The term hypocoristic is used to refer to a nickname of affection between those in love or with a close emotional bond, compared with a term of endearment. The term diminutive name refers to nicknames that convey smallness, hence something regarded with affection or familiarity (e.g., referring to children), or contempt.
The distinction between the two is often blurred. It is a form of endearment and amusement. As a concept, it is distinct from both pseudonym and stage name, and also from a title (for example, City of Fountains), although there may be overlap in these concepts.
A moniker also means a nickname or personal name. The word often distinguishes personal names from nicknames that became proper names out of former nicknames. English examples are Bob and Rob, nickname variants for Robert.
A nickname is often considered desirable, symbolising a form of acceptance, but can sometimes be a form of ridicule.
The compound word ekename, literally meaning "additional name", was attested as early as 1303. This word was derived from the Old English phrase eaca "an increase", related to eacian "to increase". By the 15th century, the misdivision of the syllables of the phrase "an ekename" led to its rephrasing as "a nekename". Though the spelling has changed, the pronunciation and meaning of the word have remained relatively stable ever since.
Conventions in various languages
To inform an audience or readership of a person's nickname without actually calling them by their nickname, English nicknames are generally represented in quotes between the bearer's first and last names (e.g., Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower, Daniel Lamont "Bubba" Franks, etc.). However, it is also common for the nickname to be identified after a comma following the full real name or later in the body of the text, such as in an obituary. The middle name is generally eliminated (if there is one), especially in speech. Like English, German uses (German-style) quotation marks between the first and last names (e.g., Andreas Nikolaus „Niki“ Lauda). Other languages may use other conventions; for example, Italian writes the nickname after the full name followed by detto 'called' (e.g., Salvatore Schillaci detto Totò), in Spanish the nickname is written in formal contexts at the end in quotes following alias (e.g. Alfonso Tostado, alias «el Abulense»), and Slovenian represents nicknames after a dash or hyphen (e.g., Franc Rozman – Stane). The latter may cause confusion because it resembles an English convention sometimes used for married and maiden names.
Uses in various societies
In Viking societies, many people had heiti, viðrnefni, or kenningarnöfn (Old Norse terms for nicknames) which were used in addition to, or instead of the first name. In some circumstances, the giving of a nickname had a special status in Viking society in that it created a relationship between the name maker and the recipient of the nickname, to the extent that the creation of a nickname also often entailed a formal ceremony and an exchange of gifts known in Old Norse as nafnfestr ('fastening a name').
Slaves have often used nicknames, so that the master who heard about someone doing something could not identify the slave. In capoeira, a Brazilian martial art, the slaves had nicknames to protect them from being caught, as practising capoeira was illegal for decades.
In Anglo-American culture, a nickname is often based on a shortening of a person's proper name. However, in other societies, this may not necessarily be the case. For example: "my nickname is farmer Phil"
In Indian society, for example, generally people have at least one nickname (call name or affection name) and these affection names are generally not related to the person's proper name. Indian nicknames very often are a trivial word or a diminutive (such as Bablu, Dabbu, Banti, Babli, Gudiya, Golu, Sonu, Chhotu, Raju, Adi, Ritu, etc.).
In Australian society, Australian men will often give ironic nicknames. For example, a man with red hair will be given the nickname 'Blue' or 'Bluey'. A tall man will be called 'Shorty', an obese person 'Slim' and so on.
In England, some nicknames are traditionally associated with a person's surname. A man with the surname 'Clark' will be nicknamed 'Nobby': the surname 'Miller' will have the nickname 'Dusty' (alluding to the flour dust of a miller at work): the surname 'Adams' has the nickname 'Nabby'. There are several other nicknames linked traditionally with a person's surname, including Chalky White, Bunny Warren, Tug Wilson, and Spud Baker. Other English nicknames allude to a person's origins. A Scotsman may be nicknamed 'Jock', an Irishman 'Paddy' (alluding to St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland) or 'Mick' (alluding to the preponderance of Roman Catholicism in Ireland), and a Welshman may be nicknamed 'Taffy'. Some nicknames referred ironically to a person's physical characteristics, such as 'Lofty' for a short person, or 'Curly' for a bald man. Traditional English nicknaming - usually for men rather than women - was common through the first half of the 20th century, and was frequently used in the armed services during World War I and World War II, but has become less common since then.
