Usually as a humorous surname following a generic first name such as Billy or Norman, the British- and Irish-English colloquial phrase No-Mates designates a person, usually a man, regarded as friendless.
The earliest use that I have found occurs, as a self-designation, in a personal advertisement published in Heart to Heart: “Where Friends Meet Friends”, in the Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, Merseyside, England) of Saturday 6th February 1993:
BILLY No Mates, seesk [sic] travelling buddy, to Inter rail aroudn [sic] Europe with in the month of May.
The second-earliest use that I have found occurs, also as a self-designation, in one of the Family Notices published in the Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, Merseyside, England) of Friday 12th February 1993:
Happy birthday Terry.
Fondest love, Mum,
Sue, & Ian
& your loving Family
Lots of love Uncle Terry.
Billy No Mates. x
Ian Gilbert used the form Norman No-Mates in his column Gazette Diary, in the Hayes & Harlington Gazette (London, England) of Wednesday 2nd June 1993:
Tale of piggy bits
Part of the attraction of pork scratchings is their irregularity, but this can be a problem as well.
This isn’t so much a complaint about the snack as a mere whine — the fewer pieces you get, the fewer friends you can offer your packet to. All right if your name’s Norman No-mates, but a slight problem when you’re a gregarious scratchings guzzler.
With that in mind, I’m launching a challenge to readers to find the packet with the lowest number of scratchings, excluding crumbs. The leader so far is two, from an unsuspecting Denham pub.
I’d be interested to hear about the most unusually-shaped piggy bit as well.
A plural form occurs in a personal advertisement published in Heart to Heart, in the Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, Merseyside, England) of Saturday 19 August 1995:
CALLING All Billy no mates. Bored this summer with nobody to go on holiday with? All your friends shackled to partners? Well call me for details.
And, in Zap those games and make friends, published in the Evening Herald (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Monday 1st November 2004, Sue Arnold wrote:
All these Johnny No Mates should switch off their computers and get out more.
NO-MATES AFFIXED TO A PERSON’S ACTUAL FIRST NAME
At the beginning of A glorious Irish triumvirate: Dunwoody, Maguire and Williamson lead the chase for the Jockey’s Championship, published in The Sunday Tribune (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of 25th December 1994, Colin Cameron punningly gave the surname No-Mates to a man actually christened Norman:
Richard, Adrian, and Norman. Names that hardly hint of great deeds in the saddle. More likely train spotters; Norman ‘no mates’, and Adrian, sad and lonely, too. Richard? He’d keep the log book in the plastic bag.
But cut from an imaginary station platform to the reality of a British racecourse. Most days this winter, you’ll find three Irish-born riders, gifted by their parents with such unglamorous tags, performing heroics that belittle the suggestion of their birth certificates.
Likewise, in the Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, Merseyside, England) of Saturday 21st November 1998, John Aldridge affixed the surname No-Mates to the first name of the Dutch soccer player Pierre Van Hooijdonk:
Pierre no-mates is a poor professional
I’m not surprised there was a rather lukewarm reaction from the Nottingham Forest lads when Pierre Van Hooijdonk scored for them against Derby on Monday.
There was no rush to congratulate the Dutchman who went on strike earlier in the season and made disparaging comment about the club.
Van Hooijdonk’s actions were those of a poor professional and I can understand the reaction of his team-mates in the dressing-room.
Forest have got to put him in the shop window, however, in the hope of finding a buyer who can take the rebel striker off their hands.
In the Evening Herald (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Saturday 29th May 2004, Peter Howick made fun of Charles (born 1948), Prince of Wales:
The wedding of the year took place in Madrid when Crown Prince Felipe of Spain got hitched to Letizia Ortiz.
The great and the good were photographed with the bride and groom in a massive spectacle.
But what was interesting about the group portrait was the position of Prince Charles. He couldn’t have been any further back in the photo.
It is now being put about that Charlie has had a major falling out with King Juan Carlos.
The two men used to be the closest of mates. What caused the bust up? Did one of Carlos’ trees not address Charles in the proper manner? I think we should be told.
