#TBT: What’s in a name?

I’ve been watching everyone playing with #TBT (Throwback Thursday) for a while now and was trying to figure out how I could participate. I decided it might be fun to go back to some of my old articles. Let me know if you enjoy it!

Here’s one that first appeared in The Sault Star, Saturday, April 18, 2009. 

What’s in a Name?

by Pauline Clark

Why do so many people in Thessalon have nicknames?

It’s a question we lifers seem to hear from visitors and newcomers to Thessalon. And though it sounds a bit silly at first, if you really stop and think about it, it’s a good question.

Take a look at some of the nicknames around town and see if you agree.

You might wonder how the term nickname even came about and it’s a simple story. The word comes from an Old English phrase “ekename,” which literally meant additional name. Over time, the phrase “an ekename” somehow saw the syllables divide incorrectly and thus, the phrase became a nekename or, as we say, a nickname.

But back to Thessalon and the long list of nicknames found here. Some go way back and are still remembered even though the individuals passed away a long time ago. You may never have personally known “Singing Sam” or “Moose” St. John or “Doc” Smith, but you’ve likely heard those names before. And surely you’ve heard about “Neighbour”Miskimmons, who got his name for his “Howdy, Neighbour” greeting to anyone he met.

whats in a name photo

(Couldn’t find my original photo so this is a photo of The Sault Star. Here’s how it read: “These Thessalon men are all better known by their nicknames. (Left to right) Richard “Beanie” Brown, Ken “Grinch”Greer, Jim”Pinger” King, Don “Muskrat” Siemens, Tom”Timber Tom” Robinson, David “Bunker” Boyer and Roger “Hawkeye” Coventry.”

Some nicknames reference what one does for a living.

Paul “Purolator Paul” Dupuis is familiar to most area residents though Dupuis says the name actually came from Max Foster and was actually “Percolator Paul.” By now, you might have guessed Paul works for Purolator Courier.

Tom “Timber Tom” Robinson is a recently retired truck driver who once hauled lumber. He’s also a pretty big guy and, though many will speculate his monicker comes from either of those, they’re wrong. Robinson says he was given the name by Sam Mortimore for the way he used to drive his snowmachine.

“I was always in the bush–in the timber,” he says.

Some names come about because of a resemblance to someone.

Phil Rickard spent many years being called “Bentley” by his coworkers at Midway Lumber because of his resemblance to the late actor Paul Benedict, who played Bentley on the TV sitcom, The Jeffersons.

Some nicknames make reference to a person’s characteristics and are sometimes sarcastic — and may even be considered rude.

Gary “Handy” Quinton says his ability to adapt to different jobs at work resulted in him being called “Handy”more than 30 years ago. His son, Gary Jr. “Dewey,” got his name because of his sweating at work.

Handy’s brother, Larry “Smiley,” smiles all the time. And that name has been passed along to his son, Larry “Smiley” Jr.

“It was our co-workers giving those names out,” says Quinton.

Like the Quintons, there are other whole familys with nicknames.

Take the Marin family. Elaine Sweet, one of 18 children born to Helena (now 93) and the late Willy Marin, says their father gave them all names and, though some stayed within the family, many became permanent names.

Andre “Picky” got his name after throwing wild cucumbers at his siblings.

“They were all mushy and . . . picky,” says Elaine.

Then there’s “Jughead,”whose nickname might be an adaptation of his real name, Jean Guy. Geiven “Porky” was short and chubby and the late Arnold was nicknamed “Papoose” for his diminutive size and dark curly hair.

Ron “RockBass” got his name while fishing on Cockburn Island and sister Liette was more commonly known as “Peanut” when she lived in Thessalon. And “Bang Bang’s” crib banged against the wall as he rocked it, earning him that handle that is still used by some of his friends, as well as his mother.

Sometimes, whole families have the same nickname. Take the family of Phillip “Gus” Grisdale. The senior Gus and wife Shirley have eight sons. They’ve almost all had the nickname “Gus” at some point.

First born was “Sonny,” who’s really Gerry and has answered to “Gus.”

Of course, Peter is called “Gus” so much at work that few people know he’s actually “Peter”– which isn’t his real name either. It’s actually William, and Peter only came about after an uncle (“Coozie” Belisle) referred to him as “Little Pitou.” Pitou somehow became Peter and it stuck.

Then there’s Rodney, who is also called “Frog”– or “Gorf,” according to his brothers.

Jeff is probably called “Gus” the most and says it started when he played hockey in his teens.

Youngest brother Richard did pick up the name “Little Gussy” from Jeff’s friends, but it didn’t stick as much.

Brother Steve was also called “Gus” sometimes, while Curtis got the nickname “Blacky” and Phillip was best known as “Chink.”

Jeff’s quick to reveal that their two sisters also had nicknames — Anne was “Scrag” and Bev, “Snake Eyes.”

Of course, Gus Sr. reveals that his nickname was originally “GooGoo” — a name he was even called by his school principal, Mr. Coulter. Eventually it got shortened to “Gus” and wife, Shirley, speculates that it may have derived from the first three letters of Grisdale which, when written longhand, can look like “Gus.”

And finally, Phillip Jr. has a dog that he named — you guessed it–“Gus.”

The McColman family also has a long legacy of nicknames.

James “Cap” McColman spent his life on the water, which earned him his nickname.

His sons include Sherlock “Socky” and David “Bunny.” The nicknames to the next generation with such handles as “Slippery Jim,” “Dey Dey,” “Terrible Ter,” “Haywire” and another “Bunny.”

Women aren’t exempt from nicknames.

