It is the opinion of many Australians that the arts are undervalued in this country and that they have never been given the recognition they deserve for their contribution to our culture. This was borne out during the Covid 19 pandemic lockdowns when people employed in the arts industry received little or no financial support compared to those involved in all other areas of the economy. During this time, the arts had many advocates. Of all the art forms, it could be argued that the most formally unrecognised is the allocation of nicknames. They are everywhere and many encompass the spirit of the Australian sense of humour, some hitting the mark in ways that border on the poetic while others could be described as sheer genius.
A nickname used in combination with a surname adds a whole different flavour to the delivery, and there can be further enhancement when the two names begin with the same letter. Examples of this include Rocker Rixon and Slugger Sullivan, or Tom Terrific who liked to tell his workmates of his many talents, exploits and achievements. In extreme cases, this can venture towards the realm of tongue-twisters if enough syllables are involved. Used amongst close friends, the surname is unnecessary. Everyone in that group knows who is being referred to. Sometimes a surname acts as a necessary clarification, distinguishing one Pud, Rat or Curly from another.
When I considered this topic, I began jotting down the names that came at first in a trickle. These were the most common names that would arise in any town: for example, I know of three people referred to as 'Pud' in Wonthaggi and it would be a rare town that didn't have a Red or Bluey. Then I remembered characters from my past who had disappeared from my memory, some of them deceased. Then I realised I was missing the names of many who are close to me, which led to the further realisation that these names are so ingrained that they are taken for granted and not noticed.
Getting down to the nuts and bolts of the matter, Pud, Whale, Fat, Fatty, Tank, Masher, Mud Guts, Chopper, Bull, Slim, Spud, Beefy, Pig, Pugsley and Porky are all of a solid build. Sparrow, Stick, Worm and Bones are not. Stretch and Big Bird are tall. Shorty, Stump, Tiny, Pip and Mini are not. Wing nut and Flapsy have prominent ears. Hook, Honk, Hooter and Concorde have prominent noses. Rust Head, Carrot head, Bluey, Red, Ranga and Torch all have red hair. Curly and Jex Head speak for themselves as does Lippy. Skull, Chrome Dome and Mr. Sheen have either no hair or a large portion of it missing. Spike had short, military style haircuts as a child. Blockhead, Box Head and Square Skull have a large head. Pinhead and Chickenhead do not. Buggs and Rabbit have prominent front teeth. Gummy had no teeth. Pinky was albino. People in the solid build category can retain the name given to them in their childhood or teenage years four or five decades after their weight loss technically disqualified them from that category. Such is the sticking power of names.
Delvine was a burly, blokey Gippsland plumber who shared a surname with a 1970s TV identity. Gomer was a Gippsland footballer who resembled Jim Nabors. Rambo served for a while in the ADF. Barney had a surname that rhymed with rubble. I don't know how Zorro got his name. Grasshopper had a very short haircut that reminded his workmates of the trainee martial artist in the Kung Fu TV series. Brute was a maths teacher who resembled a well known wrestler.
Animals make a category of their own. I have known a Tiger, Doggy, Tom Cat and Tip Cat – who are brothers – Big Pig and Little Pig – also siblings. Shark, Beetle, Worm, Grubs, Maggots, Slug, Horse, Bull, Ferret, Wombat, Chook – you're asking for it if your surname is Fowles or Fowler, Chick, Hedgehog, Gopher, Blackbird, Frog, Moose, Duck, Ostrich, Stork, Sparrow, Kookaburra, Magpie, numerous Rats, and one of my all-time favourites: Garfish, a tall thin man with a thin pointy nose. Some of the above names would make for an interesting antipodean variation of the Chinese astrology wheel. How cool and auspicious to be born in the year of the ferret or garfish.
Representing plant life are Bluegum, Bushy, Tussock, Tony Cabbage, and the previously mentioned Stick, Carrot Head and Spud. One is clearly much more likely to be named after an animal or bird than a plant. This makes sense given what I said about names being inspired by appearances and behaviour.
Some names have a good ring to them and roll easily off the tongue. Mad Mick, Ronny the Rat and Billy the Bat - which also fall under the animal kingdom category, Clive Alive, The Red Bucket Man, Leapy Lee, Loose Bruce, Pea Pod Rod, Tony the Patch – whose job it was to repair holes in our roads, Louey the Lip and Rodney Ratshit.
Bowser and Thirsty enjoyed a beer, as did Drunken Duncan. Kabana had a liking for certain smallgoods. The friends of Axe thought that was what must have been used to cut his hair. Maggots had a similar sounding surname. The Moth had a reputation for knocking on doors regardless of the hour of night as long as he saw a light on. Myxo would always come home with a large haul of rabbits when he went ferreting. Moo had a surname that rhymed with cow. Noah seemed to know everything about everything.
Some people have nicknames that they are known by, but for legal reasons are never addressed with that name. Such was the case with the long since deceased Matches, a highly regarded public figure with a long involvement in politics who was considered without a shred of evidence by some of his constituents to be capable of serial arson for insurance purposes.
In a strange twist, while some people of continental European origin have dropped the vowels from the end of their names in order to sound more Anglo, some of those vowels have found their way onto the end of shortened versions of Anglo-Saxon surnames such as Jackson, Johnson, Davidson, Robson, Robertson, Robinson, Anderson, Jameson, Jamieson, Patterson, Simpson, Thompson and Wilkinson so that people who have those names have become Jacko, Johnno, Davo, Robbo, Ando, Jammo, Patto, Simmo, Thommo and Wilko. Bazza, Dazza, Gazza and Shazza also have a vowel replacing a consonant at the end of their name. For reasons unknown to me Kaz, Jaz, Maz, Mez, Coz, Loz and Roz don't qualify for a vowel. In a similar vein, many people with a single syllable surname will be referred to by that name with the letter y added, such as Bondy, Jonesy, Delly, Dunny, Biggsy, Toddy, Whitey, Rhodesy, Jubby, Youngy and Warney.
It's not outside the realms of possibility for me to have attended a local gathering where I might or might not have run into Barkers, Naj, Punk, Nishy, Youngin, Sketty, Smell, Stiff, Nutty, Ticky, Tosca, Tex, Squeakey, Stitchy, Skin, Pap, Pump, Passa, Chipsy, Chuckles, Cha, Choc, Rags, Shosh, Cash, Con, Cummo, Cool, Zippo, Jumbo, Piddle, Peefer, Pill, Parks, Hoycs, Fanny, Fry, Snapper, Shifter, Scab, Rabies, Ranji, Dodger, Killer, Fang, Lout, Noddy, Quacka, Wozza, Moofa, Jock, Goon, Yank, Missy, Croc, Bags, Doogs, Dools, Oobs, Banger, Morph, Gargoyle, Gurney, Bloater, Brack, Fingers, Frecka- AKA Herman, Wart, Yardo, everyone mentioned in the preceding paragraphs and maybe even someone who answered to the given name which appeared on their birth certificate.
In tribute to, and in memory of all those characters who have wittingly and unwittingly brought a smile to our faces by being who they are, both those who have graciously accepted the names given to them, and those who came up with them. Long live the arts and the Australian sense of humour.