The compound word ekename, literally meaning "additional name", was attested as early as 1303. This word was derived from the Old English phrase eaca "an increase", related to eacian "to increase". By the fifteenth century, the misdivision of the syllables of the phrase "an ekename" led to its reanalysis as "a nekename". Though the spelling has changed, the pronunciation and meaning of the word have remained relatively stable ever since.
To inform an audience or readership of a person's nickname without actually calling them by their nickname, English nicknames are generally represented in quotes between the bearer's first and last names (e.g., Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower, Daniel Lamont "Bubba" Franks, etc.). However, it is also common for the nickname to be identified after a comma following the full real name or later in the body of the text, such as in an obituary. The middle name is generally eliminated (if there is one), especially in speech. Like English, German uses (German-style) quotation marks between the first and last names (e.g., Andreas Nikolaus „Niki“ Lauda). Other languages may use other conventions; for example, Italian writes the nickname after the full name followed by detto 'called' (e.g., Salvatore Schillaci detto Totò), in Spanish the nickname is written in formal contexts at the end in quotes following alias (e.g. Alfonso Tostado, alias «el Abulense»), and Slovenian represents nicknames after a dash or hyphen (e.g., Franc Rozman – Stane). The latter may cause confusion because it resembles an English convention sometimes used for married and maiden names.
In Viking societies, many people had heiti, viðrnefni, or kenningarnöfn (Old Norse terms for nicknames) which were used in addition to, or instead of the first name. In some circumstances, the giving of a nickname had a special status in Viking society in that it created a relationship between the name maker and the recipient of the nickname, to the extent that the creation of a nickname also often entailed a formal ceremony and an exchange of gifts known in Old Norse as nafnfestr ('fastening a name').
Slaves have often used nicknames, so that the master who heard about someone doing something could not identify the slave. In capoeira, a Brazilian martial art, the slaves had nicknames to protect them from being caught, as practising capoeira was illegal for decades.
In Anglo-American culture, a nickname is often based on a shortening of a person's proper name. However, in other societies, this may not necessarily be the case. For example: "my nickname is farmer Phil"
In Indian society, for example, generally people have at least one nickname (call name or affection name) and these affection names are generally not related to the person's proper name. Indian nicknames very often are a trivial word or a diminutive (such as Bablu, Dabbu, Banti, Babli, Gudiya, Golu, Sonu, Chhotu, Raju, Adi, Ritu, etc.).
In Australian society, Australian men will often give ironic nicknames. For example, a man with red hair will be given the nickname 'Blue' or 'Bluey'. A tall man will be called 'Shorty', an obese person 'Slim' and so on.
In England, some nicknames are traditionally associated with a person's surname. A man with the surname 'Clark' will be nicknamed 'Nobby': the surname 'Miller' will have the nickname 'Dusty' (alluding to the flour dust of a miller at work): the surname 'Adams' has the nickname 'Nabby'. There are several other nicknames linked traditionally with a person's surname, including Chalky White, Bunny Warren, Tug Wilson, and Spud Baker. Other English nicknames allude to a person's origins. A Scotsman may be nicknamed 'Jock', an Irishman 'Paddy' (alluding to St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland) or 'Mick' (alluding to the preponderance of Roman Catholicism in Ireland), and a Welshman may be nicknamed 'Taffy'. Traditional English nicknaming was common through the first half of the twentieth century, and was frequently used in the armed services during World War I and World War II, but has become less common since then.
In Chinese culture, nicknames are frequently used within a community amongst relatives, friends and neighbors. A typical southern Chinese nickname often begins with a "阿" followed by another character, usually the last character of the person's given name. For example, Taiwanese politician Chen Shui-bian (陈水扁) is sometimes referred as "阿扁" (A-Bian). In many Chinese communities of Southeast Asia, nicknames may also connote one's occupation or status. For example, the landlord might be known simply as Towkay (Hokkien for "boss") to his tenants or workers while a bread seller would be called "Mianbao Shu" 面包叔 (literally, Uncle Bread). Amongst Cantonese-speaking communities, the character "仔" (pronounced "zai") may be used in a similar context of "Junior" in Western naming practices.
Many writers, performing artists, and actors have nicknames, which may develop into a stage name or pseudonym. A bardic name may also result from a nickname. Many writers have pen names which they use instead of their real names. Famous writers with a pen name go as far back as Plato (according to a late tradition) and Paul, and see also this List of pen names.
It is not uncommon for sportspeople or a sports team to have nicknames. Some, such as those of sports clubs or athletic teams, are official while others are adopted over time.
In the context of information technology, a nickname (usually called a nick) is a common synonym for the screenname or handle of a user. In computer networks it has become a common practice for every person to also have one or more nicknames for the purposes of pseudonymity, to avoid ambiguity, or simply because the natural name or technical address would be too long to type or take too much space on the screen.
