This is a long one, without many pretty pictures to hold your attention. Before continuing, please ensure you have eaten your fill, and that your cup, glass, mug, can, bottle, is fully charged, and that you have visited the bathroom, heads, toilet, john, powder room.
Now, are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…
Surnames, moniker’s and nicknames; what’s yours?
Surnames, Christian names, and even moniker’s issued at birth can almost identify an individual’s lineage, caste, and social standing. Later on in life as we grow into our given names, circumstances may arise that could blight our social standing. It can be through a nickname or a set of initials, which when paired to a place of work, can bring down a person’s credibility from a high ten, to a crashing zero; or at least raise a smile or two along the way.
For instance: Dr. Richard (aka ‘Dick’) Head. Head of Urology! Now that’s taking the piss (an ‘olde’ English term meaning; to extract mirth or a hidden truth from a person).
How about: A Frenchman named Bertrand Iain Garen Noa’se, Gaelic spelling pronounced as ‘Nose’. Who possibly had the cutest button nose as a child, that sadly grew to an epic ‘aquiline’ (roman) nose later on in life. Made even more unfortunate that in France his full name is that of one from noble birth. But, in England his initials BIG Noa’se, or even his surname could earn him the nickname of ‘Hooter’, ‘Massive’, ‘Nosey’, or simply ‘BIG’?
Onomatology & Anthroponomastic are big words; can you spell them? ‘Them’! I have a friend who studies ‘Onomatology’, the study of proper names of all kinds, as well as ‘Anthroponomastics’, the study of personal names. Just as a linguist has the ability to pick out a tune or a certain tone from a foreign language, my friend has the ability of picking out a source or meaning of a name/nickname. It some times can be quite fascinating to listen to her over a coffee; she is almost the equivalent of a mad professor as she spouts forth information at a high cyclic rate of fire. When I introduced her to the topic of Military nicknames she was enthralled, and went off like a belt fed howitzer.
My early interest for Military nicknames grew through basic training on one miserable wind-swept winter day, as my squad stood in three ranks freezing to death in wet kit. We awaited the training team Sgt to issue out some long-awaited mail from home; as he called out the name of a recruit, he also handed out an appropriate Corps nickname, i.e. “Recruit Clerk” [Clark, or Clarke]; “from this day forward you will be known to others as Nobby”. (Taken from the days of the Raj, a native Indian who worked as a clerk was known within his own tongue as a ‘nobbi’; hence, Nobby Clerk)!
Recruit Reynolds was fortunate enough to pick up a letter as well as the nickname of ‘Burt‘, as the alternative to this was ‘Debbie‘, which had already been given to another squad member! To this day they each retain their moniker when reunions are attended. Some surnames have no historical nickname within the military; suffice to say an individual would pick one up along the way. Possibly through a matched celebrity name from years gone by (Burt/Debbie), or perhaps from a famous name in history (Recruit ‘Prince’ Charming). One could be attached through an act due to an action of their own making, or simply through an action not of their choosing. One marine known as ‘Slasher’, picked up his moniker as he suffered several lacerations from being attacked with a broken beer bottle. The French Merchant seaman who obliged him could now be named as ‘Chinned’, as ‘Slasher’ did indeed ‘chin’ him with one almighty ‘homeward bounder’ (a right uppercut to the chin, which laid him spark out)! Marseilles; what a run-ashore…
A few traditional nicknames that spring to mind that follows on from a surname…
Light = Shiner or Torchy.
Bottom = Sandy.
Miller = Windy, or Dusty (Taken from a miller working within a windmill).
Gale/Gail = Windy, or Howling.
Holland = Dutchy.
Hudson = Soapy (The Hudson Company manufactured soap for the fleet).
Holding = Scaff (play on the word scaffolding).
Hall = Church, or Churchy
Lane = Shady, or Dusty.
Tate = Spud.
Warren = Bunny.
White = Chalky.
Woods = Timber.