In Chinese culture, nicknames are frequently used within a community amongst relatives, friends and neighbors. A typical southern Chinese nickname often begins with a "阿" followed by another character, usually the last character of the person's given name. For example, Taiwanese politician Chen Shui-bian (陈水扁) is sometimes referred as "阿扁" (A-Bian). In many Chinese communities of Southeast Asia, nicknames may also connote one's occupation or status. For example, the landlord might be known simply as Towkay (Hokkien for "boss") to his tenants or workers while a bread seller would be called "Mianbao Shu" 面包叔 (literally, Uncle Bread). Amongst Cantonese-speaking communities, the character "仔" (pronounced "zai") may be used in a similar context of "Junior" in Western naming practices.
Performing arts and literature
Many writers, performing artists, and actors have nicknames, which may develop into a stage name or pseudonym. A bardic name may also result from a nickname. Many writers have pen names which they use instead of their real names. Famous writers with a pen name go as far back as Plato (according to a late tradition) and Paul, and see also this List of pen names.
It is not uncommon for sportspeople or a sports team to have nicknames. Some, such as those of sports clubs or athletic teams, are official while others are adopted over time.
In the context of information technology, a nickname (usually called a nick) is a common synonym for the screenname or handle of a user. In computer networks it has become a common practice for every person to also have one or more nicknames for the purposes of pseudonymity, to avoid ambiguity, or simply because the natural name or technical address would be too long to type or take too much space on the screen.
Nicknames are usually awarded to a person and they are not always chosen by the recipient themselves . Some nicknames are derogatory name calls. Note: the majority of the following examples are American English usage. Nicknames may be based on a person's name or various attributes. Attributes upon which a nickname may be based include:
Nicknames may refer to a person's occupation, social standing, or title. They may also refer to characteristics of a person.
- "Bones" or "Sawbones" for a forensic scientist, surgeon, or mortician
- "Doc" for a doctor or, in the military, medic.
- "Sparky" for an electrician or radio operator
- Geek for a computer technician
- "Sarge" for a military Sergeant as in the comic strip Beetle Bailey
- "Lou" for a Lieutenant (for example, a police lieutenant)
- Similarly, "Chief" for a police or fire chief
- Moneybags for a wealthy person.
Physical characteristics, personality, or lifestyle
Nicknames can be a descriptor of a physical characteristic or the opposite of a physical characteristic. In English, such nicknames are often considered offensive or derogatory, unless the nickname is based on a trait that is viewed positively. Some examples of nicknames related to physical characteristics include:
- Weight: "Fatso" or "Slim" for a person who is overweight or thin, respectively.
- Height: "Beanpole" or "Long John" (or other name) for a person who is tall, "Shortie" or "small-fry" for a short person.
- Hair colour: "Red", "Ginger", "Ranga", or "Bluey" for a person with red hair. "Blondie" a girl with blonde hair.
- Type of hair: "Curley" or "Cue Ball" for a person without hair as in "Curley" from "The Three Stooges"
- Baldness: "Chrome dome" for a person whose scalp reflects the light
- Complexion: "Pinky" for a person with Rosacea, "Zit" or "pizza-face" for severe acne, various racial slurs for skin color.
- Hand dominance: "Lefty" for a left-handed person.
Sometimes nicknames are based on things that are not a part of a person's body, but alter a person's physical appearance. Such nicknames can be temporary.
- "Four-eyes" for a person with glasses
- "Train tracks", "tin teeth", "metal mouth", or "braceface" for a person with braces, such as Sharon Spitz on the animated series Braceface
All of the above examples would be offensive in most contexts.
