Nickname

I know my fellow teachers these days mostly by their initials. There is AC, VH, SS, JM, TP, EC, LS, STG, MHD, NR and of course JC. All highly familiar glyphs on the timetable, deployed like runes of power at the end of each week, a mantra or spell cast on the week to come.

Students, on the other hand, know us by our first names. They sometimes get the Johns confused, and they have it easy: there used to be more of us. There used to be quite a few Simons as well (I used to assure my students that the Johns would beat the Simons in a stand-up fight, mainly thanks to the formidably stocky JR).

Or perhaps they have nicknames for us. I am not aware that they do, but I could be wrong. I struggle to remember the actual names of many of my school teachers, but I certainly remember their nicknames – Vogo, Pinhead, Scapegoat, Koko and Hollowhead, among others (the last was our games teacher, needless to say; a former England rugby international, who bore our disrespect will rather an ill-grace and quite a lot of violent retribution, I remember).

Nicknames take time, not to invent, but to stick. They are part of the culture of a school, passed down generation to generation. I have no idea, for example, why Vogo was called Vogo. He was our Latin and Greek teacher, and Vogo sounds like it should be Latin, but as far as I am aware, isn’t. Scapegoat’s nickname came to him on his first day teaching, or so I was told, from a story he told his class about scapegoats in the Bible (he had a somewhat strangulated, high-pitched voice, and I suppose the word sounded funny in his mouth). It never left him thereafter, and quite possibly follows him around to this day.

I have nicknames for some of my students, but they are unrepeatable. My students I mostly know by their given names (or Christian names, as we call them, although by no means all my students are Christians). I could probably get most of their surnames as well, but that is not how they present themselves to me in memory. And I perhaps I get them wrong from time to time, swap them round, mispronounce them. I have certainly once or twice had to apologise to students for calling them by the wrong name all week. Sometimes, as you get older, it is hard to make things stick. And that, I suppose, is when you start to pick up nicknames.

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