What is a ‘Moniker’?

For some reason, I love the word moniker. So a while back I went looking to find out more about the origin of the word and I thought the results were fascinating.

If you have a moniker, it’s thanks to a small group of travelers in Ireland known, logically enough, as Travelers. They are like the people called Romani elsewhere in Europe and North America (and commonly known as Gypsies), keeping to themselves, living in vans, moving from place to place, and living on odd jobs and trades such as barn painting and selling linoleum. But the Irish Travelers are Irish.

Like the Romani, Irish Travelers have their own secret language or cant. Theirs is called Gammon or Shelta. Its origins are uncertain and disputed, but to some degree it derives from the Irish language, which belongs to the Celtic branch of the Indo-European language family. From Irish ainm developed Shelta munik, meaning “name,” and somehow speakers of English managed to decipher that word and adopt it as moniker. It had spread to London as an English slang word for “name” by 1851.

In Ireland’s present-day population of three and a half million, there are about 20,000 Travelers. A recent estimate is that 6,000 of them speak Shelta. That language, along with the Irish Travelers who speak it, has spread to the rest of the British Isles, where it is spoken by an additional 30,000, and to the United States, where there are an estimated 50,000 speakers of Shelta.

Here is the first line of the Lord’s Prayer translated into a modern version of Shelta: “Our gathra, who cradgies in the manyak-norch, we turry kerrath about your moniker.”

“moniker.” The World in So Many Words. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999. Answers.com 22 Jul. 2009. http://www.answers.com/topic/moniker

Photo: John W. Schulze

What is a ‘Moniker’?

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