nickname

   People are often addressed by a nickname in English-speaking countries, a nickname being an extra, unofficial name, not formally given by the parents or legally adopted by the person who bears it. In fifty sample novels, for example, where a full vocative count was made, some kind of nickname was used to address a person on 763 occasions, compared with 5499 instances of a first name being used. It is necessary to say ‘some kind of nickname’, for there are various sub-categories. Parents may themselves bestow a nickname on a child, not a diminutive form of its first name but a word converted to name status or a name transferred from elsewhere.
   A Derbyshire teacher a few years ago reported that his ten-year-old pupils were variously known at home as Crunchy, Boo, Squitface, Popsy Dinkums, Woo, Moonbeam, Muff, Dilly, Dump, Hug, Longlegs, Luscious Legs, Bigpants. Such names arise in a number of ways, varying from verbal incidents to private associations, but the main point is that the resultant names remain in highly restricted use. They are used as intimacies within the family circle and have private meanings for only two or three people. These are ‘baby names’, in a sense, and as such would be embarrassing to those who bear them if they became known outside the family circle. Robertson Davies, in Fifth Business, is commenting on the diminutive form of a name rather than a true nickname when he says of a boy known to his mother as Pidgy Boy-Boy (an infant corruption of his real name Percy Boyd): ‘I knew that I had but once to call him Pidgy Boy-Boy in the schoolyard and his goose would be cooked.’
   Other private nicknames are used between lovers. The modern habit of publishing Valentine Day messages in newspapers has revealed something of the naming that goes on in the bedroom: Bogfrog, Boofs, Chonk, Cubbles, Fruitstack, Honeypot, Looby-Loo, Moggo, Oodle, Pokey, Smackeroo, Table-spoon, Widgie, and Zuppy are just a few of those to whom messages have been lovingly addressed in recent years. One imagines that such names are only used when the speaker and listener are alone; that only one speaker uses the name to the person concerned; that the names are not used in third person reference (‘I’m meeting Smackeroo at seven’), and that other restrictions apply which would not apply to more public nicknames.
   The latter may be group nicknames, used by a child’s peer group at school, by fellowworkers in an office or factory, by companions in an army barracks, and so on. Such nicknames take on a referential function; they become meaningful as identification tags to a number of others. Use of such nicknames may be a marker of group membership for both the speaker and the listener.
   This ceases to be the case when a nickname becomes totally public and virtually replaces a person’s first name, as with Bing Crosby, Buster Keaton, and the like. Mention of these two famous entertainers points to another way in which nicknames differ. Crosby happened to resemble a cartoon character called Bingo, so he ended up with a rather personal nickname. Keaton had a generic nickname bestowed on him because he was a sturdy child. It happened to stick, in his case, but generic nicknames are also used fleetingly. They are of various kinds: Mac, Jock, Taffy, Paddy, and the like being given for reasons of nationality. Scouse, Geordie, and so on for reasons of more local origin.
   Other category nicknames include the hundreds used by children to those who are fat or thin; tall or short; learned or stupid; brave or cowardly; spoilsports, nosey parkers, sneaks, or crawlers. A bald man, an old man with a beard, a be-spectacled person - all are likely to have a generic nickname applied to them in a fleeting way. There is also a group of traditional ‘clan’ nicknames, waiting to be transferred to those who bear a particular surname. Thus, in the armed services, a Miller becomes ‘Dusty’, a Smith ‘Smudger’, a Murphy ‘Spud’, and so on.
   ‘Nickname’ in English, apart from not distinguishing between these various types of private and public names, does not indicate whether the name is used with affection or malice. On the affectionate use of such names, Charles Dickens says, in The Haunted Man: ‘Better be called ever so far out of your name, if it’s done in real liking, than have it made ever so much of, and not cared about’ There are limits, however. In The Wayward Bus, by John Steinbeck, Chicoy calls a youth ‘Pimples’ in a friendly way, simply because that is his nickname. but the boy says: ‘Mr Chicoy, could we fix it - I mean, could you fix it so you don’t call me Pimples any more?’ ‘What’s your name?’ he asked roughly. ‘Ed,’ said Pimples. ‘Ed Carson, distant relative of Kit Carson. Before I got these in grammar school, why, they used to call me Kit’
   One problem with nicknames, though, is that they are rarely controlled by the persons who bear them. They are decided upon by others, and gain currency if they seem to be appropriate to a number of others. If they are particularly insulting, or undignified, they may never be used in direct address to the person to whom they refer, which again suggests that we need words to describe those nicknames which are used vocatively, and those which are not.
   ‘Vocative nickname’ and ‘third-person’, or ‘referential nickname’ are clumsy phrases, but they make an important distinction. What most people would like, if they must have a nickname, is one which is tailor-made rather than off-the-peg, vaguely flattering rather than derogatory, and widely used in an affectionate way rather than viciously used by a small group. William Hazlitt appears to have suffered from the latter type of name, since he says in his essay On Nicknames: Brevity is the soul of wit; and of all eloquence a nickname is the most concise, of all arguments the most unanswerable. It is a word and a blow. A nickname is the heaviest stone that the devil can throw at a man.
   It is hard to reconcile that statement with the many innocent uses of nicknames that occur in literature and life. ‘Hello, Blitz Baby,’ says a mother to her son, in Absolute Beginners, by Colin MacInnes. The narrator adds: ‘Which is what she calls me, because she had me in one, in a tube shelter with an air raid warden acting as midwife.’ Doctor in the House, by Richard Gordon, reports on the publican who is known to all medical students as the Padre. while his pub is the Chapel, since this makes exchanges such as ‘I’m popping out to Chapel at six this evening’ possible in front of patients. The Liberty Man, by Gillian Freeman, has a passing remark about someone who ‘had been to public school so they called him Fauntleroy’, an allusion to Cedric Errol, the American boy who discovers that he is heir to an earldom, in Little Lord Fauntleroy, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Sometimes, as Hazlitt says, nicknames are indeed the soul of wit. One thinks of the nurse known as Tonsils ‘because all the doctors want to take her out’, and of a character like George Chance, in The Mackerel Plaza, by Peter de Vries: ‘He was a portly number who had all through his schooldays been nicknamed, inevitably, Fat Chance.’
   In addition to the various kinds of personal nickname mentioned above, there are collective nicknames which are used vocatively. The obvious example is a sports team, such as an English football club. West Ham United are ‘the Hammers’ to their fans, and are exhorted to do better each week under that name. ‘Get stuck in, Gunners,’ would be a suggestion that those playing for the Arsenal football team should make an effort. Many of the individuals playing will have their own nicknames, of course, and will be addressed by them.
   Some would say, taking an entirely different view from that of Hazlitt, that the fact that a nickname has been bestowed, and that it is used, is far from being a blow: it is a sign that one has gained acceptance amongst a particular set of people and that they have recognized one’s individuality.

