A stranger approaches a grocery shop in the community of Red Gal Ring, St. Andrew (Real place! look it up). A group of men are gathered at the front having an animated discussion.
Stanger: Morning! A looking for Fitzgerald Barrington.
The group of men stop their conversation and murmur the name amongst themselves, some scratching their heads, others rubbing their chins. One man finally voices the one question on all their minds.
Man 1: Fitzgerald? A who dat now?
The other men in the group shrug in ignorance.
Man 2: How him stay?
Stranger: Well, I was told if I wanted to buy wholesale raw peanuts I should check him.
Man 1: Oh, A Skatta you a look for!
Man 2: Yea man, just go ‘round the corner and ask anybody fi Skatta and dem will show you where him live!
That little story is so typical for ordinary Jamaicans. Many of us go by our nicknames or pet names, as we call them in Jamaica. They are so widely used, others in our often close-knit community may not even know our real names! As a matter of fact, not so long ago, should you ask a small child her name, you’d get a response like, “Munchie,” or “Pem Pem”. Literally, the child would have no clue that her birth certificate reads “Victoria Ann-Marie Wellington” or “Pamela Elizabeth Green”.
It’s almost like a rite of passage. There must be something about your features (Bigga, Oney, Bulby, Ms. Likkle, Horse Mouth), something you did (Lick Pot, Fire Man, Saucer), or that happened to you (Beat Up, Bull, Rat), or got teased about (Frog Back, Duck, Mackerel) that warrants a nickname. Of course, not everyone welcomes the bestowed alias, but showing even the smallest displeasure will make it even worse. Often, you’re stuck with it for life (and death). Trust me, there’s a good chance your obituary will read “Lucilda Jane Monroe, affectionately called Mama Poochie, died on…”
I tell you, we Jamaicans can get really creative with the name calling. Take the various prefixes to “Man”. There’s Tall Man, Big Man, Likke Man, Red Man, Brown Man, Yellow Man, Bredda Man, Man Man. There are many Jamaicans with nicknames that are quite normal and ordinary. John Mathews would be known to his family and friends as David. While Suzzette Francis goes by Kelly. It’s just a thing we do. And we’re not partial either. Anybody is fair game, even our visitors. Any Caucasian tourist might be referred to as Whitey. Anyone with Asian features is Ms. Chin and Mr. Chin.
Next time you’re chatting up a Jamaican and you get to the introductions, have a little private fun wondering what’s really on his or her birth certificate!
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