Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Regency Nicknames

If there’s one thing at which the British excel, it’s inventing nicknames. (My favorite will always be the twentieth-century brain child of author Evelyn Waugh. Waugh called the Earl of Antrim “Lavatory Chain,” for the simple reason that he was always flushing.)

The Carlton House set, the collective name for the Prince Regent’s friends in the early 1800s, raised the practice of nicknaming to an art form. Some of these names are already familiar to regency readers, and more or less self-explanatory. Frederick “Poodle” Byng had light curly hair and kept a poodle, giving rise to the inevitable comparison. Edward Hughes Ball Hughes (he added the second “Hughes” in 1819 after his grandmother’s second husband, Admiral Edward Hughes, left him an enormous fortune of 40,000 pounds a year) was rich and handsome enough to be known as The Golden Ball. And, of course “Beau” Brummel is much better known today by his nickname than by his given name of George.

Others from the same set are a bit more obscure. Thomas Raikes was the son of a merchant banker, a famous dandy and friend to the great. He was said to have “risen in the east [the City, the financial center of London] and set in the west [Mayfair, the fashionable end of Town],” which led in a roundabout way to his being nicknamed after the sun god, Apollo. Lord Yarmouth, later Marquis of Hertford, was known as “Red Herrings,” since he was ginger-haired and Great Yarmouth was a thriving port for the herring industry. Joseph Haynes earned no less than three nicknames: for the color of his coats, he was known as “Pea Green” Haynes; for his rivalry with the wealthier Golden Ball, he was known as “Silver Ball”; and when he proposed to the famous actress-courtesan Maria Foote, he became known as—what else?—“Foote Ball.”

Maria Foote

Maria Foote won a breach of promise suit against Pea Green Haynes before marrying the more loyal Beau Petersham.

Having been persuaded by friends that Maria was perhaps a bit too scandalous for matrimony, Haynes twice broke off their engagement; Maria sued him for breach of promise and won 3,000 pounds. She went on to marry a much higher-profile member of Prinny’s set, the older but kindhearted 4th Earl of Harrington, known during the regency by his courtesy title of Lord Petersham. After the court and most of the ton refused to receive the new Lady Harrington, the earl angrily withdrew from public life, even telling Queen Victoria when she visited Derbyshire that he would only receive her at Elvaston Castle if she ordered him to do so. Lord Petersham enjoyed two nicknames; “Snuff” for his habit of taking snuff and collecting snuffboxes (he had a different one for every day of the year); and “Beau” after his reputation, like Brummel’s, for being a dandy and trendsetter.

Lord Foley's disastrous balloon launch.

The 2nd Lord Foley, an early champion of flight, was known as "Lord Balloon" after the abortive September 29, 1784, launch that ended with a hot air balloon ablaze in his Portland Place garden.

Nicknames were often as uncomplimentary as they were descriptive. Lord Petersham’s cousin, Lord Sefton, was known as “Lord Dashalong” for his unrestrained style of driving. Captain Gronow, who went on many years later to write his Reminiscences of regency life, was short enough to be called “NoGrow.” Lord Foley, 3rd Baron Foley, was known as “Number Eleven” for his skinny legs—but at least that was a more clever nickname than that given his father, who was called “Lord Balloon” after a hot air balloon launched from his garden failed to get off the ground, leading disappointed onlookers to form an angry mob and attack the balloonists. It's never a good thing when a nickname immortalizes a dramatic public humiliation.

What about you? Do you have a favorite historical nickname, whether real or fictional?

Alyssa Everett's debut regency romance, Ruined by Rumor, is currently available from Carina Press. She hopes you'll visit her website and follow her on Twitter and Facebook, where she promises not to spam you relentlessly.

8 comments:

ellaquinnauthor said...

Alyssa,

What a wonderful post. I'd, of course heard of many of the nicknames before. But thank you for doing the research and putting them all in one place.

Alyssa Everett said...

Thanks, Ella! I left out a few of the less colorful nicknames, but there were a lot to choose from.

Vicky Dreiling said...

Alyssa,

Great post. Two of my heroes have nicknames that are shortened versions of their titles. I think it would be fun to give the hero a nickname based on some characteristic.

Alyssa Everett said...

Thanks, Vicky! I think you should definitely give one of your heroes a nickname based on a characteristic (something suitably dashing, of course).

Katherine Bone said...

Very cool post, Alyssa! Just another dimension of character writers need to consider. Thanks!

Alyssa Everett said...

Thanks, Katherine! I keep hoping a brilliantly clever character nickname will occur to me one day, but so far I've been waiting in vain for the Inspiration Fairy.

Susanna Fraser said...

Interesting post, Alyssa!

Because I can tie most things Regency to Wellington somehow or other, I'll add that Wellington was known as the Beau or the Peer to officers on his staff, but his troops referred to him as Old Nosey or Old Hookey.

Alyssa Everett said...

Thanks, Susan! I'll bet Wellington's troops didn't refer to him as Old Nosey or Old Hookey in his hearing. ;)