I occasionally hear about others my age growing up with kids called Stinky, Red or Bones, but in my experience true nicknames—not just shortened names like Kenny or Dave—have been rare. Until I got to North Caicos.
The men of North and Middle have plenty of nicknames. We’ve got Whoop and Shadow, Dog, Tiger, Doc (who is not a doctor), Ice, Speed and Cheez. There is a Papa, and a Mama. Poacher and Bang-Bang are brothers. It’s all very colorful and sometimes confusing, but you get used to it. In fact, even other islanders sometimes don’t know someone’s real name. Lovey has been Lovey for so long that everyone forgets he was christened Lorrett. Likewise, how many people know that Speed is officially Timothy (I do because I once wrote a check out to him)? Tiger once told me his real name, but I’ve forgotten it.
A few of the nicknames have explanations. Whoop (Addison) got his nickname in school, when he would beat up other boys. Some come from favorite movies, or resemblance to someone in a movie, like Beetlejuice and Shrek. When he was young, Poacher was accidentally put in jail as a poacher, when he was actually part of a group of guys who caught the real poachers. I don’t think I want to know the story for Bang-Bang.
Women, I notice, rarely have nicknames other than the diminutive versions of their names, like Susie or Liz. Angela Gardiner was always known as Spring, but she moved to England a while back, so I am in a minority on North Caicos. I enjoy that … it’s like being in a secret society.
I’ve had fun not only getting to know various nicknames—a process that comes mostly from hanging out with locals and listening—but also playing with them in my writing. I put a Shark and a Walker in one of my short stories, Digger in a novella. In my novel, I amused myself by calling one guy Meat and another Stag. (Cheez, Tiger … get it? Yes, writers are weird people.)
It’s such a small thing, nicknames. But the small things add up. One of my answers to people who ask me, “Why North Caicos?” is “nicknames.”