How to Politely Give Nicknames

Are you kind or cruel with the nicknames you give?

Trent Armstrong,
February 1, 2010

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Over the years, I've given out my fair share of nicknames (actually, it's something I'm really fond of), and I've been the proud owner of a few: T-Bone, Apple T, Uncle Trent, Trently, and Cheeseburger. That last one is as a result of how much I like cheeseburgers. But I've also been subjected to a few: Stretch Armstrong, Leg Weak (the opposite of Arm Strong), and String Bean. At any rate, the chances are pretty good that you have given or received a nickname at some point in your life. My goal is for nicknames to work FOR us and not AGAINST us.

What’s the Origin of Nicknames?

The word "nickname" was derived from the Olde English phrase "an ekename" which simply meant "an additional name." In my lifetime I have seen these additional names used in many ways. One is merely to simplify someone's long name like A-Rod for Alex Rodriguez, the third baseman on the New York Yankees. Another type of nickname could be a form of flattery. Terrance Cody, the former Nose Tackle for The University of Alabama football team is called Mount Cody because of his size and presence on the football field. Nicknames can be innocent like turning Richard into Rick or Margaret into Maggie; or they can be ironic like calling all redheads "Blue" or calling Terrance Cody "Tiny." Those are usually a fun way to express familiarity with someone.

When Is Using Nicknames Bad Manners?

Sadly, nicknames are also commonly used as a derogatory reference. Four Eyes, Brace-face, and Pimple-puss are catchy, but they are just not mannerly. There are going to be a number of folks who will protest this idea (I'm sure there is an entire fourth grade class somewhere workshopping a few more whoppers), but the plain-and-simple of it is that using nicknames in this way is meant to demean someone else, thereby giving the purveyor of the nickname perceived superiority over the recipient. 

I do understand that sometimes nicknames seem harmless, but often a nickname can stick with someone so long that no one even remembers why it was given in the first place. Everyone becomes used to it while it continues to frustrate the person who just can't seem to get rid of it. For those of us who have any heart at all, it is always embarrassing to find out that we've been calling someone a name they despise. I think it's high-time we do something about it.

Use a nickname as a way to build people up, not demean them.