Of Men and Nicknames

by Brett & Kate McKay on September 24, 2012 · 263 comments

in A Man's Life, On Manhood

Back in high school, my close male friends called me “Mama McKay.” It started out as a way to poke fun at my tendency to make sure everyone was taken care of and for being the guy who’d say “Fellas, maybe we shouldn’t be doing this,” whenever we were about to take part in some potentially dangerous or criminal teenage hijinks. The nickname rubbed me the wrong way at first, but I soon accepted it and even became a little proud of it.

We had nicknames for other guys in the group as well. We called one guy “Crip” because when he first started hanging out with us, he had a foot in a cast and was on crutches. For a long time, we didn’t even know his real name. It was just Crip. There were other nicknames that were designed to infantilize and emasculate. When we found out that “Drew Bear” was the pet name my best friend Andrew’s mom had for him, we started calling him that first as a joke, and the name stuck. Another guy was “Indian Princess.” I don’t even remember how that one was coined.

On the football team, especially among the linemen, nicknames abounded. We called one big guy “Happy Fat” because he was, well, happy and fat. Another guy we called “Squints” because his cheeks were so fat it looked like he was squinting all the time. Then there was “Donuts.” He liked donuts. A lot.

An unspoken rule about all these mocking monikers us guys had for each other was that only guys in the “gang,” could call each other by their respective nicknames. If an outsider tried to use the name, they’d be given the cold shoulder or simply told outright to “Shut the hell up.”

While this very distinctly male ritual might seem sort of silly and superficial, the practice of nicknaming has been studied by anthropologists and sociologists, and can in fact offer some fascinating insights into manliness and the bonds between men.

What Are Nicknames?

The word nickname comes from the Middle English “eke name,” or extra name. Nicknames are names that are substituted for a given name but have not been legalized. While using someone’s given name and title shows deference and respect, using their nickname is an informal form of address.

In small communities, derisive nicknames are often used to refer to people behind their backs, and the nicknamed individual may not even know about the epithet. Other nicknames are used to refer to or address someone directly. These fall into several categories:

Referential nickname. These are nicknames bestowed on public figures, and are often used to refer to politicians and sports figures. For example Andrew Jackson was known as “Old Hickory” and Winston Churchill was called “The British Bulldog.” And of course in times past evocative nicknames for athletes abounded: Lou “The Iron Horse” Gehrig, Harold “The Galloping Ghost” Grange, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Karl “The Mailman” Malone, William “The Refrigerator” Perry, and so on. Boxers have always been some of the most nicknamed athletes — pugilist John L. Sullivan (who graces the AoM masthead) had half a dozen monikers or more, including “The Prizefighting Caesar,” “The Hercules of the Ring,” “The Boston Strongboy,” and my favorite, “His Fistic Highness.”

Sports nicknames linger on today, but have been in decline since their golden age in the 1920s, when childhood nicknames were more common, and colorful journalists sought to punch up their writing by christening athletes who had made it to adulthood without one. Today’s athletes lack the intimacy and accessibility that allowed nicknames to thrive, and because all nicknames are bestowed by others and thus lie outside the control of the named, modern athletes often eschew them in favor of stricter management of their “personal brand.”

As the name implies, these nicknames are used to refer to someone — not to address them directly. You wouldn’t have gone up to Mr. Gehrig and said, “Hey Iron Horse, how’s it going?”

Private nickname. Also known as a love-name, or pet-name, these names are typically used between lovers only when they are alone (or by couples who are impervious to the eye-rolls of their friends). Think “Sweetie Pie” or “Honey Buns.” Private nicknames give couples a sense of intimacy, as they are names known and used only by each other, which helps create a little pocket and hedge against the outside world.

Public nickname. A public nickname is one that is often given to a person in his childhood by family or friends, and which he carries with him everywhere he goes — it has a achieved a near permanent status. The person may introduce themselves to new people with the nickname, and friends and associates may not even know the person’s real name. For example, Kate’s uncle’s real name is James, but as a kid his brother started calling him “Fuzz,” because his neck hair grew back so quickly after haircuts. His dad worked with a not-so-bright guy who morphed Fuzz into “Buzz.” Friends and family found that so funny they all started using it. Today, he’s Buzz to pretty much everybody and introduces himself that way.

Public nicknames differ from diminutives, which represent variations on one’s given name: Bobby=Robert, Smith=Smitty. True nicknames are complete departures from the root of one’s real name.

Generic. These are less personal, off-the-cuff nicknames that are given to those who fit certain categories. “Doc” for a doctor, “Shorty” for a vertically-challenged individual, “Paddy” for an Irishman, and so on.

Group nicknames.  At last we come to the type of nickname that we will be focusing on today. These nicknames are bestowed on members of a group by each other, and only used within the group. It’s the difference between Winston Churchill being called “The British Bulldog” by the public, and his being known as “Copperknob” (for his red hair) among his childhood chums at the all-boys Harrow School.

Group nicknames are an almost exclusively masculine domain, and their purpose and function among men will now be explored.

The Purpose and Function of Nicknames Within All-Male Groups

At their core, group nicknames are boundary-defining and boundary-maintaining mechanisms that draw a line both between who is in a group of men and who is out, and between that group and the outside world.

How Nicknames Set a Group and Its Members Apart

Group nicknames thrive within small, insular tribes, gangs, and teams of men who experience regular face-to-face contact, and especially among those male groups which share in a common purpose and set of risks, and together must tackle difficult challenges. Think of military units, criminal organizations like the Mafia, motorcycle gangs, football teams, pioneering and adventure expeditions, and men whose employment isolates them from the outside world (miners, loggers, etc.).

Men have a desire to feel that our group is tighter and better than other groups in the same category. And so the cohesiveness of these kinds of male groups is driven by an “us versus them” mentality — we band of brothers against the outside world. Part of what creates this distinct sense of “us” is the use of names known only to each other. Nicknames create a special language that outsiders aren’t privy to (in addition to nicknaming other group members, men, especially in the military, come up with their own names for their equipment, living quarters, and so on). Even if an outsider knows what a group member’s nickname is, he also knows he dare not use it to address him without causing offense – that privilege is reserved for his comrades.

