Biggles and the Abbreviated Names

Anyone who has read a few Biggles books will know his propensity for abbreviating names. In fact, the entire series is built upon the fact that Biggles is an abbreviation of Biggles' actual last name, Bigglesworth, for, as he explains to his flying instructor in Biggles Learns to Fly:

"Bigglesworth, sir. I'm afraid it's a bit of a mouthful, but that isn't my fault. Most people call me Biggles for short."

And later, in the same book, he says to Mahoney:

"Mine's Bigglesworth, though most people find that rather a mouthful and leave off the 'worth'."

The thing about that name is...it's not a mouthful. It's certainly no longer than Hebblethwaite (whose name, of course, was quickly shortened to Ginger by Mr. Abbreviation-Biggles). Even dear old Erich, who isn't even a native English speaker, has no trouble with the name Bigglesworth (although he is always quick to refer to Ginger as "your friend with the difficult name".)

Other abbreviated names throughout the series include, of course, Algy for Algernon (Montgomery Lacey), Bertie for Bertram or Albert, Dickpa for Uncle Richard, Wilks for Wilkinson, Mac for MacLaren, and so on.

I can't figure out if Biggles is simply lazy, trying to conserve energy (short of breath from smoking, one supposes), or just can't be bothered to remember people's full names (even his own).

8 comments

  1. I think someone's given name is just a starting point for what you will call them. You want to personalise it a bit. I'm known by a shortened version of my first name. Two of the kids have short forms, the third is Em-Dawg to her friends. My brother is still called Lemmy by some of his friends (a school joke). Biggles is showing that he's a casual friendly guy using names the way he does.

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  2. Biggles and "casual friendly guy" don't often go together in the same sentence. He's more of an intense broody guy to me. His initial aversion to Algy makes me wonder if he was the sort of person who took a while to warm up to new people (but would be very friendly once you got to know him).

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  3. I have a completely different impression of Biggles. He's a friendly, chat to anyone guy. I'd agree that he has strong opinions, but I think he's usually fairly tolerant. I'd say that Biggles liked people.He certainly puts himself out for others at the drop of a hat.

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  4. Using an abbreviation of a name is extremely common. In the Forces using an abbreviation of a surname is a form of familiarity. I would have been very surprised had Biggles insisted on using full names. The use of a full surname denotes a more formal situation. It's not strange at a all, quite the opposite.

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  5. "I have a completely different impression of Biggles. He's a friendly, chat to anyone guy"

    I imagine this would depend largely upon his mood. I think he might say a few words to a stranger in certain circumstances, but he wouldn't be the kind of person who would just start chatting for no reason.

    "He certainly puts himself out for others at the drop of a hat."

    Yes, he does. But I always thought that was because he was easily bored.

    "Using an abbreviation of a name is extremely common. In the Forces using an abbreviation of a surname is a form of familiarity."

    Yes, reading the comments has made me remember that nicknames were very common in British public schools. I do find it interesting that someone like Mahoney, for example, wasn't given an abbreviation.

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  6. Mahoney is a hard name to abbreviate. If he gained a nickname, it would probably be due to a physical characteristic (eg Bunny, describing the way he ran on a cricket field) or some exploit he had taken part in (eg Penguin, if he had been involved in an expedition to the Antarctic). Otherwise, he's stuck with his full name.

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  7. I can think of a few abbreviations for Mahoney :D (Hones, for example, was one that leapt to mind) But none of them really roll off the tongue so maybe that was it.

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  8. There's shortened names e.g. Biggles and Algy, and occasionally a name is lengthened as in 'Toddy'. Then there's nicknames like 'Ginger' or 'Taffy' of 'Nutty'. A shortened version of a name usually comes about because it's easy or easier to say, which is probably why Mahoney didn't get one, as you have discovered, Soppy.

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Maira Gall