Nicknames. Just say no.
August 10, 2012 2:37 AM   Subscribe

How do I tactfully ask people whom I don't know very well not to call me by a nickname?

My circle of old, close friends never call me by my name, but by a number of different nicknames. I'm OK with that. Unfortunately, my extended circle of friends have sort of picked up on the usage of these nicknames from Facebook or whatever. (And they also make up their own nicknames for me too - aargh.)

This has been happening for years and I have never liked it. No one ever calls me by my full first name anymore, and I feel paralysed by politeness when actually, I would really just prefer that my social acquaintances or not-particularly-close friends call me that and that only my oldest, closest friends call me by nicknames. I mean, I really like my name; and I also feel like nicknames are something you only get to use after knowing someone for a long time. Maybe I am just really uptight or something, I don't know.

Anyway, I don't really know how to say this to people without unnecessarily upsetting them. Can anyone suggest a nice way of putting this across to people?
posted by Ziggy500 to Human Relations (32 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Just tell them: "I'm sorry, but my name is Ziggy, and I'd really prefer you call me that. Thank you." Repeat as often as its needed, and don't worry about upsetting them --- it is, after all, YOUR name.
posted by easily confused at 2:44 AM on August 10, 2012

Response by poster: Not to threadsit, but just to clarify: I want to communicate this non-nickname-using thing to people in my extended circle who already know me and have already been calling me by a nickname for as long as they've known me... I worry about offending them.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:48 AM on August 10, 2012

Will the people who will be calling you your real name and the people who will be calling you nicknames be interacting in real life?

This will be more complicated if you will be having a conversation with multiple people and you will prefer that they call you different names.
posted by andoatnp at 2:53 AM on August 10, 2012

Have you considered having everyone call you by your full name? It's going to be tricky to let your closest friends call you this nickname but have everyone else in your circle call you your real name.
posted by J. Wilson at 2:56 AM on August 10, 2012

My full first name is Patrick. My family, for my whole life, has and does call me "Pat." When someone starts calling me "Pat" outside my family, I just say, "You know, I only like it when my family calls me 'Pat,' would you mind calling me 'Patrick,' instead?"

Not one person I know has indicated offense at this request.
posted by xingcat at 2:59 AM on August 10, 2012 [22 favorites]

This can be hard hard. Basically if you're delimiting who can call you x and who can call you y you are introducing an overt distinction between close/old friends and others.

You might want to ask why you don't want your nickname used. I.e. is this something in an ideal world you'd also want your old friends not to use if you could start over? Often old nicknames are used to reinforce bonds but also social environments from the past (the jock, the nerd, the pecking order etc) and infantilise people somewhat, particularly in formal settings or when friends and colleagues mix.

If so, then be consistent with your old friends in terms of how you introduce yourself and sign off. And if needs be have a conversation along the lines of what xingcat suggests - "would you mind calling me x?" I have a friend who did the first step - although he never actually said "don't call me z" he never, ever refers or introduces himself like that and even among his old friends his nickname has basically died out. One aspect of this is that his best friends aren't necessarily now his oldest friends so in social gatherings where old and new meet the older friends are actually taking their cues from the newer ones.

If you still want to have one set of friends call you by a different name then the formulation I'd use is something like "y is a bit of a hangover from way back: I tend to prefer being called x now." And also reinforce in terms of how you introduce yourself. But it helps greatly if your SO and some of your closest friends also shed the habit of using your nickname.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:13 AM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

This can be hard hard. Basically if you're delimiting who can call you x and who can call you y you are introducing an overt distinction between close/old friends and others.

Yes. Therefore, I would only go forward with confronting those that call you a nickname if it's less of a pet peeve and more of a "crap on my day" type of situation. Because it's not the name that bothers you, it's essentially who is calling you that, and that could potentially hurt someone's feelings. I have a nickname that my family called me. Some distant friends and acquaintences actually took that name and accidently butchered it so it is kind of awkward. But that was something I was willing to put up with--I take it as a compliment that they want to call me by the same name as my family and good friends.