Nicknames not only set a group apart from the outside world by creating a special language, they also foster a distinct identity for the group and its members. In religious rituals in which an initiate is inducted into a priesthood or order, they are often given a new name to signify their new life and the new behaviors that will be expected of them. In receiving a new name, you become part of a new “family.” In the same way, a nickname helps you shed the expectations tied to your given name for a time, and settle into your role in the group. For example, Army Lt. Mike Smith may be a gentle, happy husband and father of three when he’s home in Ohio, but when he’s stationed at a remote outpost in Afghanistan, he’s a different guy, with a different name, a different family, and a different code.

How Nicknames Indicate a Man’s Status and Inclusion in a Group

While nicknames separate a group from the outside world, they also demarcate the status of an individual man within that group — whether he is an accepted, respected, and integrated member of the group, or sits on the periphery.

The interesting thing about nicknames is that while derisive nicknames used behind someone’s back are utilized to shame someone in a community and designate them as an outsider, mocking nicknames (and in most male groups, nicknames are) are given to members of all male-groups to mark them as an insider. What explains this seeming paradox?

Nicknames are usually first given to guys who are sitting on the “bubble” of the group. The other members aren’t quite sure about him, and throwing out the nickname is a way of feeling the guy out. If he demonstrates he can good-naturedly accept an insulting nickname from his fellow members, he proves that he trusts them — that he knows there is no malice behind a moniker that in another context would be considered a putdown. So while a nickname often starts as a form of ribbing, if the member is able to take it, he will become more integrated into the group. In a way, it’s a form of hazing. Thus nicknames in male groups, despite looking like insults to outsiders, are actually honorific titles showing that a man has been accepted by the others.

Conversely, a man who will not accept his nickname — “My name is Ralph! Don’t call me Dumbo!” — shows that he does not trust his brothers and thus cannot be fully integrated into the group.

How Nicknames Test and Solidify the Bonds Between Men

Once nicknames have been established, they serve to test and reinforce the bonds between the men in a group.

You yourself may have used, or seen other men use, seemingly derogatory language in greeting a friend. “Hey bastard!” “What’s up fat ass?” What may seem to others to be a puzzling ritual and paradoxical way to demonstrate one’s friendship, can actually be a way for men to show — and to test — the solidity of their bond. A man will use an insulting greeting when he feels confident enough in the relationship to know he will not offend. At the same time, if the greeting does evoke a negative response — perhaps one friend has been nursing a grudge unbeknownst to the other — it will bring this rift to the surface. “Hey bastard!” “Who you calling a bastard, you asshole?” As Diego Gambetta, author of Code of the Underworld, puts it, when the interaction does engender “a negative response, this brings a switch from innocent banter to strategic interaction.”  This “insulting” greeting can serve to ferret out and then deal with ill-feelings.

In the same way, each time a man answers to his group nickname without umbrage, it indicates that the ties between the men remain solid – it’s a constant sonar test, sounding the depth of those bonds. In groups that face risk and challenge together, trust and loyalty are paramount, and nicknames help men to know they have placed their trust and loyalty well.

Now that you understand the function of nicknames within a male group, it becomes possible to finally see the underlying rationale behind the prohibition against giving yourself a nickname, and why we find others’ attempts to do so ridiculous and funny — nicknames must be bestowed upon you by your male peers. Inventing a nickname for yourself is read as an attempt at gaining a privilege without earning it first — something a low status man like George Costanza would do.

The Genesis of Nicknames in Male Groups

Nicknames, which contrast with formal, deferential modes of address, demonstrate the equality of members of a group, and any fully fledged member of a group may bestow a nickname on another. The ability to coin a good, clever nickname can in turn give a member more status and popularity.

What makes a good nickname? A nickname that will stick manages to distill down a story or a defining personal trait into one or two words. Bernard Rosenberg, who studied criminal gangs, noted how gang members would “size each other up, and then, put their findings in pithy nicknames–names which explain the man in a word–his weakness, his racket, how he works, or some peculiarity about him.” Anthropologist Anthony P. Cohen argues that, “The hallmark of the apt nickname is that deft touch of nuance, mocking humour, pungent wit, and droll equivocality.” Meeting these requirements and coming up with a good nickname isn’t easy, which is why the man who does so gets kudos from the others.

As discussed above, many male nicknames are mocking in nature, and the largest percentage of them are rooted in a man’s physical characteristics — particularly of the unflattering variety. As Russian philosopher and literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin noted, “Wherever men laugh and curse, particularly in a familiar environment, their speech is filled with bodily images. The body copulates, defecates, overeats, and men’s speech is flooded with genitals, bellies, defecations, urine, disease, noses, mouths and dismembered parts.”

The popularity of body-part nicknames in groups of men speaks to another one of their purposes: tension-reducer. Especially important for tight-knit groups under stress. Nicknames evoke laughter because of their contrast with more formal modes of address, their common use of phonemic repetition (“Mama McKay”), and, because body parts can be pretty funny.

Insulting nicknames based on a man’s physical qualities also serve to emphasize the distinct maleness of the group — one cannot imagine female friends calling a big-nosed girl in the group “Birdie” or an overweight one “Chubs,” without causing deep offense and hurt feelings.

