As Jon Bryant pointed out in an article called “Game of Life” (in France Magazine, original date unknown but probably July 2010) —
Nicknames used to be a big thing in boules. In most provençal villages, there would be a man known as Le Pendule (presumably for his regular arm swing) or Le Vieux (presumably as he’s been playing longer than anyone can remember) who was undefeated for over a decade and is still talked about by the locals.
Armand Vidal, who has written a dictionary of boule terms, laments the loss of the nickname. He writes that in the final of the Provençal tournament in 1909, all six men carried an official nickname — there was Le Blond, Petit Paul, Parpelet, Le Mecanicien. By 1931, only three of the six finalists had a recognizable sobriquet, and by 1976 only one finalist — so-called Bambi — was so distinguished.
Is the game getting more serious? Is too much money involved? Has the pace of life changed so much that there’s no impetus to label someone as anything but their own surname?
Vidal’s book is Dictionnaire du jeu de boules: Tel qu’on le parle en Provence (Jeanne Laffitte, 1999) — toutes les expressions provençales du jeu de boules (boule provençale et pétanque), avec un index.
For more information about nicknames, see this and the last few pages of this.
If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy some of our other history posts.