When I was at primary school I had several nicknames, none of them meant in the least kindly. I don't intend to immortalise any of them in poetry. At high school, on the other hand, I was never known by anything but my unabbreviated given name. So when I saw the prompt for the day at Readwritepoem was "nicknames", I wondered what to write about - until I remembered an article in my family history files concerning the coal mining cousins of my greatgrandmother. In Scotland the eldest son was almost always named for his paternal grandfather, second son for his maternal grandfather, third son for his father and later sons for various uncles - this inevitably led in large families to numbers of cousins all with the same names.
At the pithead all the cousins line up
to collect their pay. They share
the family names and faces.
There’s Robert’s Bob and Hugh’s Bob,
Robert’s Hugh and James’s Hugh,
three Williams, Andrew, Charles.
“Whose son are you?” asks the colliery clerk
before he’ll pass over the silver. Bynames,
then, to untangle the knots – the Bum,
the Pig, the Fudder, Dandy Jim,
Swearing Hughie, Gurning Wullie.
On Sunday come to kirk they fill
three long rows. Outside in the kirkyard
the graves of those who died too small
to wwear a nickname, buried with no covering
except a simple shroud.