But unflattering physical attributes are not the only fodder for nicknames — they can come from a variety of sources of inspiration. And it is possible to earn that most desirable of male nicknames – a descriptive one based on one’s exemplary skills. Examples of nicknames culled by Diego Gambetta from the court records of Italian Mafioso offer an interesting look at the different categories into which male nicknames can fall:

Physical Nicknames

  • u’Beddu (Handsome)
  • Il Gosso (Fat)
  • Tignusu (Hairless)
  • Turchiceddu (Little Turk – the man in question had a dark complexion)
  • Faccia di Pala (Shovel Face – “because of the wide shape of his face”)
  • Pietro u’Zappuni (“two horsey front teeth”)
  • Il Vampiro (the man in question was tall, thin, and spooky)
  • Mussu di Ficurindia (Prickly Pear Mouth)

Descriptive Nicknames

  • L’Ingegnere (Engineer — “He was in charge of fixing radios used by smugglers at sea”)
  • Il Senatore. (Senator –This man did not hold office himself, but “was involved with politicians, he could rely on all sorts of favors”)
  • U’Tratturi (Tractor—This man was skilled “in murdering people. He flattened everything and wherever he went the grass stopped growing”)

Titled Nicknames

  • Reella Lalsa (King of Kalsa)
  • Generale (General)
  • Principe di Villagrazia (Prince of Villagrazia)

Behavioral Nicknames

  • u’Tranquillu (Quiet)
  • u’Guappo (Braggart)
  • u’Cori Granni (Big heart)
  • Farfagnedda (Stammer)
  • Pupo (Dapper)
  • Cacciatore (Hunter)
  • Studenete (“because he went to university, but never graduated”)
  • u’Masculiddu (Little Male)

Animal Nicknames

  • Il Cane (Dog)
  • Cavadduzza (Little Horse)
  • Conigghiu (Rabbit)
  • Farfalla (Butterfly)

Objects Nicknames

  • Alfio Lupara (Sawed-off Shotgun)
  • Pinnaredda (Little Father)
  • Putina (Little Nail)

Some men were even named for vegetables:

  • Milinciana (Eggplant)
  • Cipudda (Onion)

It wasn’t just underlings who had derogatory nicknames either — mob bosses had them too:

  • Ninu u’Babbu (Nino the Fool)
  • Fifu Tistuni (Thick Head)
  • Piddu Chiacchiera (Joe Baloney – know for exaggerating events)
  • Il Corto (The Short)

According to Gambetta’s research, within the Mafia, hit men are the most likely to have a nickname — most likely because of yet another purpose of nicknames , at least in criminal organizations — keeping one’s identity secret.

Why Has the Use of Nicknames Declined?

Sociologists say that the use of nicknames of all kinds has declined over the last few decades. Why is this?

One final, very practical purpose of nicknames – of both the group and other varieties – is simply to distinguish one person from another when many individuals in a community have the same name. So, for example, they used to thrive in small villages in the Mediterranean, where surnames were few, and the tradition was to name a firstborn child after his or her parents or grandparents, or for the local Catholic patron saints. The result was a lot of people with the same names, and nicknames helped folks keep track of who was who.

These days, the diversity in names is on the upswing. As The New York Times reported:

“According to the Social Security Administration, the 10 most popular baby names for boys in 1956 represented 31.1 percent of the total born. In 1986, around the time many of today’s athletes were born, the top 10 represented only 21.3 percent of the total. In 2010, the number dropped to 8.4 percent.”

With so much variation, nicknames just aren’t as needed anymore.

Another reason for the general decline in nicknames may be found in a culture that takes offense to things more easily than it used to. As psychology professor Cleveland Evans put it, nicknames are “humorous or non-complimentary, and we may live in a culture where people are less willing to accept names that are less complimentary.”

When it comes to all-male groups, the decline in nicknames can simply be traced to the decline in the existence of these kinds of groups at all. As we mentioned above, nicknames thrive in small, insular groups that offer plenty of face-to-face contact. As a group interacts less, gets bigger, and becomes penetrated by outside forces and people, nicknames disappear.

The way in which this plays out can be seen by contrasting two organized crime syndicates: the Italian Mafia and the Russian Vory. In the Mafia, the organization is tighter and based on long-standing kinship and community ties, and its members’ nicknames are left to emerge naturally. The Vory, on the other hand, are a much looser and fragmented organization which originates not from bloodlines but in prison, and is made up of members of different nationalities and ethnicities. So it is interesting to note that Vory choose their own nickname when they are initiated into the group, instead of having them assigned by others.

The way in which the breakdown of the male group leads to the disappearance of nicknames can be seen in sports as well. In addition to the reasons for the decline of athlete nicknames mentioned above, it can also be traced to a breakdown in the bonds among players (who, besides reporters, were the ones who used to mint monikers for each other). Players don’t typically stay with one team and with a single set of teammates for very long anymore, and when they are with a team, they spend less time socializing with their teammates. As NBA Hall of Famer Walt “Clyde” Frazier put it:

“With the communication age, everybody’s on the computer, the cellphones, there’s not a lot of communication. When we traveled, there were only three channels, and all during the day, there was nothing but soaps on,” Frazier added. “So the guys spent a lot of time together, playing cards, talking, hanging around in the same places, traveling together on the bus or whatever it might be. There was a lot of camaraderie among the players.”

As it is on the hardwood, so it is in life. As tight-knit groups of men becomes more scarce, nicknames disappear too. All of which is to say, it’s harder than ever to become a T-Bone these days…or even a Koko.

Do you have a nickname that only your buds call you? Share it and the story behind it with us in the comments.

Postscript: If you enjoyed this topic, which relates to the broader topic of honor among men, then stay tuned as next week we will begin a series on the subject of honor itself.

____________________

Sources:

Code of the Underworld by Diego Gambetta

Dictionary of Epithets and Terms of Address by Leslie Dunkling

Belonging: Identity and Social Organisation in British Rural Cultures by Anthony P. Cohen

“Nicknames as Symbolic Inversions” in Honour and Violence by Anton Blok

{ 263 comments… read them below or add one }

201 Ian October 7, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Timely article. This past weekend I went camping with 5 friends in the western part of China (Kang Ding). As the weather proved unfavorable, we spent a lot of time bonding while drinking whisky in our tents. On our return bus to Chengdu, we coined nicknames for one another.

Jeremy: Redwood (red-headed, likes the outdoors, lives in California)

Brendon: Cobra Clutch (good at hoops, great athlete, always comes through in the end)

Phil: F(Ph)ilthy Cage (resident smoker, partier, looks a lot like Nicholas Cage)

Rachael: Gears (Yes, a girl! She’s a competitive cyclist, thoughtful, logical thinker)

Ian (me): Stains (I usually sport a beard and wear flannel, thus resembling the Brawny Man, thus cleaning up stains. However, my clothes are usually dirty/grungy)

I’m a current Peace Corp volunteer living in China, and was teased by others how I seemed to have nicknames for all my friends back home. I agree that it’s dying out in fashion and would love to see a resurgence.
Thanks for the well researched post. Great stuff as always.

