Nicknames. Name-calling. Sometimes they’re funny. Sometimes offensive. And other times we have mixed feelings about them.
Nicknames take on some kind of character or thing. Recently at work, my colleague Julien added to my long list of nicknames. Coming over to my desk one afternoon, boisterous Julien said, “Since you love monkeys so much, I’ll call you Cheeky Monkey Mabel. Cheeky Monkey!” I looked up from my desk, wondering if he was serious. And if the name would stick.
When we know someone well, we might give them a nickname out of friendship or love. Nicknames liven up the day, and sometimes it’s why we call each other by nicknames. When I shuffle through the office door in the mornings, eyes semi-closed, it’s actually quite entertaining to hear Julien chirpily say and smirk, “How is Cheeky Monkey today?”
There are times others find our real name hard to pronounce, and so they call us by a shortened version of our name. ‘Mabel’ is an old fashioned name, and I’ve met people who have never heard of it and struggle to pronounce it. At this point, I’ll say, “Just call me Mabes”, and they’ll happily call me this one syllable word.
And so perhaps some call us by a one or two syllable nickname because they’re lazy, lazy to learn how to pronounce our names right.
Maybe we call someone by a nickname because we want to buddy up with them, try to get a little closer to them. Back in high school, one night I was chatting on the phone to one of my classmates whom I met a few months ago. Suddenly, my mum yelled at me in Cantonese to eat a banana – but she said banana in English. My friend overheard, laughed and called me Banana. From that day onwards, we became fast friends.
Nicknames and name-calling can get offensive when race comes into the picture, and when it’s done in poor judgement. I’ve heard people refer to Asians living in Melbourne as banana: yellow on the outside and white on the inside, that Asians living in the western world act more white than Asian. Certainly not all of us fit stereotypes.
When name-calling gets offensive, it can get hurtful too. ‘Skinny bones’ is a phrase I’ve heard directed at me all my life. Fair enough, since on one hand I’m skinny to the bone. On the other, what many don’t know is my struggle with putting-food-in-mouth. Sadly, when nicknames become hurtful, it may be something we choose to put up with – we’re too polite to say anything and everyone has a right to an opinion.
Most of the time, nicknames are said with a dose of good humour. In laid-back Australia we have nicknames – or references you can call slang – poking fun at the state we’re from. I live in Melbourne and that’s in the state of Victoria, the state some Aussies are fond of calling ‘Cabbage Patch’ and Victorians ‘Cabbage Patchers’ because of the state’s fairly small geographic size. Bananas grow in tropical Queensland, and the moniker ‘Banana Benders’ is sometimes used to describe Queenslanders.
It takes creativity to come up with nicknames. My work is one creative bunch. Magician Mandy is fond of calling me Maybeee. Luscious locks Asha calls me Maybel-leeny. Both sound like Maybelline, the beauty brand. A bit of play on words here.
Then there’s fashionista Felicia who greets me with a classy hand wave along with “Good morning Miss Mabel!”, which I’m very fond of. Miss Mabel. It’s simple, has a nice ring to it, and sounds like a name and person you’d respect. Does it triumph Cheeky Monkey? Perhaps. It’s hard to decide which one takes the cake.
Nicknames. Sometimes we like them. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we just don’t know what to say to them.
Do you have any nicknames?
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