Don't visit the mall without one

2008-05-30 00:00

A few weeks ago our family was travelling in the car to the mall when my son Thomas (12) announced that he thought we should all have “street” names. A bit taken aback, I asked him what he meant by “street” names.

“Names that you use when you are on the street,” he explained. “They don’t replace your real name, but they give you street cred.”

Great, I thought, this really is a family priority. About the longest stretch of tarmac we walk along is from the parking lot at the mall to the shopping centre itself — not exactly high-end pedestrian stuff!

But Thomas had hooked into something. Shakespeare was right when he observed that a rose by any other name would still be a rose, but different names can alter perception, and as we all know perception is often reality. Gangsters have long understood this. How many Mafia movies have been made with either (or both!) a Vinnie or Paulie in them? Not only is this not accidental, in gangster circles name modification is often a vocational necessity. Think about it. You hear that two guys called Vincent and Paul may be paying you a visit and you may be forgiven for thinking that they were altar boys out raising money for the local parish priest. If Vinnie and Paulie were planning to drop in, on the other hand, you would probably make sure that the protection money you owe them is ready and waiting in a nice white envelope.

“Okay, Tom,” I said. “Let’s see if we can organise everyone a ‘street’ name before we get to the mall.”

Tom already had mine lined up. “You can be Daddio,” he said, which I really liked. Obviously in charge, but in a laidback unassuming kind of way, and with an understated affection. Well done Thomas!

Francis (10) has one of my favourite names, one which for me combines strength and gentleness and should ordinarily never be altered in any way. But life on the street has its own imperatives, and Francis definitely needed some toughening up. So we agreed that when on the street he would be known as Frankie — familiar, reliable and one of the guys.

My daughter Josie (7) had her name simply shortened to Jo, giving her a no nonsense I-can-take-care-of-myself quality. Rose, my six-year-old foster child was called Teletubbie — she is small and cute, and even the toughest street outfit needs a soft touch.

This was all pretty quickly done, but Thomas needed some serious work. I have lately taken to calling him Tin-tin on account of his lovely big round face and a flick of hair on the front top of his head which, if left to its own devices, ends up curling forwards and then backwards on itself, just like the cartoon character. Definitely not the most robust metal on the periodic table, Tin-tin is hardly a name likely to instil any kind of respect on the street so it clearly wouldn’t do.

Sometimes a suitable “street” name needs more than a phonetic makeover, and in some cases a direct translation into another language may be required. And if you are looking for a lexicon with a bit of mettle and muscle Afrikaans is a pretty good bet. “Thomas, let’s call you Blik-blik instead of Tin-tin. It sounds a lot hardier — and a bit dangerous,” I suggested. “Cool, dad, Blik-blik, I like it.”

So there we had it, and just in time, we had arrived at the mall and Shelley was busy driving through the entrance boom. “What about mum?” Josie piped up from the back. “She hasn’t got a street name.” Shelley had been driving quietly and had kept out of our deliberations.

“Mum can be Boss Larney,” Thomas suggested. Talk about a sudden and unwelcome political realignment. What a letdown. In the face of Boss Larney, Daddio suddenly seemed vague and flabby, quaint almost, a giant dwarf rather than a supernova. And before I could even bring myself down gently Shelley said from the driver’s seat: “Hello, it’s the Boss Larney speaking. You guys stop buggering around and find a parking, and Paddy, please don’t tell me you have forgotten the shopping list.”

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