Editor's Note: For years, members of the Portuguese community have adopted nicknames for one another. This old, mysterious and rather secret custom is still in practice today. Rumor has it that the nickname of a crewmember on one of the whale-watching boats on Cape Cod is "Chocolate." While we can't explain how he earned this sobriquet, musing about its origins is an amusing pasttime.
...In introducing them, one must use their nicknames. For they have an odd custom of bestowing nicknames on one another, not in a spirit of levity, but in dead earnest. They practically forget their real names. Sometimes the sobriquets are not very delicate, but always they are highly descriptive; and once a man comes by his nickname, there is no escape. As it is always, the surname that is replaced, whole families must abide by the practice. There is the "Rat family," for instance; there are the "Codfishes"-Manuel Codfish, Maria Codfish, and all the little Codfishes; there is the fisherman who lost both his legs, "Tom Low;" there are Mike Molasses and Mrs. Jazzgarters...
Last time I took a pair of boots in to Joe Halfdollar, the old Portuguese fisherman who has gone into cobbling, I stopped to admire a great new window he had set out.
At the left side he had a big old shark-bitten seaboot, which he must have picked up off the beach, frayed and stringy around the top and show a great gaping hole in the forepeak. Under this he had placed the legend, "BEFORE." At the right side, over a card printed "AFTER," a silver high-heeled dancing pump glittered in immaculate daintiness...
By Josef Berger (Jeremiah Diggens)
Reprinted from Cape Cod Pilot (1937)
Excerpt From A Place Apart, edited by Robert Finch, ISBN 0-393-03480-1