When columnists or writers put their names at the top of a story, it is called their by-line. This by-line adds credibility to the story and guarantees a certain responsibility. So why Red Snapper? The answer lies in the context of this light-hearted piece, a short exposé about some of the nicknames kicking around Kahnawake.
My dad enjoyed fishing. As I became older, I realized he really enjoyed fishing, but was not exceptionally good at it… He especially enjoyed using a float (or a bobber as old-timers may call it) and some bait on a hook. Many “modern” fishermen may sneer at the technique, but he liked it, plain and simple. Whenever we’d go out on the water, he’d tie on the sinker, hook and float. The rest of us would use crankbaits, Rapallas, buck-tailed jigs and whatever new gizmo was on the market. To reward our efforts were small mouth bass, pike, and walleye.
Usually, my dad caught perch. Nothing wrong with that… right? Just that it was, well, heck, it was perch. My brother got to calling our dad Perchy and we all had a good laugh.
While I was in CEGEP I stopped at a fish market one Friday afternoon and bought two whole red snappers on my way home.
I unfortunately forgot the fish in my school bag over the weekend (I always kidded myself about homework and never opened the bag). By Sunday, a very bad smell emanated from my room, the cause… you guessed it, two rotting red snapper.
It was then on, Perchy and his boy, Red Snapper.
Now this is a simple story, and not many people outside my family know it. But geez, how many other stories are out there , pointing to a myriad of nicknames floating throughout Kahnawake? Sure, we know of many people with a nickname and sometimes the nickname identified a person better than their real name. It may be an endearing name which the person accepts, or it may be taken as an insult. Whatever the case, most people know of someone with a nickname. They don’t necessarily want to offend, but rather, simply identify the person in question.
Case in point. There’s a man who recently worked for the town named John. John who? may be asked. Another person may answer “you know, John Ranch.” The two people now know exactly who they’re talking about. The name may extend to kids; “you know, Jamie Ranch” and BINGO, you know who you’re talking about. Others come to mind; Tommy and Kieth Gun or Peter and Derek Pie.
I was at a party once and ran into a young gentleman. When enquiring who was who, he asked if I knew Pot Roast. Yes, I answered, so he let me know that he was his brother.
“OK, I know who that is, so that would make you Sir Loin?” I asked, jokingly. He laughed at that one, but the name did not stick.
Sometimes, a nickname is a blanket expression for an entire family, such as Hambone (and relatives, Chickenbone), Texas or Gijoe. Such families may live in the same area of town giving birth to a geographical’ nickname such as Gadeeseville (please forgive any spelling errors).
Some names speak of another era and perhaps an earlier time, names like Cyclone, Big Six, Suitcase, Jalopy, Spitoon, Hot Rod, or Bigjohn (there were several Big Johns and a family name is usually given to identify specifics).
Business establishments are sometimes identified with the owner’s nicknames. You can shop at Skippy’s or Chilly Willy’s, get a bite at Eggy’s (not to be confused with Wiggy’s) or Fadees, repair the car at Chillawee’s, pick up some last-minute items at Mon Oncle’s. You can find leather goods at Wacko’s, get some water at Billy Red’s, hire a DJ with Mouchie, buy a few cold ones at Fishy’s and wonder what happened to Snake Oil’s place.
While you’re doing these things, you may run into people like Moosy Bouchie, Puck or Kojak. Other names may not seem so flattering (are any nicknames actually flattering?) and are somewhat difficult to use. Does the person approve? Maybe… maybe not. I always had a difficult time dialing up the Ed Center and asking for Pussy…
There’s the Roadrunner who used to yell at kids, insisting that his name was Mitchel, but now has ROADRUNNER proudly displayed across his cart. Buddy is always Buddy to everyone, and many people know Gimma, Football. Pinky, Buck, Orr, Rugly, Doogie and Moon.
Who knows exactly what to say in the presence of Nutsy, Sicky (or was that Zicky), Wine Bag, Sheddy Freddy, Powerhouse, Madeye, Mugsy, Magoo, Cornflakes, Hot Dog, Radical, Beaver or Really Rotten (and, accordingto the grapevine, brothers Really Really Rotten, and Almost Rotten)?
People from out of town may wonder about all the celebrities if they overheard names like Liberace, The Shack, Mona Lisa. Led Zeppelin, Flash or Porky. They may even think you’re talking about food if you mention Mustard, Buns, Chic Chocolate, Cookie, Buckwheat, Pike, Donuts, Bear, Oeuf or Burnt Toast. Who knows what they’d think if you refer to Fafa, Ota, Stupid, Full Blast, Doobie, The Professor, Bomber, Googoomay, Yogi or Slash?
1990 brought world attention to Kahnawake’s Lasagna. Something was lost, however, in translation when Canadian Armed Forces tried some psychological warfare and posted intimidating signs directed to “Lasagne.”
More recently, another local claimed fame when winning almost a half million dollars. Of course the news travelled through Kahnawake like wild fire. The first question asked was, “Who did you say it was?” The answer was most usually, “You know… B’day!”
I realize that these few names only scratch the surface of life in Kahnawake, that there are many, many more. Are other small towns similar to Kahnawake in this respect? A more appropriate question would be WHY are there so many nicknames? The answer would seem to lie in the type of people we are—always willing to poke some light-hearted fun at our neighbour.
If I was helping a friend around the house and happened to drop a cement block on my foot, chances are he’d laugh pretty hard at me before taking me to the hospital. We seem to laugh in the face of adversity and I think that’s great. Before you know it, I’d be called Cementfoot or Hoof, who knows?
Whatever the case, we can only guess at the beginnings of most nicknames. Unfortunately, some of the true origins are actually lost, leaving only speculation and conjecture. Perhaps this is best, leaving a romantic or idyllic notion in the origin of someone’s name. It may even immortalize the person in some way.
This article is reprinted from The Eastern Door.