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Who on earth is ‘Gavin Ellick’?

A nickname is the hardest stone that the devil can throw at a man.{a}

Because we have so few surnames, most people have nicknames


If you want to trace people who are or were on St Helena, our page Family And Friends may be helpful.

Why nicknames?

If you read our page Origins of island surnames you will see that we have quite a large proportion of the population sharing a small number of surnames. The pragmatic approach to this is to refer to most people by their nickname.

Nicknames can come from three sources:

Other island nicknames include: ‘Butt’, ‘Slow’, ‘Wildcat’, ‘Fizz’, ‘Mouse’, ‘Fishcake’, ‘Rivers’, ‘Goat’, ‘Roady’ and ‘Bow’.

As a visitor you could be introduced to someone and may have no idea if the name you are given is a legal name or a nickname. And, at the end of the day, does it matter? Unless you are planning to sue a person you probably don’t need to know.

Dr. Ian Shine, medical officer in the early 1960s, noted in his book ‘Upon This Rock’ that he had dealings with Cold Tea, Tin Soldier, Green Fish, Bag O’Darkness, Go Down Friday, Cat‘n Ashes and Willy Strike the Rock.

Are nicknames only for Saints?

Independent in 2008

In practice, yes. Most non-Saints are known only by their legal names. There have been a few exceptions, however.

Penny who was heavily involved in donkey preservation during her time on the island from 2004-2008 was always known as ‘Donkey Lady’. And one particularly unpopular Chief Secretary, Martin Hallam, was often referred to by The Independent as ‘Biggles’, a reference to his prior career in the RAF (see image, left).

But on the whole nicknames are indeed reserved for Saints.

The Napoleonic connection

Betsy Balcombe

One might suppose that nicknames were common on St Helena even as far back as when Napoleon was imprisoned here. Napoleon apparently became friends with a 13/4 year-old local girl, Betsy Balcombe, who could speak French. She called him ‘Boney’ and he nicknamed her the ‘Rosebud of St Helena’.

Nicknames have certainly been here for around 100 years. Someone seeking lost relatives published this in the local newspapers (our emphasis):

Searching for my Grandmother’s Sister:
Name: Gladys Helena Felton (née Leo); her nickname was Babby
Born: April 27th, 1915 (on her baptismal certificate, the witnesses were Rose King, Walter Leo, and Mary Maggott)

What name appears in the phone book?

Generally speaking the official St Helena Island telephone directory lists legal names. But in the email addresses, which are also listed, nicknames are common. Ralph Peters (of Radio St Helena fame) is ‘dutchman@…’; former councillor Cyril Gunnell is ‘ferdie@…’.

In Norfolk Island, a small volcanic outcrop in the Pacific Ocean, the local phone book lists the 2,000 or so residents by their nicknames. It has been suggested that the St Helena telephone directory might also benefit from having people listed by both legal and nicknames because if you only know someone’s nickname you have no hope of finding their telephone number in the book. (The answer is that you call Directory Enquiries on (+290) 22222 - the Saint operator is bound to know who you mean and what their legal name is.)

So who on earth is ‘Gavin Ellick’?

Gavin who?
Gavin who?

In the general election campaign for 2009 there was a candidate listed as ‘Mr. Gavin Ellick’. This caused some confusion because the candidate’s photo was definitely that of Eddie Duff. A mixup in the elections office? Not at all. People who had known Eddie many years (he was, at the time, the island’s Wirebird expert) had never thought to enquire if ‘Eddie Duff’ was his legal name. It turned out it wasn’t - his legal name was ‘Gavin Ellick’. The origins of ‘Eddie Duff’ are unclear but it is the name by which he is universally known…except in council minutes of the time. (Eddie served on Legislative Council until 2021 and then went back to looking after Wirebirds.)

Some curious nicknames

In the 1950s someone on the island had the nickname ‘albacore balls’.In the 1990s a chap had the nickname ‘Benny Hill’; a facial resemblance perhaps?A race in 2001 had entrants ‘Rugger Bugger’, ‘Loopy Lou’, and ‘Rubber Heels’, and one in 2010 had ‘Homer’, ‘Gooner’, ‘Bambi’, ‘Lens-Cap’, ‘Cling-On’ and ‘Captain Oats’.We know ‘Tex’ was so-named because he was an enthusiast of Country Music but why ‘Johnny Carter’ and what did it mean?We do know that ‘Sheriff’ was a security guard and ‘Crash and Burn’ had an accident at a sporting event but not why was ‘Bod’.Might ‘Bite the Dog’ be related to ‘Dogbone’?‘Teacher’ was and ‘Mountain Goat’ was good at climbing but why ‘Margie cock fowl’, a female?‘The Little Master’ is a good name for a successful cricketer but ‘Flipper’ should be a swimmer; actually a footballer.What did ‘Shipping Major’ do to earn the name?How about ‘Snacks’ - not a restauranteur; maybe he just ate a lot of them?Why ‘Smokey’ or ‘Fairbanks’?‘Jigs’ and ‘Willie tin-tots’ were close friends but neither can we explain.‘Apricots’ and ‘Peaches’ are brothers and the competitors in a sporting event in 2011 were ‘Princess Pee Pee’ (guess?), ‘Glamour 1’, ‘Glamour 2’, ‘Georgie Porgie’, ‘Dicky Eye’, ‘Binky Black Neck’, ‘Slum Dog’, ‘Millionaire’, ‘Yorkie’ and ‘Kiss the Lips’.{b}

Apparently, in the before days people were nicknamed after vegetables. There was a ‘Joe Chilli’, a ‘Peter Onion’, a ‘Samuel Turnip’ a ‘Bazzie Cabbage’ and a ‘Carrot Head’.

Read More

Below: Comprehensive listArticle: Dear Editor

A comprehensive list

You can read or download a comprehensive list of nicknames{c}, compiled by Manfred Rippich, a German national with a passion for all things St Helenian.

Article: Dear Editor

Letter published in The Independent 10th October 2014{2}

Dear Editor,

I have noticed on occasion that my father’s second name has appeared in inverted commas in the paper, referring to him affectionately as ‘Otto’. St Helena has lots of nicknames with wonderful stories behind them but just to confirm that this is indeed my dad’s second name because often I think lots of people think it’s his nick name.

My dad was given this name from his grandfather, my great grandfather whom everyone will know as Otto Thomas. On the other hand my grandfather, Fredrick Thomas was also called ‘Otto’ after his father but in fact his second name was Douglas. The history of names is so interesting. Otto is a given name of Germanic origin meaning wealthy. Well…I know for sure my dad has not yet won the lottery!

My brother Waylon did not inherit the Otto name but inevitably became a 4th generation fisherman. However my son was given Otto as his second name and will no doubt keep his eyes open for that wheel of fortune!


Tammy Williams, Gordon’s Post


“I think…

nicknames humour image

… my name is ‘Awwww’.”

{a} William Hazlitt, in ‘On Nicknames’{b} All mentioned in Our Newspapers.{c} Manfred Rippich (Germany)


{1} The ‘Nails’ name applied to Larry can be explained. He did not inherit it. It is a reference to his ‘success with women’…{2} @@RepDis@@