202 Jared October 7, 2012 at 11:59 pm

I’ve had a couple over the years.

When I was much younger, my brother said that I looked like Biff from Back to the Future. Years later, my Dad was discover that I shared his affinity for corned beef, and Biff became Beef.

Even more years later, I grew a beard and my coworkers noticed that it made me look like Marv from Home Alone.

Marv was a nickname that I liked.

Another guy called me Chinchilla Man because he had never met someone who had owned a chinchilla before.

Or The Professor because after consuming alcohol no one can beat me at trivial pursuit.

203 810 October 8, 2012 at 9:49 am

I accidentally created my own nickname! During my senior year of high school, I had scored really high on the SAT’s and didn’t care about what score that any college required for admission. So, when my dad wondered aloud what score FSU required for admission, I just said “810″ without thinking. The whole family thought it was hilarious, and now whenever I do or say something without thinking, they call me 810.

204 810 October 8, 2012 at 9:56 am

I guess since our nicknames are based on our characteristics, we all have a hand in creating our own nicknames. The nice thing about it is that it can also show you how far you’ve come. “810″ used to be something I hated because it was so true; now it’s a reminder of how far I’ve come and a call for me to keep improving. I used to think, “810 is who I am and I need to beat it”. Now I think, “810 is who I was and I am conquering it”.

205 Johnny October 8, 2012 at 5:39 pm

I was “Team Mom” in Cross Country because I was the only guy who knew how to fold clothes correctly. The guys gave me the name in good fun, and the young ladies on the team thought it was cute. Needless to say, that made up for the less than manly nickname.

206 luckey October 9, 2012 at 11:25 am

I have been “Anime” to a certain group for years now. It originated when I surreptitiously was watching something on a girls laptop as I passed her in the common area. One of the men sitting with her yelled out “Yo ANIME!” And the rest is history.

207 luckey October 9, 2012 at 11:31 am

Less flattering is the name my best friend in high school gave me. Another student had a key chain with a small plush sheep on it. I commented on his and another student ran up and said “careful, this kid f*** s sheep.” From then on, when our parents weren’t around, I am called sheepf***er.

208 Landon Aaker October 10, 2012 at 2:51 pm

My favorite part about this article is that you mentioned a nickname referring to a dark skin tone, and then didn’t get your balls in a dingle, and just moved on.

Sorry, since I’m in college I’m used to people getting their balls in a dingle EVERY freaking time that skin color or race is mentioned.

209 keith October 12, 2012 at 4:27 pm

The practice of hikers to be assigned a trail name has always amused me. It does a lot to knit together that community. Trail names are made up by other hikers or people like hostel owners along the long trails like the AT or PCT. A trail name sticks as soon as a person responds to it, whether intentionally or not. Usually a good-natured, though not always flattering, descriptive. Game hikers accept them and carry proudly them for life. Real trail names have been dying out as people fake it and assign names to themselves. The result has been a narcissistic rash of sci-fi and Lord of the Rings fantasy monikers. Dozens of Aragorns or Skywalkers.

210 Julito October 14, 2012 at 2:55 am

We have nicknames at work for each other, and they’re very much like these. From simple ones like “Drico” and “Wes” (based on their names) to middle ground ones like “Speedy Gonzalez” and “Santana” to insulting ones like “Black Bastard” and “Fat Jap” (that last one is me >.<), all of the guys have a name only we can use for them.

211 Alex October 17, 2012 at 9:40 am

Let’s see, I don’t have a group nickname, but have (had) a few generic ones:
Speidergutten (“scoutboy”, i was active as a boyscout from i was 7 till 20, and while not very active these days i still am a boyscout.)
Kløna (“the clumsy one”)
Vaktmestern (“the janitor”, because i volunteer as a janitor at the student pub, and fix/make/repair/do stuff that most people don’t even know can be fixed made/repaired/done)

None of these really stuck until the last one, wich while not used much seems to be sticking.

212 Matt October 17, 2012 at 4:06 pm

When I first started highschool, people started calling me by my last name (Schwam), because there were 15 or 20 Matts at the school and it would have been too hard to differentiate. Over time, people played with dozens of variations (Schwami, Schwaminator, and so on), but the standard “Schwam” has become so ubiquitous amongst me and my friends, that I introduce myself as Schwam, and have even had some people believe it was my first name. I like it because it helps to set me apart of the mass of Matts that I seem to encounter everywhere I go and makes it easier for people to tell them apart.

213 Matt "Bob"/"Wifi" October 22, 2012 at 3:00 pm

I have been given 3 nicknames which have stuck in respective groups of friends. When I started college my freshman year, I worked in the IT dept. of my college, and on my first day, I was introduced to my 3 bosses Matt, Matt, and Josh. When I got to Josh and shook his hand I introduced myself and he said “No, we can’t have anymore Matts! You are now…Bob.” From then on everyone in the school called me Bob, to the point where when I switched majors, and met my new advisor she said “Bob, what’s your last name?” and I responded with “My real name is Matt” to which she replied “Really?!”

When I transferred sophomore year, I had added ‘Bob’ to my facebook, because I left the school for non-traditional reasons (it was bought out, I still think fondly of my time there.) When I met my new group of friends they took to calling me “MattBob,” as a derivation of the way I had it on facebook, having not been apart of the group that originally called me Bob.

Later, when I joined Pi Kappa Phi, I wore a Wi-Fi detection t-shirt, the one from Thinkgeek, to the first recruitment event I ever attended, and from then on and to this day I am known to my brothers, and the sororities we hang out with as WiFi. I visited them this past weekend, and my name is well known amongst the new associates.

