I often wonder why parents give nice sensible names to their children at birth or christening and then proceed to call them by shortened versions, or by completely different names, which then stick to them all of their days. My own name is Catherine but for most of my life I’ve been called Katie. Teachers may have called me by my proper name while I was at school but few others did. Now that I am retired and elderly the most likely users of my correct title are those people who send bills, like Hydro Electric, British Telecoms and Council tax administrators.
I am glad however, that the custom of giving nicknames has largely died out. When I was young every grown up in the village, male and female, was known by a name different from his or her own. As an example I’ll take my own family. My father was William Ross but was better known as Willack Comish or Tony. Before marriage mother was Christina Wood and continued to be called Teenie Wood. Members of the family were usually given their first name followed by Tony. In our street there was a wide variety of nicknames, mainly I suppose because there was so many of the same name, seven William Ross’s for instance. It Is worth recording those names, many are still in use today.
At 1 King Street there was Hugh Mackay, known to everyone as Roggie, and his wife Hughina. Members of his family were, and still are identified by the use of “Roggie”, instead of the surname Mackay. Next door lived Alexander MacAngus or Ally Uisdhie. His wife Nan Tarrel was called Nannie Bell and their family had “Bell” used as the surname instead of MacAngus. In the next house lived David MacKay or Davan Charlie and his wife Bella Davan. This time the indentifying factor was Davan. The other half of the houses were occupied by Hannah Wood or Hannah Beelak and her brother Puffer. Our own family came next, then on to Donald MacAngus at 6 King Street. He was known as Danack Ulshdie and his wife Dolly was Nan Woollie. In this instance members of the family had Danack added to their names.
Going further along the street there was Hughie Steeler, Willacka Cloud, Hughie Stoolie, Wounded, Willacka Levan and The Dalt. My Grandfather Alexander Wood was the next house along the street. He was new to the village. Having come from Cellardyke he was called The Dyker. This soon changed to The Decker and Granny was known as Kate the Decker. The list went on and on and I shall add one or two of the more unusual nicknames. There was Koorakak, Woolie-Pake, Ain roo-ow, Kervack, Bongy, Filt, Huke, Johnnie Bottachan, Streedie, Scrubbie, Ainey, Dole, Lyeach and Jimmy the van. Indeed, it would have been easier if people’s proper names were used all the time.
My father once told me of two men who chanced to meet one day. One was called Bonny, to the best of my knowledge this being his actual surname. The other was the Bourne which may mean rain or downpour.
One hailed the other brightly “Well, it’s a bonnie day Mr Bonny.”
Quick as a flash came the reply “Aye it is that, but it looked very like The Bourne”.
There was an occasion when my Grandfather had some business with a man from Balintore. He too may have been new to the village at that time. His real name was Mr Skinner but he was always called Downie. He came along to the Fife Cottage, rang the bell and it was answered by my Grandfather who was expecting him. “Good evening Mr Decker”, said Mr Skinner and “Come away in Mr Downie”, said my Grandfather. They weren’t aware they’d used each others nicknames. Wouldn’t it save a lot of confusion if people had only their proper names to cope with?