My suggestion--it's really not even what you say, but how you say it that's going to make the distinction between polite request and offensive.
posted by andariel at 3:23 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I sympathise, because I have the same problem with a couple of my friends. Seriously, all you can do is ask them nicely. It might work. Or - if the friends in question are British and thus much given to exploiting any revealed weakness - it might not. I should have known better. I hope you have better luck. :-)
posted by Decani at 3:47 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I really think this would be solvable if it weren't for the fact that you're still okay with close friends using your nickname. If only some people get asked to use your real name, they'll probably be fine with it until they hear you being called your nickname by your close friend, and then they'll either get confused about what to call you (as a best case scenario) or they'll get offended (as the worst case scenario when they realize you don't consider them a good friend).

You could try some variation of "I've decided i really want to be called Timothy instead of Timmy" so that at least you're not giving the impression they've been annoying you for years, but i wouldn't really expect it to stick what with all the good friends still confusingly calling you Timmy.
posted by Kololo at 4:46 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yep, setting a double standard is a bit odd. It is your way of defining friends and could be objectionable to those not in the "inner circle", your going to be viewed as a bit of a snob by those without privilege.

That said, once in a while someone calls me "Bobby", and I just say, "the only people that are allowed to call me Bobby are my older sisters". Everyone laughs and all is well. But this works because I'm differentiating between friends and siblings, not defining levels of friendship.

But, to switch to your full name for everyone, that is fine.

I had a friend who went from his nickname to his given name, he let us know he was doing that, and would remind us when we slipped, it didn't take long before we were all using the name he preferred.
posted by HuronBob at 5:06 AM on August 10, 2012

"Ha ha! Seriously, though, only people who have known me 20 years and bailed me out of juvie get to call me that."
posted by slkinsey at 5:13 AM on August 10, 2012 [14 favorites]

I think slkinsey has it. There is nothing wrong with simply saying, "I actually prefer to be called by my name. I haven't managed to change the habits of some very old friends but I'm hoping you won't have a problem with it. Thanks!"
posted by idest at 5:18 AM on August 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

Here's how I would frame it: "Hey, friend-I-like-but-haven't-known-forever, that nickname is something that's stuck since I was a kid, and no matter how hard I try, I can't get people who knew me then to break the habit. But I really like my first name, and I'd love it if you and these other people in my daily social/professional life used it. You'd be doing me a huge favor."

Who's going to be offended by that?

My first name is Caroline, but my mom's relatives (and some of my dad's) all still call me Carrie. I HATE it, but I gave up trying to break them of it ages ago. That doesn't mean I'd accept hearing it from even a close friend who hasn't known me since birth. (I have to correct them when they call me 'Carol' or 'Carolyn' too, but that's a different subject altogether.)
posted by carolinecrane at 5:30 AM on August 10, 2012 [17 favorites]

"Hey Alex"
"Oh, most people call me Alexandra, I like that better."
"Well, there are some people (eyeroll), but I do like Alexandra better."

status update:

For the record, if you (did not give birth to me, have never bailed me out of juvie, were not there when I still wrote on doubleline paper with fat crayons) you don't get to call me anything but Alexandra. #noAlexplease
posted by aimedwander at 5:44 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

You can add a little statement in Facebook's About Me section. Make it semi-serious so it might make people you don't know stop using the nickname.

You can call me James,
You can call me Jimmy,
You can even call me Jim,
But JJ is only for my special frenz'

posted by JJ86 at 6:08 AM on August 10, 2012

I don't think it's offensive to anyone to delineate who can and cannot call you by a nickname. I have a name with maybe the most built-in nicknames in the english language, but I always insist on new people calling me by my full first name. If someone calls me 'Jim' I immediately correct them with a "sorry, it's James actually". If a Jim person meets a James person, I just shrug and say to the James person "they've been calling me Jim for such a long time that I can't get them to stop." and that's always worked just fine for me.
posted by ghostiger at 6:29 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

My dad has this problem.

He says, "I prefer [name], actually."

