Jamaicans are obsessed with nicknames.

Most Jamaicans have either a nickname or some shortened version of their name.

I say they’re obsessed because I know more Jamaicans with nicknames than any other group of people I’ve ever lived around.

Due to a massive and unprecedented glitch in the Jamaican nicknaming system, I have never called my father Dad or Daddy one day of my life and all of his children have called him by his nickname since birth.

I know. It’s very weird.

There are certain standard nicknames that go floating around.

Popular Jamaican nicknames

For example, if you are very dark-skinned and live in Jamaica, there is a good chance that your nickname is going to be Blacka.

If you are Chinese in Jamaica, first let me say, I’m not saying this is wrong or right, I’m just telling you how it is. If you are Chinese in Jamaica and you are a woman, most people will call you Miss Chin. If you are a man, most people will call you Mr. Chin.

Once when I lived in Japan, a friend complained to me that she knew someone who was Japanese who went to Jamaica and everyone called her Miss Chin.

Like I said, I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, but if you’re in Jamaica and you are Oriental and you hear someone calling for Miss Chin or Mr. Chin, turn around to check if it’s you.

There are also neighborhood nicknames.

On two occasions now I’ve lived in neighborhoods in Jamaica where the entire neighborhood had a nickname for one family and the family had no idea. In all our conversations with each other we would refer to that family by the nickname.

In the first neighborhood, there was a family where all the girls wore really scandalous clothes and a lot of leopard print style stuff.  Their nickname was “The Las Vegas.”  If we were talking about the entire family, it was The Las Vegas but if we were only talking about one of them it was shortened to “The Las”. For example, I’ll show you how to use it in a sentence.

I was coming home from work yesterday and I saw one of the Las on the bus.

This went on for as long as I lived in that neighborhood.

The next neighborhood where this happened, there was a family where everyone was really short. Their nickname was “The wee people”. The most memorable thing about this second family is that one day someone almost let it slip while one of them was present but stopped themself mid-sentence.  That was pretty funny.

A memorable nickname situation happened once with one of my relatives.  This is like a relative of an in-law.

For years and years and years, like about 15 years, I always heard people calling him Bessy.  I thought that was an unusual nickname for a man but never said anything.  Then one day I heard him talking on the phone to someone, and he said, “Yeah man, a me Bessy.” This translates to “Yes, it’s me Bessy”.

This got my attention.  I thought to myself, “It’s not only other people who call him Bessy. He also calls himself Bessy. It’s time to look into this further.” When he got off the phone, I asked him, “How did you get the name Bessy?”

He said, “People thought I looked like a big black cow.”

That right there is the power of the Jamaican nickname and how you end up being a grown man answering the phone, “Yes, it’s me Bessy.”

I want to comment on the appropriateness of this nickname for a moment.

A few years ago, I was listening to a health podcast. The host was black and the guest was also black.

Afterwards I decided to go and google the guest because she had a lot of interesting things to say about health and getting healthy. I think in between the episode airing and me listening to it, a few years had passed.  This is the only explanation I have for what I saw when I clicked on her homepage. She was enormous.

She looked like Bessy!  That’s who they should have given the nickname Bessy, not my relative!

Not once in the approximately 15 years that I knew him did it ever occur to me that he looked like a big black cow.

Anyway, as you can see, some of these Jamaican nicknames are not for the feint of heart. For example, I have a cousin who everyone has called Fod for about 40 years now. If my memory serves me correctly, it is because someone thought she looked like a Ford vehicle of some sort.

My grandmother, every chance she got used to tell me these urban legend type stories about a man she knew called, “Suffara”.  I think if you’re already constantly suffering and everybody in the neighborhood calls you Suffara on a daily basis, is that going to help anything?

So, from what I can see, if you have to choose between, Blacka, Suffara, Ford, and Bessy, you may start thinking what I’m thinking right now. Miss Chin and Mr. Chin don’t sound quite so bad.

This article was originally published on Feb 9th, 2023.

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