Image by Alex Hockett

Hello, my name is..


Well, according to my birth certificate, passport, LinkedIn profile, and nearly every other formal document it is. However, almost always, the first thing I say when I meet new people is ‘but you can call me Frith’.

Frith has been my nickname for a long as I can remember. It’s what my family calls me, it’s what my friends call me and in every job I’ve ever had it has been what my work mates call me. It’s not that I find it offensive if anyone calls me Fritha. I just prefer Frith.

Last Wednesday I met a guy called Bizhan. He introduced himself to me as Bizhan. He introduced himself to everyone else as Bizhan. However, within the first hour I was calling him Biz.

To caveat, I happened to know some friends of his prior to formally meeting him. These friends of his had always referred to him as Biz. By default, I assumed the same right to the nickname.

However, yesterday, when I was thinking about this I realised that what I’d done was actually quite presumptuous. He’d not said ‘call me Biz’. In fact he’d explicitly introduced himself with his full name. Yet, here I was snapping it down to one syllable without giving it a second thought.

As my immediate sense of justification, I’d say we became close quite quickly and that my assumption to his nickname was a form of endearment. But really, this approach, albeit subconscious, was a reflection of my own perception of what a nickname represents, not his.

In my pre-writing research (read: a 5 minute google while eating my lunch) I realised that this topic actually affects quite a lot of people. I was surprised at the array of questions I saw on Quora in relation to names.

“My name is Michael, I don’t mind Mike. But when people introduce me to people for the first time as Mike I want to correct them. How can I do this politely?”

“My boss signs off every email with their initials, is this permission for me to call them CW?”

“People continue to call me by my full name which makes me feel like I’m in trouble with my mother. How can I get people more comfortable calling me by my shortened name?”

Seriously, you could write a book on this stuff.

My take out is, we should call people by the name they introduce themselves to us as.

Irrespective of how endearing or well intentioned a nickname may be, it’s important to understand that names are intrinsically linked to identity. As a fundamental mark of respect to this, we shouldn’t go haywire dishing out our take on them.

But on the other hand we shouldn’t be quick to take offense when people do shorten our names either. It’s rare to find someone who is genuinely out to bug us, meaning it’s safe to assume that if our name gets shortened it’s usually just a way of saying ‘we’re pals! Ya feel me?’

Like many things, the difference in point of view stems from personal experience or preference. It’s not malicious or intentionally rude, it’s just a different take.

However, if it’s causing a real headache, call it out. According to the people of the Internet, the most useful way to broach this subject is by saying ‘I usually go by [insert full or nickname here]’. Which strikes me as easy, non-offensive and effective. If it continues, by all means, start throwing pens. But I reckon this is a sure way to hit the name nail on the head.