People eventually get it. Or they don't, because they're assholes.
posted by Sara C. at 7:06 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I know someone in a business context who became very well known as her nickname, let's say "Beth." A couple years ago she decided that she really wanted to be known by her actual name, which was "Elisabetta." Most people fell in line, but there was some eye rolling because of the melodramatic way she went about telling people. I think most people would be open to correction but you'll probably get a few holdouts because some folks are jerks.
posted by crankylex at 7:21 AM on August 10, 2012

I have a friend I have known since his very rough childhood we call him by his birth name, which is very distinctive because we knew him when he was that person and my family helped him. Everyone else calls him by a new name he took for himself to indicate his separation from the past. His new friends hear my family call him by his birth name and get confused and start to call him that, he simply goes they knew me when I was x but now I go by y. Could you not do the same. Old friends get to use the nickname because they knew you when you used it but now you go by y. Just keep it light, casual and friendly when they ask.
posted by wwax at 7:40 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't think it's offensive to anyone to delineate who can and cannot call you by a nickname.

I would be offended to be told that I'm not a close enough friend to call you a nickname that you are ok with your close friends calling you. This is especially problematic here because it sounds like its not a length of time situation but an emotional closeness situation.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:54 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't think it's offensive to anyone to delineate who can and cannot call you by a nickname.

Maybe not offensive, but awkward. So I had a friend in grad school who had a nickname given to him by his parents that EVERYONE called him before he started in our program. He decided since school was leading to a profession, he wanted to be called by his given name. So all of us in grad school called him by his given name. However, I also became friends with his wife, and she and all of HER friends (who incidentally knew them for the same amount of time as I knew my friend) called him by the nickname. I once went on a camping trip with them and the wife's friends (and their significant others who were meeting my friend for the first time). And I was the ONLY one who called him by his given name, out of 10 people. I felt awkward, like I was somehow a different type of friend who didn't fit in with the group.

I think you should go for consistency. Just say you like your given name better, even in a mixed crowd. If it's just a crowd of the old, close friends, say nothing. {You could also post something on Facebook saying you like your given name better, too -- maybe in a funny way?}
posted by bluefly at 8:32 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Dear friends, Facebook friends, colleagues, family and miscellaneous hangers-on, rabble, loved ones, and that guy no one can rmember the name of who always joins our table at the bar,
Be it know that from this date forward, henceforth, forthwith, and immediately or even sooner, I, Zigguriah Y. FiveHundred, may be addressed as "Ziggy." Not Zigs, El Zigster, Zignut, Zeez, Boof, Boofo, YoBoof, ZigMeister, Dawg, ZigDawg, DawgZig, 5, Five, Fiver, Hun, Atilla, Hunster, Zigtilla, The Hun, El Hunster, Nigel, Nige, Ni-Ni, Nigeroni, Nigello, Zeech, Zeechy, Zeechster (to include any and all variations of Zeech), Doctor Zig (to include any and all variations of Doctor), jerkface(to include any and all vulgarities, unpleasantries, uncoutheries and foulness), and any other nickname not previously submitted and approved by me, Zigguriah, Y, FiveHundred, in writing, whilst not under the influence of mind-altering substances, lack of sleep, of bouts of tom-foolery.

Penalties for Non-Compliance
Use of said nicknames, and any other nickname not previously submitted and approved by me, Zigguriah, Y, FiveHundred, in writing, whilst not under the influence of mind-altering substances, lack of sleep, of bouts of tom-foolery, shall incur a fine not less than the value of one (1) best quality beer or other suitable libation, and not to exceed the value of one (1) bottle of best quality, single-malt Scotch whiskey. Repeated offenses shall incur additional fines, the amount of successive fine to me increased as I, Zigguriah Y. FiveHundred, deem appropriate.

Signed ____________________, this tenth day of August, two thousand twelve.

Witnessed ____________________
name of witness

Witnessed ____________________
name of witness

Have it notarized if you know a notary. Make it a combination of Hyper-Serious and sort-of-funny. Use lots of Declaration of Independence-type fonts and swooshes, and post on fb, email to everyone, and post in your home & office. Carry a smaller version, laminated onto a small notebook, in which you ostentatiously record fines.

And tell people, I'm serious. I'd like to be Ziggy for a while, not a nickname. I appreciate your cooperation. And you still owe me a beer. Once in a while, buy someone a beer for calling you Ziggy, and thank people who get it, and call you Ziggy without a hassle.

