Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad

Nicknaming tradition alive and well

Kathleen Lippa
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Nov 22/04) - One way to share a good natured laugh or hear a fascinating story that bridges culture and time is to ask an Inuk how non-Inuit get nicknames in the North.

"Sowmik," or "the left-handed one," is a famous nickname that was given to James Houston, who introduced Inuit art to the south.

Kullua Simeonie of Cape Dorset said there are so many stories of nicknames they would easily fill an entire newspaper.

But one particularly funny story stands out in her mind. It's about an old teacher she had in Grade 5 in Cape Dorset named Mr. Hope.

He was always falling down, which led to an Inuktitut name the students had for him, which translated as "the one who falls down."

This still makes her laugh today.

Luckily, Mr. Hope had a sense of humour, she said. He knew about the nickname and accepted it as part of living and working in the North.

"When they make a nickname it is also the way they see them. It really suits them," she added.

A nickname can emerge strictly for convenience, if the person's English name is difficult for an Inuktitut or Inuinnaqtun speaker to pronounce.

Your height, or any physical characteristic that distinguishes you, can come into play to help create a nickname that sticks.

Most Northerners agree: a nickname is a term of endearment and should be seen as a good thing.

"It's like you are, how do I put this, in favour of them," explained Emily Angulalik of Cambridge Bay.

If you are non-Inuit but have lived here a long time, have a sense of humour or do something that makes you stand out at some point, chances are you will get a nickname and it will probably involve something about the way you look or the way you do things.

Inuit give each other nicknames and they tend to focus on physical characteristics that are reminiscent of an older or deceased family member.

It is a loving, sincere thing to do, explained Angulalik.

If you have the same name as someone else, you will often share a fun nickname for each other.

Young children are often nicknamed after older or deceased relatives because they look or act like them.

"My grandson (Dustin) is named after my mother, Ekvana," said Angulalik.

Dustin also inherited a nickname based on the misspelling of Ekvana on a marriage certificate from 1941.

Ekvana became "Nelvana" and Nelvana is often used as Angulalik's grandson's nickname.

Amiya Emingak of Kugaaruk has a four-year-old granddaughter who is occasionally called "Nonna Bessie."

"Her namesake is my mother-in-law because she has many of the same characteristics," explained Emingak.