How to start using a nickname with people who already know you?
July 12, 2012 8:38 AM   Subscribe

I’m a snowflake with a “weird” name. How do I start using a common nickname instead?

I have a very uncommon name which you have probably never heard before. When people hear it, they generally say things like “That’s so unusual, does it have a story?,” “Where did you get that?,” and “Ummmm...spell that for me?” I find these types of questions annoying, intrusive and difficult to respond to, although I sympathize with people (it is admittedly difficult to pronounce). This is particularly frustrating when I must introduce myself over the phone, such as at my job, where I often have to repeat and spell it several times.

I would like to start using a nickname (a variant on my given name, think “Joe” for “Johannes” or “Jenny” for “Eugenia”). I would like to use this nickname for all social and professional purposes and reserve my given name for close family, old friends, and legal forms.

However, I am well-established in my community and many people know me by my given name. I know that people associate my name with me alone since I am the only one with it (seriously, I guarantee you have never met anyone with it). So, I find the idea of using a new name with people who already know me very intimidating and am afraid it will be awkward and impossible to reinforce.

How can I start using a nickname with people who have known me for a long time by my given name? Will this be a difficult thing to do (practically or emotionally) and what is the best way to handle this identity transition?
posted by epanalepsis to Human Relations (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My legal middle name is Cupcake, and I wanted to switch to being called that instead of my first name.

My friend had an often-mispronounced first name and wanted to switch to a college nickname.

We made a pact; that from this day forward, we would only refer to each other by our "new" names. Having someone else's support (even if they're not also trying to change their name) made it a lot easier.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:42 AM on July 12, 2012 [7 favorites]

I say keep it light! What if you threw a "New Name" casual cocktail party? Invite all friends and acquaintances and maybe a small sprinkling of close co-workers to the party. At the party, announce your new name and give a good story as to why!

Mail invitations to everyone well beforehand/Evite to explain that you've decided to go by Name and will announce it at the party. Make it fun and be assertive with it and everyone will go along with this. The benefit is that you'll only have to explain it once, and the way that the social grapevine goes and the way that people talk, the word will spread for you.

For those who would not attend or be invited to the party (e.g. Serious Boss At Work) I would send a polite but assertive letter/email stating that you are changing your name and you will now be going by Name for personal reasons. You do not need to explain further. Then, change your name placard on your office, business cards, etc.
posted by floweredfish at 8:47 AM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Start by introducing yourself to new people by the nickname.

Start signing emails with the nickname.

If someone introduces you to someone with your old name, give them the new one instead. ( "Alice, this is Eugenia." "Hi, Jenny, nice to meet you.")

There is no need to be like "Hi everyone, please call me Jenny from now on." Most people will catch on quickly, some will always call you by the old name.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 8:47 AM on July 12, 2012 [10 favorites]

You start by introducing yourself to new acquaintances by your new name, and saying to folks you already know, "I go by XXX now. Please call me XXX." This will be moderately difficult for some folks. Some will be jerks and think that they know better how you should be called than you do, and so continue to use your given name, others will simply forget and persistently fail to use your new name with no malicious intent. You should consider how seriously you want to take these lapses, and whether you want to spend time and attention correcting people.
posted by OmieWise at 8:48 AM on July 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Do you want everyone to refer to you by this chosen nickname, or just new people for whom you don't want to spell it out repeatedly?

I worked with someone for several weeks on a play a little while ago, and knew her by a very simple anglican name. I thought it might be a nickname, since I knew she was a Palestinian immigrant, but I figured that she, like many of the Chinese students at my friend's engineering school, didn't want to deal with the business of getting people to pronounce her name right. When I was invited to a party she hosted after the show, I found out her given name and asked her if she wanted me to call her that, since I had no difficulty pronouncing it. She said that she would rather I call her by the name she gave me, and that's what I've done ever since.

It was at no point a big deal to me. I did not feel offended or like she thought I was stupid by giving me a simpler name.

So, in short, I don't think it will be difficult. I don't think you need to ask your existing friends to call you by another name (unless you want to, of course). You can easily go by both names without difficulty, as my friend did. If anyone asks why, just say that going by an anglican nickname makes it unnecessary for you to repeat yourself all the time.

And if you really want the people who don't currently have trouble with your real name to use the new nickname, just ask them and explain why. They might slip up here and there, but there shouldn't be any real trouble.
posted by Urban Winter at 8:54 AM on July 12, 2012

I knew a guy who did this, and he treated it very casually. If he was having a conversation with someone and his name came up, he'd say "Oh, by the way, I'm going by Bill now." Most of the time the response was "How come?", and he'd say "Billamanananana was just giving me too many headaches so I've shortened it." (Made up name, obviously!)