Smith = Smudge, or Knacker, or Knocker [nocker/nacker]. Derived from ‘Smith’; being a short-term for blacksmith. A blacksmith in the days of mounted cavalry would also act as a Knacker or Knocker, whose part profession was to ‘knock or knack’ a badly wounded horse on the head after battle to kill it. The slaughter of the horse afterwards for human consumption would be done within the ‘Knackers yard’. A certain Marine Smith, was known to all who knew him as ‘n-n-nocker’ as he spoke with a stutter. The list is endless, ageless, and priceless… And the vast majority accept the moniker as a right of passage.
Genuine Dit… A legendary RM Drill Instructor, whose surname was Bartlett carried the nickname of ‘Dhobi’ *(Refer to Dhobi below). My Squads first introduction to this fearsome man was on the parade ground, where he stood immaculately at attention, ramrod straight, starched, and sparkling; as was expected of the 1st Drill (God’s God, the Senior Drill Instructor). Dressed perfectly in full No 2. Dress Lovat uniform, with a gleaming Pace stick jammed horizontally under his left arm; he spoke in a cockney accented voice, that was as crisp and as sharp as wine from a chilled bottle of Chardonnay… “My name is Bartlett, I am Colour Sergeant Bartlett R.M. And I am the First Drill”! As we collectively shuddered at what may come next he continued… “My nickname is ‘Dhobi’, Dhobi Bartlett, so named ‘cos’ I am the cleanest and smartest Drill Instructor in Her Majesty’s Royal Marines! And if any of you ‘orrible cretins’ ever get placed before me for being untidy-crabby-bar-steward’s, I will ensure that you suffer my wrath for the rest of eternity”.
His steely eyed slow ‘left-to-right-gaze’, as well as the slight-pause in his speech allowed the warning to sink in; he continued with cliches… ‘cleanliness, godliness, creases sharp enough to shave with’, etc, etc… “Irish pennants will not be tolerated, nor will a missed hair from a shoddy shave; and may your God help you if I find anyone on my parade ground with shaving foam behind his ear, because inattention to detail is an act that one day will get you killed”! (Stood in front of me was a little Irish recruit who required his God’s help ‘PDQ’, as he did indeed have a left over piece of shaving foam tucked behind his right lobe. In addition to this, it became obvious some few minutes later that he had also missed a couple of hairs on his ‘chinney, chin, chin’. Not only that, but the top button on his stone shirt had an Irish pennant protruding from it, which, when gently pulled by God’s God, unravelled; allowing the button to fall in ultra slow motion to the hallowed parade ground. The scream of “Your inattention to detail could get you and your oppos killed on a battle field” reverberated around the parade ground, and pierced my brain.
Inevitably the poor lad was ordered to place himself on the flank for punishment, as the ‘cleanest Marine God had ever seen’ continued his inspection, hovering between the three lined ranks stood at open order. (Up until that point, I had no idea just how many things totally irrelevant in Civvie Street, could actually get you killed in the Royal Marines)?
The Irish recruit was bawled out and ordered to get his shaving kit and towel, as well as to bring back a ‘dhobi’ bucket full of cold water, “not at the double, but at the ‘EFFIN’ treble”. Which he promptly did, resulting in him stripping off down to the waist in the middle of the parade ground to conduct his shave correctly? The resulting water being flushed over him as a rinse off. Not what you want on a freezing cold morning on a wind-blown parade ground!
One mans punishment, witnessed by fifty was sufficient for the message to be hoisted aboard. Which has worked to this very day, as I still check behind my ears for shaving foam, every morning of every day after a close razor shave. Attention to detail will save my life, ‘cos’ Dhobi Bartlett said so.
*’Dhobis’ are an occupational caste group from India, (since partition, they also reside in Pakistan), who specialise in washing and ironing clothes as a domestic service. A term used by the RN/RM’s since the days of the Raj. Hence, washing powder is known as ‘dhobi dust’, and a bucket used each evening to crash out your socks and nicks in, is referred to as a dhobi bucket. Which incidentally is the nickname given to anyone with the surname of Bucket = Dhobi.