Name-changing generates a certain amount of weirdness that is unavoidable. It's better to gently correct, and show appreciation and warmth for those who get it right. If you let a small group of pals call you a nickname, then it gets weirder.
posted by theora55 at 8:33 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Ahhh names.
How does that old riddle go? "What is something you own that everyone uses more than you do?"
I have one of those names that you can morph into MANY nicknames/spellings and despite those versions, I still even get stranger nicknames from friends. I get what you mean about newer people calling you a nickname that other older friends gave you. I don't like it because the newer people didn't make up that nickname. They try to use it and it sounds weird. They weren't there that night at college when I earned that nickname. So I get where you are coming from with that. Personally, I don't use nicknames like that for people.

One job I had, there were two other women who used the version of my name that I usually go by (like Nora), but my principal started calling me by the formal version (Norina) as a way to not get confused with all 3 of us; it was a new job, I was nervous and didn't say anything. So for five years I was "Norina" in those circles. As a teacher for 20+ years at several different schools, having had thousands of students and their parents, I always have people coming up to me with "Do you remember me?" but when they use that formal version of my name, I know immediately it is someone from that school and it actually helps me remember who they are.

I do also have a friend who I knew for 12 years, fell out of touch with and rekindled our friendship again. In the few years we fell out of touch, she changed her name (say from something like Kathy to wanting to be called Kate) and I didn't think it would be as hard to call her by her new name as it is. I want to do her the courtesy and show her respect and call her the new name, but for 12 years she was Kathy. I do try to call her by the new name, I really do, but old habits are very hard to break. Its always awkward when I say, "Hey Kath - errr, Kate, do you want to....".

So I get both sides of the fence here. I think the best thing you can do is take carolinecane's suggestion and try that, but really, you will have the most luck moving forward and nipping this in the bud as you meet new people.
posted by NoraCharles at 8:34 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I will tell people a couple of times that I prefer not to be called whatever ridiculous thing they've decided to call me (at work, I have this problem where someone has decided to call me by the first letter of my last name, which is also the first letter of the FIRST name of 3 other people in my office. so stupid). After the third time, I just ignore them completely when they say anything to me using the nickname. Like the animal training article that was going around recently re: relationship matters, I am not going to reward someone's bad behavior with the attention they are seeking.
posted by elizardbits at 8:39 AM on August 10, 2012

Yes, all you can do is ask, and there are good suggestions on how to ask in this thread.

Just don't assume that people are assholes if they forget or don't call you what you want for a while.

The only way to be seen as offensive is if you're totally humorless about it.
posted by girlmightlive at 8:42 AM on August 10, 2012

I worry about offending them.

why? they're obviously not worried about offending you.

but really, it's not offensive for a person to correct someone on what they want to be called, especially if what they want to be called is their name. i don't have the exact same problem but i have a name that gets mispronounced all the time even tho, once a person is corrected, it's a super easily pronounced name—and i would rather make that correction than have someone continue to mispronounce my name. in cases where i've mispronounced a name or called someone by something else, i'm actually more mortified at having done that than i would be if that person had corrected me.

"it would be awesome if you would actually call me [name]." then smile.
posted by violetk at 10:38 AM on August 10, 2012

Don't overthink it. I want to know how my friends want to be called, and I think a perceptive person will readily see that a pet or family name is naturally reserved for close friends or family. It's probably the closest analog English has to the varying degrees of politeness or formality found in other languages (aside from the diminishing use of courtesy titles like Mr. or Ms.). If someone is offended because you just politely say "Please call me ______," it's really on them.

Example (made-up versions of a friend's name):

I have a friend who has a classic southern belle double name. It's a mouthful. Call her Susan Elizabeth. When I met her, I asked her "Do you go by Susan?" and she playfully, yet somehow in a not-to-be-ignored tone said "Call me Susan Elizabeth."

As we became closer friends, she once said "Call me S.E. if you like; everyone else does at work. My name's a mouthful." So depending on mood and context, I call her that sometimes.

On FB and the like, I've noticed her family calls her - let's translate it as "Sobee." It's some vaguely similar sound to her name. Maybe some little cousin couldn't say her name right when she was 6 and S.E. was 12. Who knows?

