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Nickname Etiquette: Do’s and Don’ts

A lot of people have problems with unwanted nicknames, judging by some of the comments on this site. Perhaps the most common occurrence is during introductions when some people take it upon themselves to call you by some version of your name that you don’t like and you are put in the awkward position of correcting someone you just met. Other situations include people giving you an unwanted nickname based upon a physical characteristic, such as your height, your weight or the color of your hair. What are the ways that we can deal with these situations?

Most people like to talk about their names, how their parents picked it out, their middle names, if they have one, and their nicknames. But they don’t like people to decide what to call them without their permission. The key is to be respectful and not presumptuous.

DON’T: When someone is introduced to you as Samantha, for example, call that person “Samantha.” Assume that if this person preferred to be called “Sam” or “Sammy”, she would have been introduced or introduced herself that way.

DON’T: Conversely, if someone is introduced to you by a short version of a name, don’t presume to know his or her given name. “Nikki” may not be a Nicole. Her name might be Nicolette. Nicki Minaj’s given name is Onika. Sandy may have gotten her nickname from the color of her hair and not her given name.

DON’T: How about a nickname? When someone is introduced by a nickname, especially one that is not readily identified with a given name, it is completely natural to wonder what that person’s real name is and how they came by the nickname but it’s rude to ask them during introductions

DO: It is perfectly okay to ask someone if they mind being called a shorter version of their name. It is also fine to ask someone what his or her given name is or even how they got a nickname totally unrelated to their real name. Timing is everything, however. It bear repeating: it’s best not to do so during introductions. It’s better if the topic of names comes up during the course of a get-together, or when you get to know the person better. If it’s a co-worker or someone you are likely to run into a lot, if you can’t ask, be guided by how the person signs their name or signs off on an email.

DO: State what you preferred to be called during introductions, particularly if you are introduced in a different way. Example: Richard has been called Ricky throughout his childhood but he’s a man now and prefers to go by Rick. If he is introduced as Richard or Ricky (even by his parents), he can simply extend his hand in greeting and say: “Call me Rick.”

Some people quite simply get their kicks out of annoying others with unwanted nicknames. To these types, it’s not about respect, it’s all about how clever and funny they are. Most people will tell you that the best course of action is not to give people like this the satisfaction of knowing that they successfully irritated you and that is actually the best advice. Laugh it off when you can. In situations where you can’t because the person just keeps it up to the point where it becomes malicious and cannot be ignored, it is best to avoid contact with that individual. If worse comes to worse, you can retaliate with an equally unpleasant nickname for that person. It’s trite but true: most of these offenders can dish it out but they can’t take it.

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