214 Trey October 25, 2012 at 4:31 pm

When I went to this summer camp years ago, we were split up into small groups that we had to work with throughout the whole thing. I got the nickname “Nail Gun” because I showed up to camp with my hand all bandaged up from being shot by a nail gun the day before. some of the other guys in the group were:
“Mug Shot’: his camp photo was the best picture I ever saw
“Sarge”: he was a year older than the rest of us, and he wore camo all the time.
“Cotton”: He looked like a young “Cotton Hill”
Sometimes I still see some of the guys from the patrol and they all still call me “Nail Gun”.

215 Nate November 3, 2012 at 12:22 am

My buddies in high school, The Goon Squad as we were known, called me Boz Schneider, because at the age of 15 I had a severely receded hairline (Boseley hairloss commercials) and when something really cracked me up I laughed like Rob Schneider does in The Animal when he laughs like a hyena. The Goon Squad and I are all still extremely close even this many years down the road and they still only refer to me as either Boz Schneider or Nasty Nate because of my willingness to do anything no matter how dangerous or disgusting.

216 Mamma Gazelle November 8, 2012 at 9:06 pm

I was hiking with my boy scout troop one day and while most of them were trudging along I was almost bouncing between rocks and running up the slope. Somebody decided to call me ‘Mamma Gazelle’ and the name stuck.

217 Dante November 14, 2012 at 8:38 am

I was working on my day off ( happened almost every day I was supposed to be free) and a group of acquaintances had stopped in to say hello. Because it was my day off, I was goofing off most of the day and complaining about being stuck at work on a holiday, when the prettiest lady in the group called me Dante! When we asked why she said because I was playing mini golf in a pharmacy and complaining about being there it was just like the movie Clerks. Thus from that day forth I have been Dante.

218 Ryan November 16, 2012 at 1:14 am

I’ve had a few over the years, but the one that’s really stuck is my last name, and various mispronunciations of it.

It’s difficult to say at first, but when you get it down, it’s apparently pretty fun, so most of my friends never knew I HAD a first name for a while.

The most entertaining, though, was “Snickerdoodle.”

On the first day of eighth grade, my teacher was doing introductions, and when she got to me she couldn’t pronounce my last name, and stuttered out snickerdoodle instead. As a buddy of mine started snickering, I stood up and introduced myself, correcting her in the process.

For the rest of that year and about two years into high school, people were still calling me that, and every year for my birthday, someone would bring me a bag of home-made snickerdoodle cookies.

Most delicious nickname ever.

219 Griffin November 17, 2012 at 12:07 pm

My friends have a acquired in-joke that is relatively complicated in theory, but the effect is that essentially speak with an imposed speech impediment, and creatively butcher half of what you say.
We’ve applied this to what we call each other: so Elliott is Shmell, Mark becomes Meerk, Jon Caudle becomes Cawder, Brett is Bwett.

And the decided one day that I should be called “Gaffy.” I asked why. They shrugged. It stuck.

220 Michael "Petey" Peterson November 20, 2012 at 10:44 pm

I’ve been called the abreviated version of my name (mike) most of the time, but my parents tend to call me monkey mike due to my tall skinny nature and tendency to climb trees. Monkey mike wore off as I got older. I got a job as a delivery driver and at work there where two other mikes already. A nickname was eminent and so Petey was derived from my last name by one of my managers. three years later it doesn’t matter where I go or how I introduce myself, people that get to know me enough tend to call me Petey. I even decided to start my own small business based on the name, Speedy Petey Computer Repair. it’s catchy and has pretty much guaranteed permanent name stickage. I even tend to respond to petey more than mike now!

221 Dan November 22, 2012 at 11:38 pm

I never had any nicknames stick around long. I was called Pops at one job (I was the youngest by about 20 years); Red or Dan the Red in college (reflected my then-left-leaning politics as much as my hair). My sister in law started calling me Dan-Dan (she had to use two syllables, and knew I didn’t like “Danny”). I’ve got doses of carrot top and copper top growing up, neither of which bothered me. A fellow red-headed friend got called “ginger” a ton, which I never recall hearing until I was 40+ – apparently, I’m not supposed to like that one, but, I’m not clear why. I love nick names, for the established bond with another person they represent. All my children have a ton of nicknames, now. None of which are likely to outlast childhood, which is okay. I just hope they get new nicknames, um, I mean EARN new nicknames as they grow up.

222 Salad Dragon November 23, 2012 at 12:34 pm

When I got to 6th grade, I had at least 5 classes with another guy named Steve. To ease the confusion, we all collectively started going by our last names. Five years later, 95% of people(including my parents) call me by my last name. I personally think it fits me much better than Steve.

223 Manner November 26, 2012 at 7:40 pm

I’ve had nicknames ranging from simply my last name, but the one that is used most often is Manners. With the last name Manna and being a polite person it was an easy evolution.

Another nickname I’ve had is “bread from heaven”.

224 Mansbridge November 27, 2012 at 7:05 pm

In High School, there where at least half a dozen Daniel’s in my year, so all of us got stuck with our last names. The only places I never got called Mansbridge was at my part time job at McDonald’s (Because I was the only Daniel), Home/Family (Pretty self explanatory reason) and at Darts (Because i ended up playing on my dad’s team).

It was good, but slightly annoying, because i would have to spend the first month of knowing someone correcting the pronunciation, because everyone always says mainsbridge on the first try. I did end up getting my last name on my Senior Jacket because it was so stuck on me that i had students and Teachers calling me it, and because i actually had people needing to ask me “What is your first name?” because they had never known me by anything else.]

The other Nickname i got saddled with was by my English Extension teacher. We ended up having this massive argument about the relationship between Commander and Handmaid in the handmaids tale (Worst book ever written by the way), and the endless emotional details that the book went into. She being a female had a vastly different opinion to me on the subject, which lead to her calling me a Misogynist (mainly because i think i did use the phrase “why doesn’t that winging whining little cow just get over it?”), and me snapping and yelling “I’m not a misogynist, I just don’t get this emotional crap… I don’t get emotions at all.”. She ended up laughing and telling me that i was starting to sound like Dexter, and that ended up sticking. It became awkward when she accidentally said it when reminding me about a deadline for some homework and then had to spend a week and a half telling my ‘beloved’ friends that it was an inside joke…

225 Jon December 6, 2012 at 12:37 am

While working at a small construction company for several years, I somehow ended up with the nickname “LJ”, which originally started out as “Little Jon” as I was, at the time only 120lbs and even 28″ waistline required use of a belt. On days when co-workers were feeling particularly cheeky, it became “Big Jon”. The funny part of it was that I was the only one in the company with the name Jon (or John or Jonathan) so it wasn’t used to distinguish which Jon.

