Hi all! Thanks for all your notes asking for Name Nerd to come back from its hiatus and thanks for being patient with me! I wanted to jump back in with this note from Sarah P, which I received just after publishing  ...which is fine, I guess, where I referenced ‘nickname tyranny…’

Okay – you have to elaborate on this one. Please, please, please. Do you mean that parents sometimes insist on a certain nickname for their child, oblivious to the fact that nicknames are given for a quirky reason and not because their parents deemed it so? Like, you don’t get to stick another name tag on your kid.

I have a friend whose daughter’s name is Arianna – and her nickname is “Miss P.” She uses #missP as a hashtag, she has her son call his sister “miss P” and they refer to her, in general, as “P.” I asked for an explanation earlier on but the kid is nearing two years old now and I honestly can’t remember what it was. I’m just annoyed.

Okay, well, I wasn’t going to start off with my Tenets of Nickname Tyranny, but here’s one you can take right off the bat – you are completely and totally justified in being annoyed with anyone who regularly uses, or requires you to use, a hashtag about the nickname. That’s a blanket statement I feel fine about.

But nickname tyranny is tricky because nickname tyrants occupy a strange subset of name nerds. You can agree to disagree about names, or you can be unified in the idea that they’re important even if styles differ – but there’s something about nicknames, man.

First, to your point, there are the people who reject names if they don’t have easy nicknames. Talk to them about Hannah or Ellen or Noah, and the derisiveness enters the conversation almost instantly. “Yeah, but what’s the nickname?” As though that disqualifies a name from contention automatically. I mean, for some people it does, but to me this is so ridiculous. Why choose an awesome name like Veronica or Desdemona or Wilbur if you’re only going to shorten it? To bland it out and shave off all the interesting corners?

A lot of time, this is what nicknames sound like to me. An attempt to make everyone have a name that ends in ‘y’, or otherwise homogenize everything. These same nickname tyrants are the ones who won’t subscribe to a first-syllable nickname as a term of affection (“El” for Ellen, for example) – it needs to be a name.

Then there are the ones who blithely nod at Dick as a nickname for Richard and Polly for Margaret, but lose their minds if you have a nickname they haven’t heard of. Try telling them your Nate is short for Ignatius, not Nathaniel, and watch their heads explode. “You CAN’T!” Similarly, woe to you if you choose to nickname Wilfred “Freddie” instead of Will – these nickname conformists are going to be ON YOU. Hard.

Then there are the people who insist on only one specific nickname, or who don’t subscribe to them at all. The ones who inform you crisply, as you shout with excitement for your friend Melanie to come back downstairs, “There are NO Mels here”. Guys, I get it. You have an Elizabeth, you want her called Beth, that’s the whole reason you did this whole Little Woman homage thing. But it’s not like you didn’t know the name Liz existed. Or Libby or Betty or whatever else. All of which you knew people used as nicknames. You can’t be mad that people decided to use them, or outlaw them. As Sarah points out above, nicknames are, theoretically, bestowed by people who have affection for the people being nicknamed. You can control a lot about your name and your child’s name, but you can’t control the form people’s affection for your child takes, you know?

I’ve known people who try to end-around this in various ways, and I get it. There are hashtag people, and there are people who only ever introduce the child by her nickname, and then there’s an ex-boyfriend I had, whose mother so hated shortened names and nicknames that she ….named him using only the nickname (think Matt instead of Matthew). So it was short, but wasn’t shortened? I don’t know who won the war there, guys.

I really can’t believe I’m saying this like it’s news, but…not all names need nicknames. If you’re the kind of person who believes they do, you’re wrong – and you don’t need to spend time feeling sorry for people who don’t have automatic nicknames, or trying to generate names for them. 

If you want a nickname for yourself, that’s great. If “nobody calls me ‘Andrew’ except, like, my dead great-grandmother”, I hear you. But don’t meet people who feel differently and decide they’re waiting for you to throw out their perfectly good names as a result. If someone introduces themselves as Margaret, don’t sail up to them all ‘Hey Mags’ until they respond. Similarly if you meet someone who introduces themselves as Moe, please spare them the speech about how Mo is short for Mohammed and Moishe and isn’t that an amazing coincidence and how lovely our wonderful world is. Don’t do the other thing, either, where you stop everything until someone explains to your satisfaction how ‘Ray’ is short for Ryan or why exactly Bobby won’t answer to Robert since that’s the root of the nickname. Just… don’t. You might think I’m exaggerating here, but I’ve seen nickname tyrants do all of these and more.

And? In case it needs to be stated – and I’m depressed to conclude that it probably does – all of this goes triple for a name that is not Western or unfamiliar to your ears. Don’t shorten Rupinder to Rupi unless you’re invited to. Don’t assume Osama wants to be called ‘Sammy’ unless he tells you that’s the case, or until you have enough of a repartee that there are also several non-name-or-culture jokes between you.

This goes for you too, nickname-heavy cultures like dorm floors, or Australia. Nicknames are given in love, but they defy control and arbitration. End your tyranny now, or suffer the wrath of people writing in complaining about your hashtags.

…and hit me with your good and bad nickname stories, y’all. That goes without saying.