Nicknames – Why do we Use Them?

Have you ever tried to get four cats to all stay together so you can get a picture? Had to use an older photograph that at least had three of them together.

While feeding my cats yesterday, I realized that I was calling them by nicknames instead of their given name, and I had this moment of wondering why. What is it about nicknames? Or is there anything “about” them at all?

I did a quick search on the internet and found the following on the Oxford Dictionary website: 

It may seem fairly obvious why we tend to use nicknames so pervasively. They are informal, usually easy to say, and a little lazy—as though uttering a person’s proper name takes too much effort. But there’s also a little more going on in our propensity to assign monikers to ourselves and to others. A name is an extremely large part of who we are. It is what we use to identify ourselves to others as well as what others use in order to recognize us. A nickname, therefore takes this public acknowledgment of that with which we are familiar to another level. There is a hint of possession in nicknaming someone—one can claim the right to a piece of a person’s identity by naming them—and of pride, in having gained a sense of authority in having done so. For the name-holder, it’s a chance to have control in an area where it severely lacks, since one’s birth name is decided by somebody else (usually one’s parents).

That is just part of an interesting article by Allison Wright, an editor at The Oxford, about the use of nicknames, but I don’t totally agree with all the points she made. I don’t think we claim the right to a piece of another person’s identity by using a nickname, or having authority over them if we do.

I have always considered a nickname, or pet name, as a way of having a special connection to a person that is not public. Everyone can use the public, given name, but only myself, or family members know and use the nickname, much to the chagrin of my daughter, Dany. She hated that we called her Chicky when she was a toddler and young child, and I’m not sure why that even started. My husband first started using it, and it just sort of stuck, despite Dany’s efforts to scrub it off. Unlike Dany, I always found the pet name quite endearing as it brought to mind a cute bubbly little thing that would make people smile.

I also don’t think that laziness drives the use of nicknames because they may be shorter than the given name. The article at the Oxford site gives the example of calling Frank Sinatra Old Blue Eyes. That is a nice nickname for the man who had incredible blue eyes, but it’s not really shorter.

Now for a couple of jokes to start the week off with a chuckle. These are from The Laugh Factory

What is the difference between a cat and a dog? Dogs think, “Humans are benevolent, they feed me and take care of me, so they must be Gods.”

Cats think, “Humans are benevolent, they feed me and take care of me, so I must be God.”

Hickory Dickory Dock. Two mice ran up the clock. The clock struck one and the other got away with minor injuries.

I do hope you will hop over to the article that Allison wrote. It is informative and may be more along the lines of what you think about the use of nicknames. And I would love to hear from you about pet names you have used and why. You can also share one of your favorite jokes here.

3 thoughts on “Nicknames – Why do we Use Them?”

  1. Sheila Swenson

    Early morning hour for the pets, the dogs, the cats, the critters who fill our lives with joy and memories of days past…

    Nicknames are a part of us, pet or human. So many stories able to tell, from my first kitty “Snowball” to my ‘hopeful not last’ “Mactavish/Poo-Poo” two cats who have brought more joy, inspiration, determination, and love than no one is able to fathom, unless they know the love of a cat.

    However, getting back to the ‘nickname’ part…it actually DOES have to do with love, for why would we give a beloved critter (or human) such a name, a ‘call-name’ or a nickname…just as you have done for your blessed daughter Maryann…

    I know she hated it, but I am quite certain is proud, as I am to be the ‘Bug.’

    Many meanings there are behind a nickname. Look at me …those who know and love me call me ‘BUG’ and those who don’t know me wonder ‘why.’ Well, I was a little girl, played with lady bugs. It’s dad’s fault…ha ha.
    Now I collect them; socks, earrings, stuffed animals, dish ‘scrubbers’ in the shape of a ladybug.

    Still, for the love of a cat having a call-name, it is all in love. You may have not gotten four in your picture Maryann, but three is a job well done, especially how beautifully intense they look out the window 🙂 They take after you 🙂

    Your ‘cat/dog quotes’ brought giggles to my heart and inspiration to my soul.

    Cat stories are soon to come…

    1. My cats’ nicknames are: Mister for Sammy, the Siamese who would not be still to get in any picture with the other three; Bud for Harry, the male black cat; Sweetie for the grey tabby – a girl; and Little Girl for Hermione, the other black cat. I call them by there pet names more often than there given names.

  2. When i get a new pet i give them what i call a working name. It takes a while but the name they end up with is earned. My current dog was Cleo for a couple months, and he earned the name Gnarly. It may seem strange but it works for me.

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