226 Mike December 12, 2012 at 1:49 pm

I have two nicknames Caucasian Blade, Blade is my call sign(Im a medic in an IN BN) I got it on range when we had two medics, one black, one white. I was trying to reach my other medic on the other side of the range on comms, so I called for ‘Blade’ someone jumped on and asked “which one?” I told him the black one. So my guy jumps on giving me the “hey you this is me what do you want” protocol it went like this “Caucasian Blade, this is Negro Blade, send your traffic.” Needless to say our very PC Lt went nuts, that made the names even funnier to the guys in the platoon and both stuck stuck. My other is equally bad to our PC generation. I got it as a PFC and it stuck around all these years following me from post to post, I always seem to bump into someone has heard it. Autrism it is a combination of my last name (Autrey) and autism. My CPL dubbed me not too long after I showed up to my first duty station. Now that I have soldiers I nickname my pvts,the most recent are as follows:
Jane- really big guy last name is Austin
Home Depot- his given name is Lowe
Santi-beaner. Mexican kid
Negro Blade- a combo of our call sign Blade and the fact that he is black.
Valtrex- my personal favorite, kid named McCord who tried to name himself Rip Cord from GI Joe. I quickly nixed that and came up with the current one shortly after noticing the cold sore on his lip.

227 Nick January 3, 2013 at 10:32 am

I was called period head all though middle school, cause I have red hair and middle school kids are dicks

228 Jer January 6, 2013 at 2:29 am

My dad is Jerry, so growing up I was always Little Jerry and Dad was Big Jerry. At 6′-2″ and 240lb, I’m now 4″ taller and outweigh him by 40 lb, but I’ll always be Little Jerry to the family.

Starting in high school and beyond college my friends called me Big Jer, with my wife and a few other female friends (or males getting cutesy) using Jer Bear.

An interesting related topic is military pilot call signs. Unlike “Top Gun,” in reality they are usually (like nicknames), derogatory, given based on an attribute or incident. I know of one local Air Guard pilot who’s call sign was “Shredder.” Because of the way he tore up enemy formations? No, when flying F-117s, he once allowed a chart to get sucked into the jet intake.

229 Bill January 9, 2013 at 2:08 am

My nickname is Bill, short for billy goat, because I am just as stubborn as one. My name is actually Sydney, and I actually prefer Bill over Syd. The funny part is I am a girl, and it just throws everyone off when they first hear it. My mother, who coined the name, rarely uses my real name. All her friends and coworkers think she has a son, and they get really confused when she says “she”.
In school, other girls rarely call me Bill, it’s only the guys. They love it for some reason. Every sentence Wes ever said to me had Bill in it.

230 Justin Ice Cream Richardson January 19, 2013 at 12:06 am

Back in high school, my parents ran an ice cream truck business in the summers. It was a great way for me to make good money quickly. I went on to play football and got the nickname “ice cream” for two reasons. A) I drove an obnoxious looking ice cream truck and B) I entered into the season late and was out of shape and puked every practice.

Name has stuck to me to this day.

231 Scotto February 16, 2013 at 10:35 am

It is interesting how nicknames can evolve or even change all together over time. When I was a little kid, my next door neighbor and I both bore the name Chris. He, being much older than I, retained his name as Chris, and I was then dubbed “Little Chris” when was subsequently shortened to the more convenient “LC”, sometimes pronounced as “Elsie.” That neighborhood nickname stuck until my family moved to florida, when i promptly ditched the name, as nobody here had any reason to be calling me that.

I went several years nicknameless, until the first day of my eigth grade gym class, when my coach was reading names off of the roll and paused on my name to exclaim something along the lines of “Scotto!… that is a cool last name… Scotto…” from then on, just about everyone I knew called me “Scotto” to the point that nearly everyone assumed my name was Scott and several people, including my best friend, were entirely unaware of my first name. The trend continues now to a bit of a lesser extent.

More recently, and humourously, I have recently been dubbed by a small group of co-workers “doctor” due to my habit of watching Doctor Who during lunch break and being one of the few who actually enjoyed it. Due to the majority of them being much older than I am, I am rather fond of the nickname, even if it is only used at work.

232 Ek70R February 17, 2013 at 10:49 am

Ive had a lot of nicknames since Im a kiddo let me share them with you

when I was 9 years old and spent time with my little buddies of the neighborhood, they called me “skim milk” or “rabbit” it was because I was the only whitey of my friends and because I had huge teeth.
My friends at school used some different nicknames for me for example “coyote” because I liked to borrrow money to everyone and my trademark nickname which is “Hippie” because I liked to wear fancy pendants, chains bracellet and stuff and looked a little bit like Lennon, at first I hated the nickname but I got to enjoy it.
Everyone at high school used to address by nickname and not so much knew my real name even the girl I liked (T__T)
but well thats another story :D

233 Josh March 4, 2013 at 9:55 pm

Squatch
My church/campsite has a full kitchen that I am always volunteering in. I have a full beard, long hair, and both are bushy. Also at six foot one I am fairly tall. Add to that the fact that every time someone tries to get an”action shot” of me cooking for the newsletters calendars. I tend to be in mid-movement and what they get is a blurry fuzzy blob. Roll those all together and you get the elusive West Virginian kitchen sasquatch. or just squatch for short. Squatchy in a few special inner circle cases

234 abe April 3, 2013 at 7:26 pm

my name is abrahan but in fourth grade a black friend of mine got sick of calling me abrahan and called me abe no matter how much i hated it. in fifth grade i finally accepted it and got another friend named hunter he always called me abe even if i said that only anthony could call me that. we ended up calling me abe, the black kid his last name farley, and the white kid hunter cracker because he was white.

