Nickname

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"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.
The London Underground is nicknamed "the Tube"

A nickname is "a name added to or substituted for the proper name of a person, place, etc., as in affection, ridicule, or familiarity."[1]

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.[2]

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.

Etymology[edit]

The compound word ekename, literally meaning "additional name", was attested as early as 1303.[3] This word was derived from the Old English phrase eaca "an increase", related to eacian "to increase".[4] By the fifteenth century, the misdivision of the syllables of the phrase "an ekename" led to its reanalysis as "a nekename".[5] Though the spelling has changed, the pronunciation and meaning of the word have remained relatively stable ever since.

Conventions in various languages[edit]

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[edit]

In Viking societies, many people had heiti, viðrnefni, or uppnefni (Nordic terms for nicknames) which were used in addition to, or instead of the patronym. 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.

In Indonesia, nicknames are a form of politeness, especially when the real name exceeds two syllables. Former Indonesian presidents Abdurrahman Wahid and Achmed Sukarno were usually called 'Gus Dur' and 'Bung Karno', respectively.

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' (for no explicit reason beyond tradition, although clerks, in Colonial India were referred to by the Indian word 'Nobbi', and the surnames 'Clark' and 'Clarke' are variants of the occupation 'clerk'): 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' (for no specific reason). 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'. (Traditional English nicknaming was common through the first half of the twentieth 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[edit]

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.

Sports[edit]

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.

Computing[edit]

In the context of information technology, a nickname (or technically a nick) is a common synonym for the screenname or handle of a user.

Nickname is a name to shorten a name. Nick is a term originally used to identify a person in a system for synchronous conferencing. In computer networks it has become a common practice for every person to also have one or more nicknames for the purposes of anonymity, 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 for people[edit]

"I, Jimmy Carter..." James Earl Carter is sworn in as President of the United States using his nickname "Jimmy".

Nicknames are usually awarded to, not chosen by the recipient. 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:

Title[edit]

They may refer to a person's occupation, social standing, or title. They may also refer to characteristics of a person.

  • "Bones" for a forensic scientist, surgeon, or mortician
  • "Sawbones" for a surgeon.
  • "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.
  • Sir or Ma'am for a person of a higher rank (real or figurative).
  • Genius or brains for some one at school who is believed to be a clever person, although it should be said that "genius" in this colloquial sense is not the same as the technical use of the term "genius" in psychology.

Physical characteristics, personality, or lifestyle[edit]

Physical characteristics[edit]

The Weimaraner's coat color led to its nickname of the "Silver Ghost".

Nicknames can be a descriptor of a physical characteristic, or the opposite of a physical characteristic. It should be noted that 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.

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.

Personality[edit]

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"

Mental characteristics[edit]

A nickname may allude to a person's apparent intelligence (though often used sarcastically):

Lifestyle[edit]

Mary Mallon (1870–1938) was nicknamed "Typhoid Mary"

Other quirks[edit]

  • "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[edit]

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 last name.
  • 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 Peg from Meg (which is derived from Margaret).
  • In 19th-century frontier America, Mary and Molly were often given the nickname Polly.

Name portions[edit]

  • Front of name: Sometimes a nickname can come from the front: Chris from Christopher/Christina, Ed from Edward/Edmond/Edgar/Edwin, Iz or Izzy from Isaac/Isaiah/Isidore/Izale/Isabel/Isabella, Joe or Jo from Joseph/Josephine/Joanna.
  • End of name: Drew from Andrew, Xander from Alexander, Eth from Kenneth, Topher from Christopher, Beth from Elizabeth
  • Middle of name: Liz from Elizabeth, Tori from Victoria or Del/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/Walter/Wat-kin Hobkin/Robert/Hob-kin or Thompkin/Thomas/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 usually drop the final one or two letters and add ether ie/ee/y as an ending: Davy from David, Charlie from Charles, Danny/Dani/Danie from Daniel/Danielle and Jimmy from James
  • In some cases, another name may be used as a nickname.
  • Initialization, which forms a nickname from a person's initials: A.C. Slater from Albert Clifford Slater
  • 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) or a combination of first and last name ("Droopy" for Andrew Peterson, or "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.

