With a large proportion of the population sharing a small number of surnames, giving and then referring to people by their nickname helps to distinguish people.
Nicknames often originate from:
Something a person did as they where growing up. Maybe they did something notable at school and it sticks as their nickname. “Crasher” is so named because he crashed a lot of parties. Dane Leo is “Sixes” because of his cricketing prowess.
Or it could be a physical characteristic, as in “Polar Bear” who is fairly dark-skinned, as is “Seabird” (“Seabird” is the local name for a White Tern).
Others are inherited. “Bootsee” is so named because his father carried that nickname (he has no idea where the name originated). His son will probably be “Bootsee” too – possibly “Young Bootsee” or “Little Bootsee”. Anthony “Nails” is the son of Larry “Nails” (their legal surname is Thomas). “Dutchman” is a reference to being a descendent of the Boer Prisoners.
They can also be transferred by marriage. “Lizzie Dover” (Elizabeth Thomas) became “Lizzie Dick” upon her marriage to Jeremy Clingham.
Other island nicknames include: “Buffalo”, “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. It doesn’t really manner a great deal on the island, but sometimes the nickname is better know among the locals.
Mostly non-Saints or visitors are known only by their legal names, however this is not always the case. 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 St. Helena Independent as “Biggles”, a reference to his prior career in the Royal Air Force.
You can read or download a comprehensive list of nicknames, compiled by Manfred Rippich, a German national with a passion for all things St. Helenian.