235 Jesse June 17, 2013 at 10:58 pm

I’m a ref for womens roller derby.

More people know me as “Jazzy” than those that know me as Jesse.

it was strange for me at first at me new job to answer to Jesse.

236 Abe September 25, 2013 at 10:11 am

Hey + Abe = Habe

237 Abe September 25, 2013 at 10:14 am

Oh, and what’s up, other Abe?!

238 Matthew Kuehlhorn September 25, 2013 at 10:27 am

Great post. My nickname in school was ‘cornhorn.’ It came from my last name and initially was perceived by me to be poking fun at me.

However, over time, it became an honor. I had others later in life too.

It may be some teachers and parents will put a squash to nicknames, if they can, to protect their kids. More of this seems to be occurring today than in the past. For me though, I like nicknames as it helps personalize a person even more.

Thanks again for the read.

239 Jordan Crowder September 25, 2013 at 10:55 am

As a toddler, my best friend next door couldn’t pronounce my real name. He would yell out “Jojo” to get my attention. It stuck, now pretty much my whole family calls me Jojo or Joj. It’s also an easy way for my French relatives to address me since my name is hard for them to pronounce. It’s somewhat derivative of my real name but it’s weird enough.

240 Mode September 25, 2013 at 11:22 am

My name is Pramodh, but my friends started calling me Mode in highschool because we would whittle down each others names into single syllables. They thought it was pretty ironic, since I don’t represent central tendency in the least. It stuck with me to this day, and when I introduce myself I say, “Mode, like Mean, Median, Mode” so hey don’t hear it as Moe.

241 Jarrod September 25, 2013 at 11:34 am

A friend of mine in Bolivia works in the IT department. His last name is Ontiveras, which, in Spanish, sounds a lot like Antivirus. I was so surprised he’d never been given that nickname before.

242 Luke Phillips September 25, 2013 at 11:54 am

I would contest the notion that nicknames are a primarily masculine phenomenon, chiefly by my own personal experience with them. I am a member of USC’s Trojan Marching Band, and therein, ritual nicknames used in casual circumstances have been institutionalized to the point that most people know their fellow bandsmen primarily BY their nicknames- that is, before learning their actual given names- and the Trojan Marching Band has been, for several decades, co-ed! Not having the proper experience to know how our traditions compare with traditionally masculine groups which utilize nicknames, I cannot say if it is the same phenomenon; but it certainly is an issue of group identity and individual acceptance within the broader group.

243 JP September 25, 2013 at 11:58 am

As with so many other aspects of masculine culture, one of the last bastions of nicknames is the military, specifically fighter pilots. There is an elaborate and intensely involved process that goes into selecting a new fighter pilot’s callsign (nickname). This article describes the process and criteria pretty well:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/quora/2013/08/15/how_do_fighter_pilots_typically_earn_their_call_signs.html

244 Victor September 25, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Was given the nickname “Quiet Riot” because I am normally introverted but when I join in conversation tend to cause laughter. Definitely better than my previous nickname of “Pickle,” from my love of pickles and pickle juice.

245 Ted Larson September 25, 2013 at 1:21 pm

I have been called many names, some good, some not so good. Recently, the younger guys I work with started calling me Pops. The older guys and those my age call me Teddy. I answer to all three.

246 Wink Miller September 25, 2013 at 1:21 pm

WINK is a nickname from my fraternity brothers; used extensively to this day as there used to be several men with the same name in this small town, even a former place of employment.
In high school it was “Ma” as in switching initials gave you Mom Tiller– and I, too, was always looking out for others as the team manager, etc.

247 Johnny the Freemason September 25, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Lets see:
“Circus”: Given to me by the guys on my dorm floor- solidified by crashing my morotcycle into the front door of my dorms doing a wheelie (I wasn’t all that bright back then…)
And,
“Needlenose”: Think Cyrano de Bergerac, but not THAT big

248 Clay September 25, 2013 at 2:25 pm

I was on a Rugby team in college at SDSU (South Dakota State University) :) and everyone gets a nickname on the team. As mentioned above it sometimes took me awhile to actually learn some of my teammates real names. My nickname was “Plugg”. I had a great time with Rugby and the singing/camaraderie at our parties/socials were a lot of fun, one of the things I really miss about college!

249 Evan "D-Day" September 25, 2013 at 2:46 pm

A very interesting read! I miss the golden days of baseball nicknames. My nickname D-Day came from my large handlebar mustache I grew for a few years that made me look like the character D-Day from Animal House. During high school I had a few friends with nicknames. I had a friend named Tony Pazzula who had a big head and a maffia name, so we called him Tony “The Head” Pazzula, Then there was “Knuckles” who’s given name escapes me, but we called him that because he was missing a couple of fingers on his left hand (The legend goes that he was the kid that stuck his hand under a lawn mower, although that was never verified). And finally a guy my friends and I knew as “Hollywood” because he wore cuffed Levi’s, tucked in, white undershirts and sported a large, greased pomp. His given name, I never knew.

250 John September 25, 2013 at 2:52 pm

When I was a kid, I was the introverted nerd and a bit of an outcast. Others called me “brain”, but I felt it to be derisive so when I left the area I abandoned that.

When I was in my ’30s, some friends noticed I bore some resemblance to Michael Keaton, and this was about the time the first Batman movie came out, so I had the nickname “Batman” for a while.

These days, people call me “Jonny B.” When I started singing karaoke, I noticed a lot of people took creative stage names for themselves, so I chose “Johnny B. Goode” (only I dropped the H) after the classic Chuck Berry song, and Jonny B. stuck. I almost don’t even answer to my real name anymore.

251 Devin September 25, 2013 at 3:42 pm

I was known as Ape or Gorrilla in high school & my fiance always calls me Moose. I guess that’s what I get for being big & hairy. lol

252 Matt September 25, 2013 at 3:44 pm

One of my best buds calls me “Herm”.

