I rang people I knew and said it was Eoin, they would say “who?” Even my business card says Chewy.

DAVID ‘JINX’ LENNON, RAPPER/POET

The name Jinx was bestowed upon me. I was destined to have this name. It was a name that came like a phoenix rises from the ashes. It has helped me to break through in a backward town full of factories and self-hate. It has helped me get through to the world with my music. I took it as a talisman. It started as a nickname at school for a silly reason. I supposedly had magical powers to make people fall off their bicycles. My real name is David but my mother is the only person who calls me that. Most people know me as Jinx – it’s my stage name and I’ve learned to love it. I’ve used it to help me get out of my predicament, the hardships of life, so it’s an object of love rather than a thing of hate.

ALAN ‘POLO’ CROSBIE, DEVELOPMENT MANAGER

My real name is Alan but I’ve been called Polo ever since I’ve been two months old. My folks were making a trip from where I grew up in Kinsale all the way to Mayo. They hadn’t planned on it, but it turned out that they had to bring “baby Alan” with them. On a five-hour trip, they were concerned that I would cry, wail and poop all the way up. In fact, I was angelic. I slept for the whole drive. Halfway through the trip my mum turned to my dad and said, “Isn’t he like Marco Polo the traveller!” Ever since then everyone has called me Polo – family, friends, work colleagues, teachers, doctors – the lot. In fact, there are still situations where, after years of knowing people, they still don’t know my real name. A friend recently (and very kindly) booked flights for “Polo” on a trip. Unfortunately, US immigration was not impressed when Alan turned up at the airport ready to take Polo’s seat on the plane. Still, I got a strange kick out of the strip search.

PETRINA ‘PEACHES’ KEMP, CO-OWNER OF ITSA BAGEL

I got the nickname Peaches quite young by a lady who babysat us for my mum. We lived in the Bahamas at the time. I had rosy cheeks and she thought I looked like peaches and cream, so she asked if she could call me Peaches. That was it. I knew nothing else until I started school, which was all very confusing. The school insisted on calling me Petrina; we had a strict Scottish headmaster who said, “I’m not having a Peaches in my school.” So in school I was Petrina and Peaches at home. By the time I was in my teens everyone had accepted it, including teachers. My parents always called me Peaches. When we moved back to Ireland in the 80s, it was difficult. Peaches Geldof didn’t exist then. Now people have all sorts of wacky names but 20 years ago I did get a lot of “what?” responses when I said my name. I haven’t changed my name officially so my passport and legal documents are all Petrina; it can be confusing with two names. I do enjoy it thoroughly, though. It can be a great icebreaker. And it can be useful too. People only call me Petrina now to tease or annoy me.

SEAMUS ‘BANTY’ McENANEY, GAA MANAGER

My father, JJ McEnaney, nicknamed me the Banty, that’s how I got the name. I was very close to my father; I farmed with him until he died. Way back in 1978, believe it or not, but I was very thin. I wasn’t putting on any weight and I was basically skin and bone. I had two bones sticking out of my chest and my mother brought me to the doctor. When we arrived back my father says, “What’s wrong with the wee man?” “The doctor says he has two bones sticking out of his chest; a thing called a pigeon chest.” “It’s a banty hen we have so,” says McEnaney Sr.

Ever since then my father called me Banty and when I started playing football all my mates there called me Banty. All the local people call me Banty. There are people out there who wouldn’t know I was Seamus. Then I opened my first bar in 1987 in Carrickmacross and I called it Banty’s Bar. I don’t mind it at all. People are sometimes hesitant about calling me Banty, but it’s the very same as if they call me Seamus. To be honest, when someone calls me Seamus, I think something’s up.

FINTAN ‘GUNNER-EYES’ O’TOOLE, IRISH TIMES LITERARY EDITOR

There’s a photograph of me somewhere standing beside a very nice lady from Singapore, who was visiting my aunt in Dublin. I suppose I’m about eight or nine. The thing is, if you didn’t know either of us you’d swear that I was her son. To put it as delicately as possible, we seem to share a certain ocular orientalism, an elegant combination of length and narrowness of eye that the ignorant, or Prince Philip, might call slanty. It must have been around this time that someone at school first called me Gunner-Eyes. I’ve often wondered where it came from, but so far as I can figure, it was meant merely to suggest some analogy between my own narrow gaze and that of a gunfighter narrowing his eyes against the desert sun as he waits for his enemy to draw first. For a weedy, timid kid, it was more of a fantasy than an insult. For this reason, I rather liked it, but it was probably too obscure to last. And in any case I already had a name that every child on our estate found sufficiently hilarious and humiliating: Fintan. My hope of taking Gunner-Eyes for my confirmation name was, sadly, a non-starter.

LUKE ‘MING’ FLANAGAN, POLITICIAN

My name came from a party in my house. We were sitting around talking about elections. I said if I ever went for election I would be called Ming the Merciless and I would have one policy and one only: unless Ming the Merciless was elected, Flash Gordon was going to “get it”. It has evolved. I put it out there like a worm to attract the fish; I wanted to attract attention to what I was saying. When I went to change it by deed poll, a motherly woman sat down with me and worried about how I would get a bank account so that’s the last I did about it. But my name has changed by common usage. I put it on ballot papers, I sign everything, letters and cheques, with Ming. My father is also Luke Flanagan. I remember going up to the house a few years ago and seeing “Ming” on his speed-dial. It hasn’t done me any harm – would anyone have ever heard about what I believed in without Ming? There are downsides – it leaves you open to ridicule – but it stops you turning into an egomaniac.