What’s in a name?

Let's keep it simple. Normally you throw a 'y' or an 'o' at the end of name, but there are much more complexities. So here is Clarey Thomo to go through the nickname.  

What’s your poison? A Holty, Flecky, Wessi or Chippy? Maybe a Sutts, Butts or Hucks? Or a positively exotic Three Lungs, Disco Dale, Norfolk Cafu or Ginger Pele? Nicknames. We love them. 

Personally, I’m partial to a simple first name. I love a Wes, Jonny or Cam. In fact, I rarely use surnames at all. This familiarity is fine when conversing with fellow yellows. But I live in SW London and referring to Jonny Howson as just ‘Jonny’ gets met with blank stares. It’s partly my fault for brazenly choosing to ignore the fact these people neither know nor care about players that are interwoven into the fabric of my life (although I suspect a few more now know who Jonny is after he scored the best goal in history and I showed it to them 237 times). 

I can just about pull off a ‘Wes’, thanks to his Irish exploits and his widely acknowledged brilliance. In fact, I do believe that Wes may now be at the stage he can just drop the Hoolahan altogether. If Cheryl can drop the Tweedy Cole Fernandez Versini and be just Cheryl, then Wes can definitely be just Wes. 

Am I alone in this informal use of first names? I certainly don’t hear my Arsenal and Chelsea supporting friends saying ‘Did you see Diego’s goal on Saturday?’ or ‘Mesut looks so disinterested’, yet their players are far more familiar than ours. Perhaps fans of the big clubs just don’t have that same level of connection to their players that fans of smaller teams do. Interestingly, though, it was a Fulham-supporting friend that picked me up on it. Fulham are a small and friendly club like us, my friend a season ticket holder for eternity. He’s certainly as connected to his club as I am to mine. Yet he is always telling me off for my informality: “Using players’ first names. Just not right”. 

My curiosity was raised. Why do I, like Chandler Bing, love a moniker? 

Firstly, we are a lazy species. There is no question that Wes is easier to say than Hoolahan. One syllable over three. One precious second of life saved. But for me, and I suspect for many others, it is much more than that. Nicknames are both affectionate and possessive. With that possession comes a sense of pride, as we feel we have gained the authority to name them so. A heightened relationship that allows ownership. ‘He is ours - he belongs with us’. 

I use first names for almost all of the current players, even going as far as an overtly affectionate ‘Joshy’ or ‘Timmy’ at times, yet I have never met them. I speak as if I know them because I invest energy and emotion into them, as I would with friends and family. In fact, at times I probably invest more. Many of us even chose to spend Valentine’s Day with them. And the sooner we give a player a pet name, the sooner he belongs to us. Mitchell Dijks is already ‘Mitch’ and I’ve barely seen him play. In fact, he may even achieve true nickname status; ‘Fly Swat’, ‘Brick Wall’, or my personal favourite ‘Juggernaut’. No? Well, go ask Matt Ritchie.

Weirdly, the one player I struggle with is Graham Dorrans and I have no idea why. Possibly because Graham is not easy to shorten, and shouting ‘go on Graham’ feels less like I am shouting to a footballer and more to a man in an office suit clutching a briefcase. Sorry, Graham Dorrans. 

Whatever your moniker preference, I have the weight of the world’s greatest footballing nation on my side. In Brazil, the use of the first name or pet name is commonplace. It demonstrates a personalised, caring aspect of their culture; the first name is seen as more central to the character of a person than the family name. 

It is also because Brazilians and Portuguese often have ridiculously long names. Ivo Pinto’s full name? Ivo Daniel Ferreira Mendonca Pinto. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Even Brazil’s ex President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was known to all as Lula. The sheer length of the name makes you give up. 

The second greatest team in yellow also use nicknames to distinguish players with the same name; ‘inho’ (small) or ‘ao’ (big) are often tagged on. It’s how there came to be a Ronaldo, Little Ronaldo and Little Ronaldo from the South in the same squad. When Fat Ronaldo (I’m using obvious ways to distinguish for the purpose of the story) came into the team, there was already a defender Ronaldo. So, Fat Ronaldo became Ronaldinho (small Ronaldo. Oh the irony). Then Ugly Ronaldinho came along, and he was named Ronaldinho Gaucho (little Ronaldo from the South). Defender Ronaldo retired, so Fat Ronaldinho became Ronaldo and Ugly Ronaldinho Gaucho became plain old Ronaldinho.


Imagine how useful that might have been with Paul Lambert’s propensity to collect players with the same name? No more Rudd, Ruddy, Bennett, Bennett, Martin, Martin. We could have had Ruddyao, Bennettao, Bennettinho, Martinao, and Martinho Gaucho (go work it out). As if that team wasn’t awesome enough, stick a Wessi in too and WOAH. 

The Brazilian method could also solve the whole Murphy conundrum in one fell swoop. Ja/Jo, Murph1, Murph2; add an ‘inho’ on the end of one of them and be done with it. Is there any height discrepancy between them? One must have arrived in the world first, at least. 

Ability to save breath and distinguish between players aside, there is something appealing about a team of Oscars and Freds; first name familiarity as opposed to sterile surnames. As Alex Bellos, author of ‘Futebol, the Brazilian Way of Life’ explains; ‘It feels like they are friends - like they are one of your gang’. 

And that, in a nutshell, is why I love a Wes, Cam and Jonny. They are part of my gang.