It started with a camping trip in Algonquin. After a long day of paddling and a couple of portages, we finally got to our site, and I needed a bath, so I soaped up and jumped in the lake. The rocks were diagonal and slippery with algae, so when I tried to climb out, I fell with a splat against the rocks in a frightening display semi-submerged, naked white man. My buddy laughed his ass off, saying, “Dude, that’s the weirdest looking mermaid I have ever seen!”, and I responded, “Just call me Herman the Merman”. He still calls me Herm to this day.

253 Dani September 25, 2013 at 4:42 pm

man, i had different nicknames back in the days , but the main ones in high school were “chinese” or “lee” then when my friends found out i knew how to draw they began to call me “picasso” , my wife now calls me “honey bunny” hahaha , well not that it matters anyway..

254 Paas September 25, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Good post. Nicknames are sure in decline. I am pretty chirpy and dish out a lot of names. and seemed to even since highschool been adept at pegging guys pretty good. However I havenever been given a name that stuck. Here are some good ones that have stuck.
In addition we used to like calling our buddies by their Dad’s first name. It always seemed funny.

Melman- a guy we work with looks a lot like Ross from Friends, who was the voice of Melman in Madagascar.

Pencil- our buddy was always in the weight room trying to add size, but always seemed to stay the same. so we teased him that he looked like a pencil.

Hingis- I play hockey with a Swiss guy who is bit of a prima donna. Great handle.

Deeberto- my friend and I were thinking of joining men’s league soccer and figured giving oursleves a brazilian type single name would increase our chances of getting on a team. His last name is Diebert. So Deeberto fit, and it’s stuck ever since. We never played.

255 Dr. Awesome September 25, 2013 at 7:16 pm

In high school folks referred to me as “Bam Bam”, I don’t really know why to be honest.
These days people call me “Doc”.
It started while I was working at an auto parts store on the late shift. We had Rusty, the red head
Chrome dome, obviously bald.
And me, I eventually became Dr. Awesome.
Rusty wasn’t the brightest guy in the world & was the type to simply say things without thinking.
He would usually defend whatever he said as fact unless proven otherwise.I eventually became tired of calling him out when he was wrong & simply started responding “That’s awesome” when he said something crazy. He eventually figured out it was my way of saying you’re an idiot.
So one day he attempted to call me out by saying “Well if I’m wrong then tell me why Mr. Awesome!”.
With a straight face I looked him in the eye & said “That’s Dr. Awesome, I didn’t go to two weeks of night school to be called Mr.”.
From that day forward I was Dr. Awesome, the guys even had a custom work shirt made for me with the name on it. Eventually people simply started calling me Doc for short. A few friends I’ve had for a few years now don’t even know my real name.

256 Michael September 25, 2013 at 7:19 pm

My college roommate christened me “Tree” upon seeing me exit the shower one morning. Although I was initially pleased with the nickname, he spread all over our small Baptist college. The worse part was when the girls asked me what it meant. Thankfully, I transferred schools the next year and left the nickname behind, I had not thought of it for decades until your article today. Thanks for the reminder, I think.

257 Mountain Goat September 25, 2013 at 10:04 pm

My friends started calling me various nicknames earned on hiking trips, Grandma shushba was one, it was freezing could and i was hunched over by a tiny fire with a sleeping bag wrapped around me, looked like some kind of old lady i guess.
Then i got mountain goat from hopping up rocky hills that were more like cliffs.

258 Ogre September 25, 2013 at 11:00 pm

My friends call me Ogre, it all started back when I first joined the Army, Shrek had recently come out and I’m 6’6 and 260lbs. They figured Shrek was too nice for me to be called so it just became Ogre. It’s since stuck and has now become a close personal nickname that my closest friends and fellow soldiers call me.

259 Zach September 26, 2013 at 12:13 am

My nickname is Fencepost. Why? Because it was once suggested that my intelligence level was that of a fencepost, and it just kind of stuck. I embrace it. It is wonderful. Since then, there has been discussion of me being “Honey Badger”. We shall see if that sticks. I certainly would be okay with that as well.

260 michael lisle September 26, 2013 at 7:17 am

In college there was a pitcher named Sparky Lyle, (my last name is spelled lisle, but the “s” is silent). A couple of guys started calling me Sparky, and since no one knew me everyone started calling me “Sparky”. The last few years I’ve volunteered with the Israeli military, and I would often come up with a solution to a problem so I started getting called “MacGyver” after the TV character in the 80′s.

261 Steve October 25, 2013 at 11:21 pm

Junior year of high school, I was given the nickname Steve Hash, after the announcer mispronounced my last name during a football game. Drug references are catchy and they stick: the marching band’s drumline subsequently named one of their cadences “Smoke some Steve Hash”.

In college, several of the men on my floor liked the Adam Sandler movie “Big Daddy”. As a result, they all thought it very clever to call me Scuba Steve. I hadn’t seen the movie, nor was I a strong swimmer, but we were a tight floor and the nickname served its highest purpose beautifully: to include me in that community of men.

262 The Lumberjack December 18, 2013 at 3:32 pm

The nickname used for me is “The Lumberjack” since I have a beard and wear flannels to work. Some of the others nicknames are “vanilla” for a guy I work with who is by the book and plain with everything he does. “Mighty Mouse” is the former Marine who might be 5’6 but would beat the hell out of you. The intern actually has 2, he is “Temp” and “the prospect” because he isn’t a full time employee. One of the shorter, rounder guys is “Creampuff” another one is “snifter”. We also call our boss “Master Splinter” and our CFO “Uncle Pennybags” from the monopoly game. It’s fun to get and give nicknames, shows camaraderie.

263 Clipboard April 17, 2014 at 5:17 pm

I spent 28 years in the service and was awarded a handful of nicknames. First one that has survived 33 or so years was “Clipboard” – my given name is Clifford and while spending 3 years on Guam the foreign nationals had difficulty pronouncing it. Clipboard is close. Another slightly less complimentary nickname was Smeg, or Shmeg, or Shmegma. I opened a tin of tobacco and had a dip and called it Copenshmegma. Thankfully most have forgotten that. Last nickname acquired was Clifford the Big Red Dog, or Red Dawg. Don’t mind that nickname.

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