Most of the time people didn't give him a hard time. It also created word of mouth and sometimes people would approach him and mention knowing about his switch to "Bill" before he even said anything. But there will always be someone who says "Oh, but your name is so uuuuniiiiique! Why would you want to chaaaaaange it?" and be really persistent about it. I'd just re-state your reasons or smile and not engage it further.

Some people will also genuinely forget. Try to decide how often you are willing to correct people, because it will happen.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 8:54 AM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Changing it on facebook or any other social networking sites you use will help a lot.
posted by punchtothehead at 8:56 AM on July 12, 2012 [17 favorites]

I also chose a nickname that starts with the same letter as my longer first name, and that is actually the last two syllables of my four syllable name. I literally folded up nametags and/or whited out extra letters when I was transitioning its use. I set up a new email address (personal), changed my outgoing name on emails (professional; both my signature and my internal identifier), and all outgoing communication (voicemail messages, introductions, general conversation) and it caught on like wildfire.

There's still a weird hiccup where when talking about myself in third person, I'll use my longer/weirder name if I'm not thinking about it because my nickname a mask/uniform for ease of communication, but my inner self is...not.
posted by RainyJay at 9:05 AM on July 12, 2012

I have a Japanese colleague who decided he wanted a Western name. He sent out an email telling his close colleagues to please address him as Woody from now on and that was simple enough. The first few weeks there were a lot of slip ups but after a few months the majority people around you will even forget your given name! Don't stress yourself over it.
posted by xicana63 at 9:09 AM on July 12, 2012

I know someone who changed his first name. He didn't get too anal about correcting people that I've noticed, but he brought it up in conversation for a while, like when he meets up with someone, and they're ask, "How you been?" he said, "Oh, I decided to change my name to ____." He had it changed legally, not just a nickname, though, so maybe it was easier make an event out of that.
posted by RobotHero at 9:17 AM on July 12, 2012

Changing it on facebook or any other social networking sites you use will help a lot.

And if you do use facebook, making a quick post saying essentially what you've said here, honestly but lightly: "Being called Johannes has been a pain in the arse for a while now, please call me Joe when we next see each other!" essentially. It's less earnest and awkward than a bunch of face to face conversations, but people will read it and ask you about it. And yeah, changing your name on email signatures and business cards and gym membership cards and with new acquaintances will help a lot I think. My husband did this a while back when he changed jobs (adopted a "less foreign/weird" nickname), and it's very surprising how many new people and situations arise even when you're quite settled.
posted by jamesonandwater at 9:41 AM on July 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm part of a community where name changes happen with ridiculous frequency. The most effective method I've seen is a quick Facebook post "Hey folks, just a heads up that I'm changing my name to Jo. I ask that everyone respect this choice. Thanks in advance!", followed by changing their Facebook name (you can set your given name as an alias so people who search for them find you). In person, just correct people lightly "Actually, it's Joe now; how's your basket weaving class going?".

Be prepared for some people to be confused as hell as to why your family uses a different name for you if they hear it (I am so tired of fielding these questions and wish I had an easy deterrent/answer).
posted by buteo at 9:47 AM on July 12, 2012

As a note: I don't use any social networking including Facebook. But everything else is super helpful:)
posted by epanalepsis at 9:56 AM on July 12, 2012

My thought is to create a more intimate relationship with folks who don't know you all that well by offering your nickname to them.

"My gosh, Terpsichore is so formal, call me Trixie."

That should resolve the awkwardness and you can get going with your new and improved name!"
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:10 AM on July 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

A cousin of mine informally took the name of someone he knew who had died of AIDS. My family didn't respect the choice. I rarely saw him or spoke to him, so I heard about it second-hand (this was in the days before email). My (twentysomething) response was "that's kind of weird." I think if my cousin himself had told me about it I might not have reacted that way.

I know another guy who has a given name and goes by another, maybe his middle name. Again, heard about it secondhand so I wasn't sure if I should take it seriously. When I see him, I call him by the name he prefers anyway.

If I have a point, I guess it's that in my experience, the more people you already know who find about the name change from the horse's mouth, the better.
posted by Currer Belfry at 10:14 AM on July 12, 2012

I had some super annoying acquaintances who "found" my driver's license name (which I haven't used in twelve years) and decided to use that instead. The only thing that worked on them was Shamuing them. Answer to your new name, ignore your old name completely. Keep your driver's license or other official-name-documents in an inner pocket of your wallet/purse/etc.
posted by anaelith at 10:20 AM on July 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have a lot of friends who have (with varying degrees of formality) changed the names they go by. Most of them just say "I'm going by 'Bob' now" and that's the end of it.

