By any other name would smell as sweet
Years ago, Eugene Robinson was working on a construction site with his mates when a brick fell, making contact with his head in an explosion of dust.
For ever more, the late Mr Robinson was known as “Brick Dust”.
Photographer Ras Mykkal tells the story of Mr Robinson’s nickname and many others in his new book Nicknames — How You Got Your Nickname.
“This all started when my uncle Dudley ‘Unkie’ Simons and I were looking through the papers a few years ago,” Mr Mykkal said. “He noticed that his good friend Brick Dust had passed away. I said, ‘Brick Dust, what kind of nickname is that?’.”
When his uncle explained, he started thinking about nicknames generally and how people got them.
“I am responsible for giving a couple of people’s nicknames,” Mr Mykkal said. “I worked with Raymond Raynor at Goslings. He had these really big hands.
“He could hold a 24 bottle case of beer with one hand. I called him Two Scoops, like in Raisin Bran cereal. I said them hands look like two scoops.”
His own nicknames include “Buck” and “Husker”.
“I am the first grandchild of my mother’s mother, Elizabeth F. Dillworth,” Mr Mykkal said. “Before I was born, she said if her first grandchild was a boy, he has to be named ‘Buck’; if it’s a girl then it has to be ‘Whoopie’. Two years after I was born along came ‘Whoopie’ and six years later, my brother Billy.”
For years he thought his grandmother meant Buck Rabbit, a cartoon character, but later learnt she meant Buck Owens, a country western singer. “She loved country western music,” he said.
His nickname “Husker” came from his days studying at the Bermuda Technical Institute.
He fell in love with motorcycles and motocross racing in his teens, and had a particular passion for Swedish Husqvarna motorcycles.
“One of my professors started calling me ‘Husker’,” Mr Mykkal said. “The guys I went to school with still call me ‘Husker’.”
Mr Mykkal said sometimes nicknames came out of derogatory comments, or labels, but they were still a big part of Bermuda’s heritage.
“Nobody really asks, why do they call you this or that,” he said.
In 2000, he started interviewing people about their nicknames with the view of writing a book. He stopped when he heard that someone else was doing the same thing.
“When I released my third book, Bermuda’s Flying Flowers: The Seven Resident Butterflies of Bermuda, Dale Butler was launching his book on Bermuda nicknames.
“I went and looked at his book and said ‘Dale, you have names, but you don’t have pictures or stories. I think the stories are what makes it interesting’. Dale said, ‘Ras, I don’t have the time or resources for all of that’.”
So they compromised. Mr Mykkal would write a more expansive book about nicknames, but he would include a photo of Mr Butler with his book, and a foreword from Mr Butler.
“That way his book got some promotion,” Mr Mykkal said.
Mr Mykkal said his book was a little challenging to write as he’s more of a photographer than a journalist.
“But I was learning things,” he said. “I realised that a book has an intro, the meat and closure.”
By the end of the project he’d recorded the nicknames of 300 people from all walks of life in Bermuda.
Along the way he also had more than few laughs from the funny stories behind people’s nicknames.
For example, when Anthony Burchall was a toddler he loved Saturday morning cartoons, especially Super Chicken, popular in 1967.
When it came on, he would yell, Berkka! Berkka! Berkka! Soon his babysitter’s son started calling ‘Berkka’, and the nickname spread to Mr Burchall’s other brothers, David and Steven.
“They got called that so much, people thought it was their surname,” Mr Mykkal said. “Children would come to the door and say to their mother, ‘excuse me, Mrs Berkka, is David at home?’.”
Nicknames is made in collaboration with graphic designer Stephan Johnstone of SJD World.
The book contains photos of everyone mentioned, taken by Mr Mykkal.
Mr Mykkal first started taking photographs of motocross races back in 1980 to provide for the local media covering races.
Then in January, 1997 he studied photography at the New York Institute of Photography and earned his qualifications as a professional photographer.
For several years he shot sport for The Royal Gazette.
His first book, Click ... I Got Yah!, released in 2011, was a compilation of some of the island’s greatest athletes and sporting moments.
He’s already working on his next book which will be a sports photography how to book, using photos he’s taken of local athletes and sports figures.
He hopes to market it internationally. Nicknames is for sale at Brown & Co and People’s Pharmacy.