My parents, and their parents before them, grew up in a relatively restricted geographical area. The villages that made up their immediate environment grew out of single industries, so that tight communities were formed. Workers worked together, lived together, played together; in summer the entire street would clamber aboard a bus and holiday en masse in the same east coast resort. Your neighbours in Duke Street would likely also be your neighbours in Butlins.
In conversations I’ve overheard over the years, especially inter-generational conversations, fellow (or less commonly ex-) villagers are defined, characterised, identified not by physical appearance or profession but by family tree and/or place of residence.
– You know X?
– X… is that Y’s lad?
– It is, aye. He married Z.
– A’s daughter?
– No, you’re thinking of B. Z was C’s sister.
– Lived opposite the butcher?
– Aye, that’s the one.
Invariably, the given names of all involved parties are preposterous, and so the conversation becomes pure comedy. X is never the son of John Jones. Rather, X is the son of Bodge Wang. Or the elder brother of Stinker Pink. Or Figgy Brouhaha turns out to have lived next door to Soapy Rodeo. I exaggerate – the surnames of course are beyond anyone’s control, so are generally more sober than the given names. Interestingly, though, the given nicknames are universally acknowledged, regardless of generational membership. Such that legal first names are, quite often, completely lost, unknown, unknowable perhaps, even sometimes to the person themselves, their birth certificates AWOL in some distant, cobwebbed drawer. And, more often than not, the nicknames’ origins are similarly lost. Some are obvious and (I imagine) fairly self-explanatory, but others seem to have no credible explanation, even to those intimately acquainted with the person in question.
Here, after a number of conversations between my father and grandfather, is a list of real people, some of whom are sadly no longer with us, but all of whom were well known to both, and all of whom resided within the same 2 mile radius. They are all male. Some of these names have become so familiar to me over the years that they are even more recognisable than my own name. When said aloud, they are so fluid that the boundary between forename and surname is meaningless; they become a discrete and irreducible linguistic unit. I offer no commentary or speculation on the names themselves, they are simply presented as-is. But please, if you know anyone on the list, or if you find yourself on this list, please leave a comment to let the world know how you came to be so called. It will be interesting to see whether any themes emerge.