The seed of this piece came from my reaction to a piece from Salon.com called “Why I Hate White Belly Dancers”. It was a passionate article and I found a lot of it to be problematic (that’s PC code for I disagreed or found it offensive right?). One of the things I couldn’t help but agree with was the practice of renaming yourself something that “sounds” like it’s from another culture. From there my mind wandered to George Carlin’s pieces about guys with goofy names, then to a buzz feed article about athletes with unfortunate names.
I remembered an experience with a lifter named Jason who everyone called “Tick” at the gym I grew up at. He’s always been nice to me and remember as a kid thinking it was really unfortunate nickname since he was obese. Then when I realized that was why his “friends” called him that. As if that was the thing most worth mentioning about him. I found out years later he didn’t like it either and have never called him that since. Contrast that with the other guys I knew G-Man (Gnerry), Spike (Mike) and Fiedler (Andy Fiedler), they all had non insulting nicknames *mostly based on their actual names, not based on physical characteristics they might have emotional issues around
It would be like nicknaming nicknaming a short guy “Midget” a guy with halitosis “Death Breath”. Only appropriate to a super villain and not a group of friends.
Why? What’s in a name?
I’m glad you asked Bill.
Your name is the thing that you have that identifies you as you to the outside world. Even more so with nicknames. Here are 10 guidelines I have for naming conventions that I’d like to suggest.
- Don’t give yourself a nickname. Seriously. Don’t. At best, it looks like you’re trying too hard. At worst it’s an offensive slight to someone else you don’t realize you’re making.
- If you do give yourself a nickname, realize that as earnest as you are when you choose it, others might have trouble keeping a straight face if you chose something silly. Particularly if your name is represented as the apex of something (e.g. – Adonis = Handsomest man ever in greek mythology, Samson = Jewish Hercules, Hercules = Strongest man ever). It makes you look like you’re over compensating. And I’m also pointing to all of you who renamed yourself in middle-class-white-guy sweat lodges.
In cultures where names aren’t given at birth they often typically associated with a great achievement or a metaphor for how you interact with the world. So… unless you really were named Dancing Eagle by the tribal leader of a reservation, don’t.
And please for a second consider that people from outside your group are just as prone to trolling outsiders as the people you went to high school with. Not everyone calling you “Boss” is giving respect.
- This goes double for nicknaming your own genitals. Seriously. Don’t. Gross.
- Scary Biker Dudes – No one is gonna mess with you because… well look at you, you do you man.
- Your name is so common that in any group there are three of you. Sorry Sarah, Lisa and John.
- Your parents gave you an embarrassing name: Harold Lipschitz, Destinee Hooker, Rusty Kuntz, Anita Mann. If you are a “boy named ‘Sue'”, feel free to call yourself whatever you want.
- Don’t give everyone you meet a nickname. It’s a way of saying “you’re not important enough for me to remember, so I’m going to just call you by something that isn’t your name rather than learning your ‘actual” name.”
- If you choose a spelling for your name or someone you love and get to name; realize that a nonstandard spelling will cause frustration for them from the time they are in school until they die. Why? because they will have to explain it to everyone and I mean everyone. EVERY. DAY. FOREVER.
- Don’t pick a nickname or “rename” yourself in the language of a culture you weren’t raised in. For one thing, there’s a good chance you’re making yourself look unintentionally silly. For another, cultural appropriation is a hot-button topic now. Look it up and realize that while you are free to do what you want, you might be offending people unintentionally.
- Try to address people as they introduce themselves (titles excluded in the US). If I introduce myself as William, there’s a reason I didn’t choose Bill or Billy or Mac or Buddy.
- Chosen names are strong signaling behavior. Look at yourself from the outside and see if what you’re choosing will alienate large sections of the population. If that is something you want to do, do it. If your goal is to be able to walk in all company, do that instead.
- If you DO decide to go with a non-standard or new appellation, please consider whether it fits who you are, or who you wish you were. If it is the latter, try and become that person before adopting the name. That way not only will you have earned the name and experienced personal growth, you will have fewer people who are confused when you introduce yourself.
All of this has been swirling around in my head and this is the result. Do you have any other rules about names you’d like to see?