Thursday, April 25, 2024
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HomeEducation / CultureThe game of the name

The game of the name

By Tony Deyal

I knew that my Jamaican friends referred to their country as “Rock” and so we got “Jamrock”. What I didn’t know was that the present prime minister of Jamaica, Andrew Hollness, liked being “Leggo di ‘Brogad’” based on a song “Custom” by Deejay Daddy1 who called himself a “top choppa”. It is said that the prime minister not only embraced the name but, for a while, changed his Twitter handle to the “Most Hon. Brogad.” At least he didn’t take the name “Peas Head” (what Jamaicans call someone with a small, funny shaped head) or, like me, “Foota” when your feet are above a socially-accepted size.

I am 5’7″ (short-not tall), and my sneakers had burst, so I went to a store in MoBay (Montego Bay) and asked for a Size 12 Extra, Extra-large. This is my regular shoe size and in Jamaica, it made me not just a “foota” but the biggest and shortest footer the young lady who was trying to find a shoe for me had ever seen. It didn’t take long for everybody in the store and people outside wanted to see this “Cassie Coolie” with the big foot.

That term, “Cassie Coolie” is by itself a name game. Unlike Trinidad and several other regional countries, Jamaica did not use the term “Coolie” to degrade anyone. But what about “Cassie?” First the context. The nickname of the Jamaica prime minister was nothing to the nicknames of the present Trinidad and Tobago prime minister, Dr Keith Rowley.

First, because of his unrelenting aggressiveness in the political arena, some people say, elsewhere, he was known as the “Rottweiler.” However, because of his behaviour in cabinet meetings, he was also called, “The Raging Bull” by my Secondary School colleague and prime minister, Patrick Manning. He was lucky. Because of my “crossed” eyes, while the Jamaicans called me “cassie”, from our first day in school Patrick called me “cokes”.

Fortunately, despite my hair loss, even when I taught communication to different groups, no Jamaican ever called me “Spermhead.” In terms of Caribbean leaders, the prime minister I liked most was Errol Barrow of Barbados. His nickname was “Dipper” supposedly because of his awkward cricket batting style. Like many other people who heard my name “Tony”, he called me “Tones.” Fortunately, after about 30 years of my column in the Barbados Nation, I’ve never had to atone for my jokes about the country or its people, especially its prime ministers.

Unlike Caribbean leaders, Americans are different and one of the most recent ones, Donald Trump, uses nicknames to criticise, insult and derogate his rivals, media figures and even foreign leaders. He called his opponent in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton, “Crooked Hillary”. He referred to Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader as “Little Rocket Man”. One of Trump’s early rivals, Jeb Bush was “Low Energy Jeb”; Texas Senator, Ted Cruz, was “Lyin’ Ted”; another, a woman of native-Indian descent, Elizabeth Warren, was “Pocahontas”; and the man who won that election and might beat Trump again in the one coming up, Joe Biden, is “Crazy Joe”, “Slow Joe”, “Basement Biden”, and a first for even Trump, “Dumb Son of a Bitch”. Fortunately, Trump has not got off unscathed.

Some nicknames given to him are “Donald Chump”, “Donald Dumb”, “Commander in Grief”, “Agent Orange”, “The Dumpster”, the “Human Corncob”, “Don the Con” and “The Dick Traitor”.

In looking at the two leaders and their responses to each other’s attacks, it is clear that humour is a fickle beast. We might have a lot of fun at the expense of someone else, but we also leave people feeling like deflated balloons or worse, wanting to beat the hell out of you. As we know, words have weight even when they’re supposedly jokes.

As one expert in the “joke” field said, calling people “Bridbrains”, “Butterfingers”, “Numbskull”, “Captain Clueless” or “Pig headed” are all insults that can cause instant retaliation. The only thing that is worse in many Caribbean countries is to say something about a man’s mother. That has led to instant death in some places.

Dave Kenny, of the Irish Daily Newspaper, believes that the habit of giving nicknames has been around for a long time and can say a lot about the recipient – or not. He explained that he was introduced to a very scary-looking man in a pub and one of his friends advised him, “Whatever you do, don’t call him by his nickname.” Curious, he asked his friend, “What’s his nickname?” The answer was, “Basin of Blood.” After that, Kenny called the man “Sir”. Kenny then added: “A nickname can say a lot about a person. If he had been called ‘Bunny’, I wouldn’t have felt the urge to hide in the loo.” Kenny was convinced that men give nicknames as a way of being affectionate without compromising their masculinity.

The American gangster, Al Capone, was “Scarface” and another gangster, Benny Siegel, was called “Bugsy”, the gangster’s slang for “going or becoming mental”. Siegel so detested the nickname that he “spilled blood” when it was used. Kenny also wrote about what he called “barf-infusing”, the coupling of real names to create a nickname. His examples were referring to Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez as “Bennifer”, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as “Brangelina” and the Kanye West/Kim Kardashian marriage which recently ended as “Kimye”.

Even though “Tony” in Nigeria means “Royal Warrior”, and in India “A handsome warrior prince”, I stay far from this kind of combination because I know that my wife, Indranie, would hate being called “Tondran.” Or since my “home” name was the Bengali “Shunun” (meaning “Hello” or “Listen”). I am certain she would go back to Guyana if people started referring to us as “Shundran.”

At least I am not the man whose girlfriend was devastated when she found out the reason why his nickname was “The Love Machine”. He was terrible at lawn tennis. She might have preferred the guy called “Subway”. He advertised six inches but had just a little less. There was the other one who got his wife to call him “Apple” because he could be all up in cider. Actually, one joke that a colleague shared with me is – “Me and my girlfriend have nicknames for each other. I call her ‘thunder’ and she calls me ‘lightning’. She calls me that because I always come first.”

Others come up with jokes like, “I used to date a girl named Ruth, but she broke up with me and now, for women, I am Ruthless.” This led to, “What about the girl lying on the beach?” Sandy. “And the lawyer, who gave his daughter the name, “Sue”. The offbeat one was, “What was Rihanna’s nickname for Chris Brown?” The answer? Beats me! “On the other hand, what is the nickname of your printer?” Bob Marley because it’s always Jammin’. My second best, “How do you get ‘Dick’ from the name ‘Richard’?” You ask nicely. And my favourite, “What was the name of King Arthur’s extra knight?” Sir Plus.

*Tony Deyal’s surplus for this article is the teacher who asked the student his parent’s names and he replied, “My father is Laughing and my mother is Smiling.” When the teacher asked, “Are you kidding?”, he replied, “No. Kidding is my brother. I am Joking.”

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