A dictionary of epithets and terms of address . . 2015.

Synonyms:

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  • Nickname — Nick name , v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Nicknamed}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Nicknaming}.] To give a nickname to; to call by a nickname. [1913 Webster] You nickname virtue; vice you should have spoke. Shak. [1913 Webster] I altogether disclaim what has been… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • nickname — ick name , n. [OE. ekename surname, hence, a nickname, an ekename being understood as a nekename, influenced also by E. nick, v. See {Eke}, and {Name}.] A name given in affectionate familiarity, sportive familiarity, contempt, or derision; a… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • nickname — ► NOUN ▪ a familiar or humorous name for a person or thing. ► VERB ▪ give a nickname to. ORIGIN from an eke name (eke meaning «addition»: see EKE(Cf. ↑eke)), misinterpreted (by wrong division) as a neke name …   English terms dictionary

  • nickname — [nik′nām΄] n. [< (a)n ekename < ME ekename, surname: see EKE1 & NAME] 1. an additional or substitute name given to a person, place, or thing: usually descriptive and given in fun, affection, or derision, as “Doc,” “Shorty,” etc. 2. a… …   English World dictionary

  • nickname — index cognomen, sobriquet Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • nickname — (n.) mid 15c., misdivision of ekename (c.1300), an eke name, lit. an additional name, from O.E. eaca an increase, related to eacian to increase (see EKE (Cf. eke); also see N (Cf. N)). As a verb from 1530s. Related: Nicknamed; nicknaming …   Etymology dictionary

  • nickname — /ingl. ˈnɪkneɪm/ [vc. ingl., «soprannome»] s. m. inv. (elab., in chat o forum) soprannome, pseudonimo …   Sinonimi e Contrari. Terza edizione

  • nickname — (izg. nȉknējm) m DEFINICIJA v. nick ETIMOLOGIJA engl …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • nickname — [n] informal title appellation, byname, byword, denomination, diminutive, epithet, familiar name, handle*, label, moniker, pet name*, sobriquet, style, tag*; concepts 268,683 …   New thesaurus

  • Nickname — Short name redirects here. For the term as it applies to legislation, see short title. Map of the United States showing the state nicknames as hogs. Lithograph by Mackwitz, St. Louis, 1884 …   Wikipedia

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