I have one friend who changed her name and would get very snippy any time I used her former name accidentally, another who got snippy even though I hadn't heard that she had changed her name. Don't do that.
posted by adamrice at 10:54 AM on July 12, 2012

There is a spectrum between getting snippy and not caring. Try to stay in the middle somewhere.

I have an in-law who went by FirstName in high school, MiddleName in local college, and was introduced to our family as Nickname of Firstname. I went to the same college and live in the same town, so when we socialize there are people from each group of people there and it is hard to figure out what to call him. My out-of-town family has no idea what to call him, so they just call him Sister's Husband.

So my advice is: don't get snippy if old friends use your old name, but remind them politely and try to stick to one name from the change point forward.
posted by CathyG at 11:05 AM on July 12, 2012

In elementary school, I went by "Charlie". In 7th grade, I started going by "Chuck". When I was about 22, I started going by "Chaz", which I've stuck with ever since. Just started signing my name that way on email or whatever. At my 20 and 30-year HS reunions, I got a lot of ribbing about how I "kept changing my name all the time".

I don't really care if people call me "Chuck", as nearly every high-school and college friend does, but it is amusing that so many people see me as having such a fluid name.

I'd just start signing email and cards and whatnot with the new preferred name, and enlisting some close friends to reinforce it; as it comes up, mention to people that you'd rather be called "Chaz", maybe because you've tired of explaining your given name.

Some people will keep calling you "Charlie" and "Chuck". Some people will give you grief for being so capricious. No way to change that. My wife's parents still call her "LongNameWithOddSpelling" even though she has gone by "Long" in every context since she was about 10 and has expressed that wish repeatedly.
posted by chazlarson at 11:07 AM on July 12, 2012

I went by my birth name (unique, only two people in the world that I know has it) until after I graduated from college. When I started working in the real world, it was simpler to go by a nickname given to me by an acquaintance - Allie.

At first I thought I wanted everyone to use Allie, but it turned out that I was uncomfortable with that. So if you first knew me as "Axxxxxxxxx", then please continue to call me by that name. I don't know why, but I found it strangely unsettling that if I first met you as Allie and then you called me Axxxxxxxx, it made me cringe. And vice versa.

posted by HeyAllie at 11:11 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

My brother stopped using his nickname in grade 7 and went to his full name. He simply told everyone, and that was it. Twenty years later I will still occasionally accidentally call him by his nickname. It doesn't bother him.

My parents were never able to switch, so accept that some people just don't have the brain pathways to substitute a new name for you.
posted by Dynex at 11:20 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

My friend decided her nickname was too informal for business and switched to the long form of her name. She told all her old friends that we could call her by her old name, as long as we used the formal name when introducing her to new people or talking to people she met after college. It took a little bit of time to get the hang of it, but most of us have no problem.

I changed the pronunciation of my last name around the same time. I don't correct people who knew me back in the day, but it's never been a problem. In fact, most of them have come around to use the new pronunciation. Even my parents.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 12:16 PM on July 12, 2012

While my Dad's name is not wierd or anything (Bernard), he encourages most of his aquaintances and work colleagues to call him Bernie. Bernard (pronounced BERnard) is reserved only for family. This makes it super easy to tell who is calling on the phone. If we answer the phone and someone is looking for BerNARD, well, they get politely told not to call back.
posted by LN at 12:51 PM on July 12, 2012

Both my sister and I went by nicknames as kids and started using our full names after college. All of my college friends still call me by my nickname, but it doesn't really bother me - it tends to amuse newer friends and acquaintances but they cannot think of me as that name. My family still calls my sister and I by our nicknames. As others said, you just need to be prepared for the fact that some people will always use your "original" name.
posted by anotheraccount at 1:23 PM on July 12, 2012

Definitely change it everywhere other people see it on a regular basis. Since you don't use Facebook or Twitter etc., this means your displayed email name, your email and all other signatures, the nameplate on your desk if applicable, nametags at events, etc. This will help reinforce and normalize it.

These days I think most people who spend a fair amount of time online are used to their friends going by many different things, and sometimes switching. Many people I first met online thought Rhiannon was my given name, but easily switched to my actual first name when I asked them to. I have a colleague named Jane who goes by Ruby professionally, and most of our coworkers don't think anything of calling her whatever she wants us to depending on the context (the only one who does is not coincidentally much older than the rest of us and does not "do computers").

