CALLY TRENCH

Remarkable and Curious Conversations

Curated by Cally Trench

Alison Carter Tai: Remarkable Nicknames

Cry-baby, mummy's boy, scared-y-cat, cowardy custard (i.e. cowardly, although it originated with Noel Coward; little did we know), are traditionally the sort of playground taunts that haunt the seemingly endless lifetime of childhood. Then there are the terms of endearment within a family and close friends, the pet names, Lillibet for Elizabeth (the future queen), not in any way malicious. But then, more insidious, are the nicknames that arrive, and stick, as we forge our way through a school or schools.

Many playground nicknames are based on physical attributes - Enid Blyton's Big Ears branded a generation of the remarkable of ear. Her Noddy was the namesake of Charles Dicken's character of Noddy which was in itself the nickname of Nicodemus Boffin. In fact Enid Blyton probably helped a lot of English playground names to get established, like 'freckles'(Jack) and 'tufty'(Philip) in the Adventure series. Blyton is now seen as politically incorrect, and a nickname 'Golly' given to the leading light of our Remarkables, on account of her hair, at her 'monocultural primary school in deepest Surrey' would surely not be allowed in the playground today.

One golden rule on moving school was NEVER to tell your new classmates what the last school called you, unless you loved it to bits! I knew that I should not mention 'Carter-brains' to my new school friends, definitely not, for fear it would become a taunt rather than a label, as I moved from a village junior to a 'Cream of the County' direct grant. Ali Aladdin was likewise topical in that I had played Aladdin with my long hair in a plait at my junior school, but it was not sensible to repeat that at an all-girls' senior school! ACDC might have resulted! AliCat was probably the pet name I liked best; it reminded me of a favourite cartoon character, Top Cat, and I love cats. Now with my married surname tagged to my maiden name it picks out sequential letters in my full name: Ali (son) Ca(rter) T(ai), so AliCaT works well for me. I am happy for it to contribute towards defining me, in some way.

The Remarkables have come up trumps with a range of nicknames that they recall, and without naming real names as yet, we have, so far, three Remarkables with a nickname relating to the colour red - much nicer than my beetroot, or the traditional carrot, are 'Cherry face' and 'Rooie' which it has been explained to me is 'reddie' in English on account of a young girl's bright red curls, and Cherry face, which conjures a rather endearing, wholesome image. Similar but different is a French nickname 'Jourasse' given by a brother to his sister whose cheeks were like little mountains.

Curious indeed are the five playground nicknames of a certain gentleman who may indeed be identified by some of you with the following clues: 'Cheshire', 'Pink Panther', 'Rosie', 'Bruce' and 'Larry'. With his explanations came a tongue-in-cheek lament: 'children can be so cruel'. 'The Flying Barrel' and 'Sprizzy Linger' leapt out of the screen at me and made me smile, and seek further explanation from this artist. You would have to know her quite well to guess who, I think.

One Remarkable, nicknamed 'Charlie' at senior school for a brief period for reasons not yet divulged, if known, also found her three syllable name turned into a progression of names that denoted size: 'little Im' - was there a big Im, I wonder?, to affection: 'Immy' - which she says she discouraged until her late '20s but has in fact now adopted, and there was a boy who came up with 'Immo' which she clearly did not like. Interestingly, boys have been cited in several cases as originating the nicknames, whereas so far girls have not been attributed with starting any.

A couple of respondents tell me they never ever had nicknames that they can recall. One felt that her three syllable name could not be shortened, though I did say a friend called Theresa was called T, and the other, with a straightforward one-syllable name, had always rather wished for a more romantic spelling or the use of her preferred middle name. So I am starting to explore how our names might define us, whether given by our parents, adopted as pet names, chanted as nicknames, or assumed by us, ourselves, for whatever many and various reasons, in preference to our 'Christian' or given name.

Alison Carter Tai

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