A person’s name is perhaps the most important part of their individual identity. It’s the word used to call on someone from far away, or the one whispered in the ear while up close. It’s the first thing given to us when we are born, the signature at the ends of our emails, and the first line of any biography.
However, it’s not uncommon for that name to be replaced for another, a substitution that can hold just as much weight, if not more, than its original. These words are called nicknames and they have been around for a surprisingly long period of time, dating all the way back to the 14th century.
Nowadays, nicknames are used all around the world mostly for people and animals, but also sometimes even as a way of identifying inmate objects like a person’s bedroom, car, or mobile phone. In this article, we will take a look at some of the fascinating reasons humans make use of nicknames, specifically as words that identify themselves or others.
To communicate an aspect of character or origin
Sometimes, people will choose to go by a nickname rather than their real name in an effort to communicate something specific about their personality, character, or background. This could be as simple as a person bearing the nickname “Red” because they have red hair, or something else more complex that could be harder to figure out if you didn’t know the person.
A great example of this is the hikers of the famous Appalachian Trail. On this journey, backpackers trek across 14 different U.S. states, beginning in southern Georgia and ending in northern Maine. On average, the trek takes up to 7 months if hiked all the way through.
During this momentous foot trip, people are often given “trail names” or nicknames that they go by for the length of the adventure. Sometimes these are based on where a person is from, other times they are chosen because of personality traits. Tim from Wisconsin who grew up on the Sant Croix River is called “St. Croix,” while Leslie who frequently lost her belongings became “Lost and Found.”
Another instance of these types of nicknames can be seen by looking at the identities of some old-school professional poker players. For example, both the legendary Thomas “Amarillo Slim” and Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson have names that represent their roots in the Lone Star state. Other nicknames like Dave Ulliott’s “Devilfish” is extremely familiar. In fact, throughout the years, some of these identities have stuck more than the players’ real names.
To express affection or love for another
Nicknames can also be used as terms of endearment, a way to be sweet and soft with someone you care about. There are dozens of these throughout the world’s different languages and can also become more personalized based on character or personality. These are words used to connote affection and love for that significant other in your life.
However, they are not always reserved for romantic relationships. Nicknames that communicate devotion are also used for friends and other loved ones as a way to tell that other person how much they mean to you.
To maintain anonymity
Last but not least, people make use of nicknames to remain anonymous, a way of not giving away their real identity. There could be many different motivations behind this. Perhaps while gaming online a user prefers to make up a nickname to chat with his or her opponent.
In a different way, a writer who would like to publish a piece of work under an unknown identity does so with something called a pseudonym. However, pseudonyms are a bit different than nicknames in that these fictitious names are reserved mainly for authors and are normally not humorous or familiar in nature.
Nicknames are more than just gimmicks. They have a function when it comes to anonymity, affection, and social identity.