There’s Clara “Poochie” Scheuermann, named by her Uncle “Johnny Wine” (he was so named because he liked to drink).

He also nicknamed her brother Percival “Boxer” Anderson, and sister Noreen says it was because “Boxer” liked to have his fists up.

Doris “Muffy” Fowler says her nickname came from her French grandmother, who called her “ma fille.”

Eventually it got changed to “Muffy” and though teachers in school called her Doris, her friends and family called her “Muffy.”

It’s a name that’s endured throughout her life.

Muffy also has three sisters. Two of those are Francis “Pete” and Hilda “Steve.”

“Pete” was derived from “la petite” while “Steve” was derived from a French phrase, petite vieille dame, that may have translated into “little old lady” and eventually became “Steve.”

Rosemarie “Paste” Wonch tells her tale of wearing a dress to school for the first time in Grade 8 to which classmate Mark Howard told everyone to look at the “pastry legs.”

“The name stuck. It got shortened to ‘Pastry’ and now it’s just ‘Paste,’ ” she laughs. “My name (Rosemarie) was up on the seniority list at work once and no one knew who it was.”

Paste also has a sister, “Buzz.” Though her real name is now Donna Fahrer, she was once mostly known as “Buzz,” a name she got because — as her sister tells it — she talked “real prissy” when she was young, so her siblings would mimic her saying, “Bzzzz, Bzzzz, Bzzzz.”

Eventually she just became “Buzz.”

Jim “Pinger” King earned his nickname back in about 1953 when he was a 16-year-old hanging out in the pool hall.

“Every time I got a ball, I’d say, ‘Ping,’ and then everyone started calling me ‘Pinger,’ ” he said.

“Pinger” isn’t the only one in his family with a nickname. Son Mike has been known as “Shadow,” a name he earned from shadowing in sports. Pat “Dumptruck” got his name while playing ball in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

When his teammates wanted to go for a beer and he was too young, they told him to go play outside with his “dump truck” while they went for one. Another son, Darren, who passed away a little more than a year ago, was fondly called “The Big D”– especially by his nephews and other young friends of his own sons.

Animals are frequently used in nicknames around Thessalon.

There’s been Moose, Mouse, Bear, Muskrat, Beaver, Bedbug, Grasshopper, Tiger, Seagull and Crab, to name a few.

Don “Muskrat” Siemens doesn’t even know how he got his nickname, though he knows it was in grade school and speculates that it came from classmate Jeff Bailey. A brother, Pat, now deceased, was known mostly as “Pedro” around town while another brother, Dale, was once called “Cookie.”

Gary “Hoot Owl” Goodall got his name during what he calls his partying days. He was sitting in the back seat of a car, leaning over the front trying to hear and repeatedly asking, “Who? Who?” and the driver, Webb Seabrook, told him he sounded like a “hoot owl.”

He says a co-worker asked him once — after about two years — what his name really was.

Today, it’s been shortened to “Hoot” and he says even his

employers will call and ask for “Hoot.”

“My son, Lucas, ran across some of my old friends who said they knew me and they started calling him ‘Little Hoot’–I guess he might carry on the legacy,” he says with a laugh.

Dennis “Sparky” Wardell inherited his handle from his father, Ron, who was called

“Sparky” for his mechanical skills. Dennis picked up the name from his friends when he was a boy, and it’s stuck. His brothers have also been called “Sparky” at times.

“Last fall, my nephew Cody told me he’s getting called Sparky, so I guess the name is going to carry on,” Dennis says.

Gerry Clark, who has been called “Barney” as was his own father by some friends, says he didn’t know his dad’s name was Byron until he was an adult.

“No one ever called him that . . . ever,” he says. “I thought his nickname was “Spitty” and his name was Barney (Clark).”

Some nicknames came about because of specific incidences.

Roger “Hawkeye” Coventry says he wanted to see the German Luger pistol Ron McLeod had at his stepfather Lawrence Chagnon’s place.

“After they went out, I found it and took it all apart and checked it out. They came back and caught me and Ron said I had a real “hawkeye” to be able to find that gun where he’d hidden it,” he says.

Ken “Grinch” Greer says he got his name when he was a teenager. And though he alludes to fishing lures, he won’t say any more. Regardless of the reason, “Grinch” is a name that he’s kept.

And Doug “Mop” Whitfield also got his name in his youth. He speculates it was in about Grade 8 when classmates Mike Lang and Mike West started calling him “Mop,” most likely for the long locks of hair he had.

David “Bunker” Boyer got his name from fellow hockey player Bert Marin when he was about nine.

“I had an old army bag for a hockey bag that said Bunker Hill on it and he started calling me ‘Bunker’ from that,” he says.

Richard “Beanie” Brown was much younger when he inherited his name. It came from his father, Harvey. He says it may have come from the cartoon, Beany and Cecil,about a boy and a dinosaur.

“I guess I must have liked that show though I really can’t remember now,” he says.  “I’ve just always had the name as long as I can remember.”

So there you have it. Along with Yakker, Boomer, Goober, Bush, Newfie, Squirrelly, Scrappy and Ace, there’s also Tootsie, Lala, Birdie, Fuzzy and Beeg.

The list goes on and on and you’ve probably come up with someone who you think should have been mentioned in this article.

Maybe Thessalon should look into inventing a category for nicknames for a world record. And be careful, you never know when someone’s going to stick a name to you that ends up sticking, adding you to this never-ending list of Thessalon nicks.


So there you have my #TBT contribution. Have you got any nicknames to add to the list? Please be sure and leave your comments in the Comment section of my blog.

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