Nicknames can be a descriptor of a personality characteristic or the opposite of a personality characteristic. These types of nicknames were often used in fairy tales such as "Snow White". Sometimes such nicknames may be indicative of a physical disorder.
- Talkative: "Motormouth", "Chatterbox", "Ratchet-Jaw", "Chatty Kathy"
- Cautious: "Nervous Nellie"
- Tired Demeanor: "Sleepy" as in a dwarf from Snow White
- Pessimistic: "Sad Sack"
- Negative: "Debbie Downer"
- Glamorous: "Stunning Signe"
- Boring: "Plain Jane"
- Typical: "Average Joe"
- Strong-willed: "The Iron Lady"
A nickname may allude to a person's apparent intelligence (though often used sarcastically):
- "Booger" for a nose picking person
- "Spaz" for a person who is clumsy
- "Nerd" for a person who is smart but odd
- "Dork" for a person who is socially inept
Abbreviation or modification
A nickname can be a shortened or modified variation on a person's real name.
- Contractions of longer names: Margaret to Greta.
- Initials: Using the first letters of a person's first and middle/last name, e.g. "DJ" for Daniel James
- Dropping letters: With many nicknames, one or more letters, usually R, are dropped: Fanny from Frances, Walt from Walter.
- Phonetic spelling : Sometimes a nickname is created through the phonetic spelling of a name: Len from Leonard.
- Letter swapping: During the middle ages, the letter R would often be swapped for either L or D: Hal from Harry, Molly from Mary, Sadie from Sarah, from Robert: Hob, Dob, Rob, Bob and Nob, from Richard: Rick, Dick, and Hick; Bill from Will (which in turn comes from William), and Margaret: Peg, and Meg.
- In 19th-century frontier America, Mary and Molly were often given the nickname Polly.
- Front of name: Sometimes a nickname can come from the beginning of a given name: Chris from Christopher/Christina; Ed from Edward, Edmond, Edgar or Edwin, Iz or Izzy from Isaac, Isaiah, Isidore, Isabel, or Isabella; Joe or Jo from Joseph, Josephine, or Joanna; Nathan from Nathaniel; Art from Arthur; or Kim from Kimberly.
- End of name: Drew from Andrew, Xander from Alexander, Enzo or Renzo from Lorenzo, Beth from Elizabeth, Bel, Bell, Bella or Belle from Isabelle/Isabella
- Middle of name: Liz from Elizabeth, Tori from Victoria or Del or Della from Adelaide
- Addition of diminutives: Before the 17th century, most nicknames had the diminutive ending "-in" or "-kin", where the ending was attached to the first syllable: Watkin for Walter via Wat-kin; Hobkin from Robert via Hob-kin; or Thompkin from Thomas via Thom-Kin. While most of these have died away, a few remain, such as Robin (Rob-in, from Robert), Hank (Hen-Kin from Henry), Jack (Jan-kin from John), and Colin (Col-in from Nicolas).
- Many nicknames drop the final one or two letters and add ether ie/ee/y as a diminutive ending: Davy from David, Charlie from Charles, Mikey from Michael, Jimmy from James and Marty from Martin.
- Initialization, which forms a nickname from a person's initials: A.C. Slater from Albert Clifford Slater, or Dubya for George W. Bush, a Texan pronunciation of the name of the letter 'W', President Bush's middle initial.
- Nicknames are sometimes based on a person's last name ("Tommo" for Bill Thompson, "Campo" for David Campese) or a combination of first and last name such as "A-Rod" for Alex Rodriguez)
- Loose ties to a person's name with an attached suffix: Gazza for English footballer Paul Gascoigne (though used more widely in Australia for Gary) and similar "zza" forms (Hezza, Prezza, etc.) for other prominent personalities whose activities are frequently reported in the British press. (See also Oxford "-er" for a similar but wider phenomenon.)
