Sunday, 28 March 2010

Jenny Fresh Brasso

On Friday, the Berlin correspondent of The Times filed a story about abusive priests in Germany. I couldn't take much note of the story, fascinated as I was by the journalist's name: Roger Boyes.

What on earth were his parents thinking?

Pot, kettle, black. At one point I intended to call the Small Boy Sam Mustang. I'd heard a Radio 4 programme about wild horses in the USA and had been transported - out of my wits. Not much call for cowboys in my neck of the woods.

Then I was seduced by the Irish (culture, not the entire population) and thought Padraig was the ticket. You were going to call me Porridge? wailed Small Boy when he was much smaller. Or Gabriel, I added which provoked him to tears - An angel? An angel??? - and a lengthy huff.

Count yourself lucky, my boy; if you'd been a girl, Redinka was first choice.

I gave up on Irish names after the Baby Name Book stated: We have not given any indication as to pronunciation as this varies in different areas of Ireland. Well, that was helpful. You may as well scatter a handful of Scrabble tiles across the kitchen table - SAOIRBHREATHACH - and insist that it's pronounced FRED.

These days anything goes with names. I met a woman who'd called her daughter Cheminee. I think we'd all agree that Chimney doesn't have quite the same cachet. (Pronounced Catchett in English.)

So perhaps it's not so odd after all that Mr & Mrs Boyes didn't stop to consider whether Roger was the best name for their son ...

No-one has nicknames any more. (I was actually christened Moptop.) I expect when we were all called John, James, Mary and Susan it made sense to create nicknames. It was important to differentiate between Tall Mary, Nice Mary, Fat Mary and Barking Mad Mary Who Shoots On Sight.

And nicknames were needed to conceal identities. Many writers still use 'em. Nom-de-plume, nom-de-guerre, alias, pseudonym, anonym - a moniker by any other name would be discreet.

I strongly suspect that not all romantic novelists were originally called Rosamund. Unless all young women called Rosamund are honour-bound to become romantic novelists? Perhaps their parents sign them over to Mills & Boon at birth?

Dockers were notorious for their nicknames - there's a list here - but once a nickname was applied, it stuck, regardless of whether or not you were a docker.

The Jenny of this post's title, as a proud young wife, annoyed all the Pontlottyn shopkeepers by asking 'Is it fresh?' about anything she purchased. 'A loaf of bread, please. Is it fresh?' 'Six ounces of loose tea. Is it fresh?' Her undoing was asking for a tin of Brasso - is it fresh?' and having to live with that nickname for the next sixty years. Still, she was luckier than Mrs Ackerman-Rice-Pudding ...


  1. Very funny, Moptop! In my youngest's elementary school was a little girl whose legal first name was possibly the result of a very reasonable act on the part of the parents who decided to just dispense with something officially normal and go straight to the nickname they had always intended to use for her anyway, which was Princess.
    Love your posts.

  2. And it was written that no name shall ever top Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

    A child thus named was destined for great things.

    (I bet Princess changed her name to Jane.)

  3. I actually worked with a Robin Hood! Not the Robin Hood, obviously.

    I've always called our three year old granddaughter, Speckly Woo! I have been called many things.......

  4. Good point, Martin. We happily give small children nicknames: pookie, splodge, boo-boo, ra-ra.

    I expect Isambard's nickname was KING. Which explains a lot.

  5. I like the way the Beckhams have named their children after places in which they were conceived (Brooklyn etc). Just as well they never holiday in Langton Matravers or Piddle on the Hill, I say.

  6. I have to own up to being dubbed 'Pud' by my brother because I reminded him of his girlfriend's car which bore the same name... Never could quite see the connection, as at the tender age of about 21 I could hardly have been classed as an old crock...

  7. Jinksy, I hardly dare ask, but were you a (ahem) bit of a goer?

  8. @ Fran - or Ironknob or Bognor.