Relationship[edit]

They may refer to the relationship with the person. This is a term of endearment.

  • In Japanese culture, Japanese honorifics are designed so that a term of endearment conveys the exact status of the relationship between two people. However, the recipient of the honorific is allowed to restrict the use when used by a certain person.

Surname[edit]

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.
  • Fonz for someone with the name Fonzarelli

Family[edit]

A nickname can be used to distinguish members of the same family sharing the same name from one another. This has several common patterns among sons named for fathers:

  • The first bearer of the name can be referred to as Senior, Daddy or have "Big", or "Older" placed in front of his given name, as in "Big Pete", or "Older Pete".
  • A son named after his father (but not after his grandfather) is often referred to as Junior, Chip (also a diminutive of Charles, but in this case in reference to "a chip off the old block"), Skip, Sonny, Bud, Buddy, or Deuce. Skip can also refer to a man named after his paternal grandfather, implying that the name "skipped" a generation. Another common nickname for a son named after his father is having "Little" placed in front of his name, as in "Little Pete", though this tends to be avoided if possible (especially if the son happens to become physically bigger than the father he's named after, and/or when the son becomes a full grown adult, regardless of if he does, or doesn't physically outgrow the father he shares a name with).
  • The third generation carrying a name (usually with III after his name) is often referred to as Trey, Tripp, or Trip (from Triple). Skip also is a frequently used nickname for "thirds" because they "skipped" being a "Junior".
  • The fourth generation carrying a name (usually with IV after his name) may be referred to as Ivy, (as in IV) Quad, Quade/Kade, Quadry, or Dru.
  • The fifth generation carrying a name (usually with V after his name) may be referred to as Quint, Quince, Quincy, or Quinton.

Action/incident[edit]

It may relate to a specific incident or action.

  • Capability Brown was so called because he used the word "capability" instead of "possibility".
  • 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 terrorrist attacks.

Famous/fictional character[edit]

It may compare the person with a famous or fictional character.

Place of origin/residence[edit]

It may be related to their place of origin or residence.

  • Gloucester, Paul from Gloucester or PFG for someone named Paul who comes from Gloucester.
  • Newf or Newfie a person from Newfoundland, Canada

Reputation[edit]

It may be derived from or related to what the person is well known for.

Affiliation[edit]

It may refer to a person's political affiliation.


Hirakata-shi, Osaka, Japan. Nickname road "Ginkgo street"

Titles of geographical places[edit]

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.[6] Titles and slogans that successfully create a new community "ideology or myth"[7] are also believed to have economic value.[6] Their economic value is difficult to measure,[6] but there are anecdotal reports of cities that have achieved substantial economic benefits by "branding" themselves by adopting new slogans.[7]

Collective nicknames of inhabitants of a geographical place[edit]

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".

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "nickname", Oxford English Dictionary (online ed.), retrieved September 26, 2011 
  2. ^ Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (6th ed.) .
  3. ^ This word is all but obsolete today, but one example is found in What Snow Disrupts by Daniel C. Boyer.
  4. ^ Harper, Douglas, Online Etymology Dictionary, retrieved 2007-08-31 
  5. ^ "Nickname", Profiles in healthcare communications 22 (4), July 2006: 1, 4–9, 2, ISSN 1931-9592, PMID 16922251, retrieved 2008-10-25 
  6. ^ a b c Muench, David "Wisconsin Community Slogans: Their Use and Local Impacts", December 1993. Retrieved April 10, 2007.
  7. ^ a b Alfredo Andia, Branding the Generic City :), MU.DOT magazine, September 10, 2007

External links[edit]