- Use of the second name.
- Combination of first and middle name, or variations of a person's first and middle name. For example, a person may have the name Mary Elizabeth but has the nickname "Maz" or "Miz" by combining Mary and Liz.
A nickname may refer to the relationship with the person. This is a term of endearment.
A few surnames have a generic and traditional nickname, at least in England. Examples of this are:
- Nobby for Clark or Clarke
- Dusty for Miller
- Chalkie for White
- Bunny for Reed
- Yosser for Hughes
To avoid confusion between peer groups with the same given names, surnames may be used as a nickname. Also common prefixes for names can be used as a nickname:
- Mac for someone with the name Macmillan, MacIntyre, McCarthy, M'Clure, etc.
- Fitz for someone with the name Fitzgerald, FitzPatrick, etc.
And other variations on the surname, such as:
- Brownie for someone with the name Brown
- Jeff for someone with the name Geoffrey, Jeffry, Jeffrys, etc.
- Klu (or Ski) for someone with the name Kluszewski
- Smittie (or Smitty) for someone with the name Smith, Smythe, Goldsmith, etc.
A specific incident or action can sometimes generate a nickname:
- Capability Brown because he would frequently say to a client that his landscape was "capable of improvement".
- Chemical Ali and Comical Ali.
- Thirteen for Dr. Remy Hadley from TV's House M.D., because she was assigned the number 13 in her job interview process and continued to be called by her number even after she was hired.
- "Opa" for the Dutch lifesaving KNRM-hero Dorus Rijkers. Dorus became a Grandpa (Dutch:Opa), at the age of 23 (by marriage to a widow with eight children), and soon everybody called him Opa.
- "The Falling Man" for one of the jumpers during the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attacks.
A nickname may compare the person with a famous or fictional character.
Place of origin/residence
Nicknames may be derived from or related to what the person is well known for.
A person's political affiliation may be the basis for a nickname:
Titles of geographical places
Many geographical places have titles, or alternative names, which have positive implications. Paris, for example, is the "City of Light", Venice is "La Serenissima", and New Jersey is the "Garden State". It is not correct to call these titles nicknames; these alternative names are often used to boost the status of such places, contrary to the usual role of a nickname. Many places or communities, particularly in the USA, adopt titles because they can help in establishing a civic identity, help outsiders recognize a community or attract people to a community, promote civic pride, and build community unity. Titles and slogans that successfully create a new community "ideology or myth" are also believed to have economic value. Their economic value is difficult to measure, but there are anecdotal reports of cities that have achieved substantial economic benefits by "branding" themselves by adopting new slogans.
By contrast, older city nicknames may be critical; London is still occasionally referred to as "The Smoke" in memory of its notorious "Pea-Souper" Smogs (smoke-filled fogs) of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and Edinburgh was "Auld Reekie" for the same reason, as countless coal fires polluted its atmosphere.
Collective nicknames of inhabitants of a geographical place
Besides or replacing the demonym, some places have collective nicknames for their inhabitants. Many examples of this practice are found in Wallonia and in Belgium in general, where such a nickname is referred to in French as "Blason populaire".
- Athletic nickname
- Australian national sports team nicknames
- Calling name
- Honorific nicknames in popular music
- Legal name
- List of basketball nicknames
- List of ethnic slurs by ethnicity
- List of monarchs by nickname
- List of nicknames of European Royalty and Nobility
- List of nicknames of jazz musicians
- Category:Lists of people by nickname
- List of nicknames of United States presidents
- List of North American football nicknames
- List of sportspeople by nickname
- Lists of nicknames – nickname list articles on Wikipedia
- Lists of nicknames in association football
- Pet name
- Regimental nicknames of the Canadian Forces
- Category:Regional nicknames
- Terms of endearment
- Victory titles
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- Andia, Alfredo (September 10, 2007) "Branding the Generic City", MU.DOT magazine