I wouldn't call her Sobee on a bet. She's a great friend, but I don't even know if she loves it, hates, tolerates it, what. Me myself, I have family that calls me, to riff on my screenname, something like "Ran-Ran." Personally, I actually don't like it, but I'm not going to correct my ancient aunts after all these years.

But I'd just HATE it if you said it.

I know these things not because I have some graduate degree in linguistics (I don't), but because I just pay attention to how people want to be called. I'm in sales as one of my job hats, so maybe I do pay attention more than most, but I think anyone who runs roughshod over this is a slob.
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:07 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

randomkeystrike makes a good point: I am willing to call any of my friends anything they tell me to call them, in fact, I want to call them by a name that makes them feel good about our friendship. I do NOT actually know what that name is for most people, other than the way they were introduced to me, or what I hear other people calling them, unless they actually say to me "Hey, call me ***". There's a guy at work that I've heard other people refer to as Charlie but until I say "Hey Charles" and he says "Call me Charlie" I'm not budging, because that's what the manager said his name was on his first day, and he didn't correct her. If he told me to call him Goober, I'd do that. But I'm waiting till he says something.

Your friends don't have enough information. Give them the information they need. There will be a moment of embarrassment when they feel like they've been doing it wrong. If you want to shoulder some of that burden for them, you apologize for yourself (I don't know why I didn't mention it before) or for your friend (I don't know why dude calls me that other thing) or make some excuse (I've recently decided that I'll be called X). But none of that changes anything. These people are your friends, and they will be happy to call you whatever you want, once you tell them what that is.
posted by aimedwander at 1:09 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Taking some cues from above, I would try to introduce this gently and gradually. Make sure that your online identities, like FB, are in the preferred name -- Zigismund, let's say. If anyone asks why you changed from Ziggy, then you can give a canned, impersonal "I just feel a little more grown up now" or something to that effect. At this point don't admonish anyone for sticking with Ziggy. (The "Elisabetta" example might have benefitted from just changing her business cards, door inscription, and so on rather than making a big announcement and immediately forswearing "Beth". Lots of people do things like that as they advance up corporate ladders.) Then gradually get your work circles and so on on board by asking them in person, again, without any reference to closeness or your internal filtering methods -- just "I prefer (or Call me) Zigismund, please." After a while the disliked Ziggy references should start to fall by the wayside. I think this is less likely to cause anyone offense at being not included, and even if the odd person still affects your nickname, you can engage them privately with some variation of the jocular "not if you didn't change my diapers" or whatnot.
posted by dhartung at 1:47 PM on August 10, 2012

Something a friend's mother once did when neighborhood kids called her by a slight variant of her name was to say "For my birthday, I'm changing my name to [correct]. Call me that from now on!" It worked for the kids. Perhaps a variant of that approach would work.

I get people shortening my name without permission all the time, which I hate. Family I let call me by that nickname because it's pretty much impossible to get them to stop calling me by it (Mom's ignored my protests for over thirty years now; she's not going to stop), so I declared that only family and close friends get to call me by the short name, and when others shorten it, I try to say "I go by [full name]" as soon as I can.

I'm rather annoyed that people on a mailing list I frequent didn't note that I signed my full name and my full name only to every message, so my "My name is [full], not [short]. Please use it." message to the list when I finally decided to enforce it was a bit snippier than it really should have been.
posted by telophase at 3:03 PM on August 10, 2012

Just keep it casual:

"Hi Debi!"

"Hello to you too! And just FYI, I prefer Deborah, thanks. What did you think about..." etc.

Most people call me Deborah, even family, except for a couple brothers who call me Deb which is marginally tolerable. And the mister will call me Deb or Debi when he wants to get a rise out of me. I just retaliate by calling him by his childhood nickname. Eh, it's family, what can you do.
posted by deborah at 5:08 PM on August 10, 2012

This won't take care of it entirely, obviously, but it might emphasize your intentions about your name while also being kind-of funny to begin referring to yourself in the 3rd person sometimes. I'm thinking FB statuses where maybe you post a pic or a link or whatever, and underneath say "Ziggy thinks this is awesome!" Or in comments "I like this idea! -Ziggy"
posted by MeiraV at 5:48 AM on August 12, 2012

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