However, be prepared for the fact that a small number of people may simply not accept it. My parents and everyone else called me by a shortened version of my middle name until I was 12, when I decided I preferred my given first name and started insisting everyone call me that. Certain family members never adapted, some out of willful stubbornness, and some just because they didn't see me or hear about me often enough to get used to the new name. (And my dad never adapted because he shares that middle name with me and likes having the connection, but that's different.) I used to get really upset about it, but as an adult I've found it much easier and more peaceful to try gently correcting them the first few times and then just letting it be. Most people get it right and don't have a problem with it.
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:50 PM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just politely remind people, it will eventually stick for most. If you don't want to tell people you're tired of the hassles surrounding 'old name' then tip them a wink and tell them you need an alias to stay ahead of the law. Surrounding it with humor seems to help people remember.

When I started asking people to call me by a shortened version of my name and someone gave me lip about it, I would tell them they could call me anything they wanted, except late for dinner, *wink* but my good friends are calling me Short Name.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:44 PM on July 12, 2012

I have common but long first name that is almost always shortened to a nickname, which I hate. Like a female version of "Christopher" regularly shortened to "Chris." My family and close friends have always known me as Christopher, but many childhood acquaintances still call me Chris, and the ones I'm not close to I've grandfathered into letting them call me Chris, because it's been so long they won't remember. You've decided not to do this, so maybe my technique below will help you.

As a college freshman with all-new peers, though, I decided I was going to be known only by the name I wanted to be called, common nicknames be damned. It has been very successful for me, and I assume it will work in reverse for you to associate yourself with your nickname, Joe. This is how I do it: I always introduce myself to people as my chosen name, Christopher, and use it in all written and email correspondence. If after introducing myself to someone s/he calls me Chrisin conversations, I'll then briefly say with a smile, "Actually, I prefer Christopher," and move quickly on to the next topic. This is where you can say "You can just call me Joe!" (to new people) or "Actually/by the way, I usually go by Joe" (to new people or people you've known for a while). You say it as a friendly heads-up FYI without making a big deal of "WHY ARE YOU CALLING ME CHRIS, WHICH IS WRONG?"

Then this was the important part, especially with new people: I stopped responding to "Chris" when people were trying to get my attention. On multiple occasions I've sat as friends called "Chris. Chris? Chris! CHRIS!" while I continued to eat lunch or read my book or whatnot. Eventually someone would get exasperated enough to call "CHRISTOPHER!" at which point I'd look up and acknowledge them/apologize for my inattention. It's basically training with positive reinforcement: ignoring the incorrect behavior, praising/giving attention to the correct behavior.

Sometimes ignoring them isn't even intentional on my part, because "Chris" is so much not a name I respond to as me, so I use that explanation all the time--"Oh, I'm so sorry! I usually go by Christopher, I guess I didn't think you were talking to me for some reason." This won't work for you because your name is so uncommon, so think of how you'd want to play it. Maybe the variant I use with people (like a boss) I don't want to embarrass by making them call my name like a dog for minutes: only a few seconds' pause on "Johannes. Johannes!" then "Oh! I'm so sorry, my friends usually call me Joe, it took a few seconds for my brain 'to register," as you smile in embarrassment. If someone points out "But your family calls you Johannes," you can merely say "I know, it's weird! I guess it just works as a family thing," or you can explain how you've been switching from the longer name. "It's been awkward sometimes, but eventually I'll just be Joe, I hope!"

I still experience frustration when I introduce myself to people as Christopher only for them to address me as Chris minutes later. If it's a one-off meeting like in a store when someone calls me Chris after I've introduced myself as Christopher, I'll just let it go, especially when it's a smarmy salesperson trying to buddy up to me. (Calling me "Chrissy" is an automatic nuclear-level Forever On My Shit List strike.) For slight sneakiness I give the name "Chris" on websites or to businesses I suspect may spam me. If I get an email addressed to "Chris" or my family gets a friendly call asking for "Chris," we know immediately it isn't someone who actually knows me.
posted by nicebookrack at 9:38 PM on July 12, 2012

I have done this, although I did a variation. I only used my new name with new acquaintances. Believe me, the introduction without the long backstory about what your name means is so much nicer to deal with! Eventually I was using New Name enough that just about everyone (except my family) caught on over time. It won't happen overnight, but you'll get there eventually.
posted by Addlepated at 8:43 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

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