NO-MATES APPLIED TO WOMEN
Sometimes, a male surname followed by No-Mates designates a woman. For example, in My no-friends dilemma is a sad affair, published in The Sunday Tribune (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of 23rd May 1999, Fiona Looney wrote of herself as being
stranded, a regular Norman No-Mates.
And, in Follow my guidelines on what to do (and what not) if you want to be the belle of the ball and have the coolest Yule, published in the Evening Herald (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Saturday 6th December 2003, Miriam Lee wrote:
If, at the end of the night you end up alone, don’t despair, you’ve just reached a dry patch and you are definitely not Billy No Mates.
NO-MATES APPLIED TO WOMEN AND MEN
In Dog tired of Hollywood, published in the Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, Merseyside, England) of Saturday 20th April 1996, the television critic Jackie Newton used two generic first names, a female one and a male one, before No-Mates, because she was referring either to twosomes or to women as well as to men; additionally, she probably chose the first names Bessie and Billy because of their phonetic resemblance:
In any other country in the world the human participants of Hollywood Pets (ITV, Thurs) would be offered sympathy and help.
I suffered a severe sense of humour by-pass when a poached lobster tail was served to a bejewelled cat at a poolside table.
And as for the lavish doggie wedding . . . words fail me.
Surreally funny as it was, it was also absolutely unspeakable in the face of so much human suffering.
If these saddoes were real ANIMAL lovers, they’d actually treat their charges as animals.
As it is, the “pets” are merely captive playthings for Bessie and Billy no-mates.
Forget the serious help, just give them a good slapping.
Likewise, in the column 20-20 Vision: Views of a “twenty-something”, published in the Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, Merseyside, England) of Tuesday 7th October 1997, Ian Kirby used two generic first names, a male one and a female one, when describing the men and the women who reply to adverts for flatmates—he, too, chose the first names Norman and Norma because of their phonetic resemblance:
In fairness, most of the people who respond to these adverts are not Norman and Norma No-Mates with nowhere to live. Many simply just need a place to move to quickly.
Susan Lee used Billy No-Mates attributively in her column Telling it like it is, published in the Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, Merseyside, England) of Thursday 22nd April 1999:
Poor old Posh Spice Victoria Adams1 and her fiance David Beckham2 …
They reckon they have so few friends they could hold their forthcoming nuptials in a ’phone box.
Not many prezzies in that idea, but their ‘Billy no-mates’ state is apparently indicative of that of many 20 and 30- somethings who, according to research, simply have no time for a wide circle of chums.
1 Victoria Beckham (née Adams – born 1974) is an English businesswoman, fashion designer and singer, who rose to fame with the all-female pop group Spice Girls, in which she was dubbed Posh Spice.
2 Victoria Beckham’s husband, David Beckham (born 1975), is an English professional footballer, model and businessman.
In his column Bray Focus, published in the Bray People (Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland) of Thursday 22nd February 2001, Keith Watterson used the phrase in an extended sense; writing about “the concerns of residents over dog-mess besmirching the Esplanade”, he explained that the local council were considering “an outright ban of our four-legged friends from the Esplanade and from public spaces throughout the town”, but that they were back-pedalling because:
Politicians pushing for a ban on doggies from public spaces as a way of reducing Bray’s unwanted dog-doo deposits would become the Billy No-Mates of local democracy.
USES OF NO-MATES WITHOUT FIRST NAMES
The phrase No-Mates does not always follow a first name—as exemplified by this passage from The case for comma sense, published in the Evening Herald (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Saturday 28th February 2004—the author’s name is illegible:
What use is a comma? What’s the difference between a verb and an adverb? And why should we give a fig?
The legendary Con Houlihan3 — sportsman, scholar and defender of the well-wrought sentence — once famously said that a person capable of misplacing an apostrophe was capable of anything. And so say far too few of us. We’re the unfortunates who care enough about such things to be made ill by their abuse at the hands of Greengrocer’s (sic), Butcher’s (sic again), and Builder’s Provider’s (very sic indeed).
For years, I feared that, in my concern for such details, I was ploughing a lonely furrow, shared only by nerdy, dandruffy little No-Mates who get their kicks from seeking out typographical errors in newspapers and dispatching outraged missives on the subject to hapless editors.
3 Con Houlihan (1925-2012) was an Irish sportswriter and author.