Anthroponomastics is a branch of Onomastics which studies anthroponyms—the names of human beings. I’ve been interested in anthroponomastics recently because I’m considering changing my heroine’s name as it doesn’t really seem to fit her in the new rewrite.
Her current name also doesn’t have any cool nicknames I can have the hero call her, and for some strange reason, that’s really a problem in this rewrite. That lead me to thinking about nicknames in general—sadly, the study of nicknames doesn’t have a cool fifty-cent word to describe it.
I’m a Kimberly who also gets called Kim. (If you know a Kimberly who manages not to be called Kim, please let me know how that miracle happens.) My family calls me Kimmy (yes, even as an adult. Can’t seem to shake it.). I despise being called Kimbo, so that’s what my brother calls me, of course. (Although my stepdad used to call me Bo, which was short for Kimbo, but not as appalling somehow.) I was even a Kimber for a while, but thankfully those days are long past. Nicknames like that are pretty run-of-the-mill as far as nicknames go; anyone with a shortenable name can probably rattle off several like them as well.
Then there are the nicknames that are plays on a name. Counselor Shelley calls me Kimzolabob (don’t ask). Sunny calls me Kimborling. A whole group of my Hawaiian friends call me Kimchee (Chee is the Hawaiian Pidgin for ‘girl’ and kimchee is a type of food. It didn’t take long for that to get run together and stuck to me). My mom has a nickname for me along these same lines that’s just mortifying, and won’t be mentioned here.
But the nicknames I find really interesting are the ones that aren’t simply derivations of your given name. They’re the nicknames that require explanations for those not “in the know.” Tucker calls me Hadji. I call Counselor Shelley Bella. My mom’s nickname is Eliot. Of course, around here, I’m PC—but none of the Playfriends call me that in real life (at least not to my face ~grin~).
And, no, despite my fascination with Outlander when we met, I never could get DG to call me Sassenach—or anything else in Gaelic. Sigh.
I think that’s probably the key to nicknames—the kind that require (sometimes embarrassing) explanations: you can’t give them to yourself. Someone else has to start calling you by a nickname, and then it starts to stick as other folks pick up on it. Then it spreads. With a shortened or derivative form of your name, you just introduce yourself to new people by that name. You can’t do that with true nicknames. I mean, I can’t exactly walk up to someone and introduce myself as Hadji, now can I?
But nicknames, however embarrassing or appalling, do have a great purpose. I can place people by what they call me. Even if I don’t recognize the voice or the number on Caller ID, a “Hey, Kimchee!” narrows down the possibilities pretty quickly.
So what’s your nickname? If it’s an odd one, you should tell the story behind it too. (But no cruel nicknames, okay? That dipwad who called you Horseface in third grade doesn’t deserve the air time. We hate him on your behalf on principle.) My favorite will get a cool Black and White prize pack.
~A nickname I happen to love~