Nicknames are usually awarded to, not chosen by the recipient. Some nicknames are derogatory name calls. Note: the majority of the following examples are American English usage. Nicknames may be based on a person's name or various attributes. Attributes upon which a nickname may be based include:
Nicknames may refer to a person's occupation, social standing, or title. They may also refer to characteristics of a person."Bones" for a forensic scientist, surgeon, or mortician
"Sawbones" for a surgeon.
"Doc" for a doctor or, in the military, medic.
"Sparky" for an electrician or radio operator
Geek for a computer technician
"Sarge" for a military Sergeant as in the comic strip Beetle Bailey
"Lou" for a Lieutenant (for example, a police lieutenant)
Similarly, "Chief" for a police or fire chief
Moneybags for a wealthy person.
Sir or Ma'am for a person of a higher rank (real or figurative).
Genius or brains for some one at school who is believed to be a clever person, although it should be said that "genius" in this colloquial sense is not the same as the technical use of the term "genius" in psychology.
Nicknames can be a descriptor of a physical characteristic, or the opposite of a physical characteristic. It should be noted that in English, such nicknames are often considered offensive or derogatory, unless the nickname is based on a trait that is viewed positively. Some examples of nicknames related to physical characteristics include:Weight: "Fatso" or "Slim" for a person who is overweight or thin, respectively.
Height: "Beanpole" or "Long John" (or other name) for a person who is tall, "Shortie" or "small-fry" for a short person.
Hair colour: "Red", "Ginger", "Ranga", or "Bluey" for a person with red hair. "Blondie" a girl with blonde hair.
Type of hair: "Curley" or "Cue Ball" for a person without hair as in "Curley" from "The Three Stooges"
Baldness: "Chrome dome" for a person whose scalp reflects the light
Complexion: "Pinky" for a person with Rosacea, "Zit" or "pizza-face" for severe acne, various racial slurs for skin color.
Hand dominance: "Lefty" for a left-handed person.
Sometimes nicknames are based on things that are not a part of a person's body, but alter a person's physical appearance. Such nicknames can be temporary."Four-eyes" for a person with glasses
"Train tracks", "tin teeth", "metal mouth", or "braceface" for a person with braces, such as Sharon Spitz on the animated series Braceface
All of the above examples would be offensive in most contexts.
Nicknames can be a descriptor of a personality characteristic, or the opposite of a personality characteristic. These types of nicknames were often used in fairy tales such as "Snow White". Sometimes such nicknames may be indicative of a physical disorder.Talkative: "Motormouth", "Chatterbox", "Ratchet-Jaw", "Chatty Kathy"
Cautious: "Nervous Nellie"
Tired Demeanor: "Sleepy" as in a dwarf from Snow White
Pessimistic: "Sad Sack"
Negative: "Debbie Downer"
Glamorous: "Stunning Signe"
Boring: "Plain Jane"
Typical: "Average Joe"
Strong-willed: "The Iron Lady"
A nickname may allude to a person's apparent intelligence (though often used sarcastically):Encyclopedia, as in Donald Sobol's fictional child detective Leroy "Encyclopedia" Brown
Einstein, referring to the famous physicist.
Sherlock, in reference to A. C. Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.
Brainiac, as in the fictional DC Comics character.
Dopey, as in the dwarf from Snow White
Promiscuity: "Hot Lips" as in the character "Margaret Houlihan" from the M*A*S*H media franchise.
"Booger" for a nose picking person
"Spaz" for a person who is clumsy
"Nerd" for a person who is smart but odd
"Dork" for a person who is socially inept
A nickname can be a shortened or modified variation on a person's real name.Contractions of longer names: Margaret to Greta.
Initials using the first letters of a person's first and last name.
Dropping letters: With many nicknames, one or more letters, usually R, are dropped: Fanny from Frances, Walt from Walter.
Phonetic spelling : Sometimes a nickname is created through the phonetic spelling of a name: Len from Leonard.
Letter swapping: During the middle ages, the letter R would often be swapped for either L or D: Hal from Harry, Molly from Mary, Sadie from Sarah, from Robert: Hob, Dob, Rob, Bob and Nob, from Richard: Rick, Dick, and Hick; Bill from Will (which in turn comes from William), and Peg from Meg (which is derived from Margaret).
In 19th-century frontier America, Mary and Molly were often given the nickname Polly.
Front of name: Sometimes a nickname can come from the front: Chris from Christopher/Christina, Ed from Edward/Edmond/Edgar/Edwin, Iz or Izzy from Isaac/Isaiah/Isidore/Izale/Isabel/Isabella, Joe or Jo from Joseph/Josephine/Joanna, Cass for Cassius, Mart or Marty from Martin, Nathan or Nath from Nathaniel, Arth or Art from Arthur, Kim fom Kimberly.
End of name: Drew from Andrew, Xander from Alexander, Eth from Kenneth, Topher from Christopher, Beth from Elizabeth, Bel/Bell/Belle from Isabelle
Middle of name: Liz from Elizabeth, Tori from Victoria or Del/Della from Adelaide
Addition of diminutives: Before the 17th century, most nicknames had the diminutive ending "in" or "Kin", where the ending was attached to the first syllable: Watkin/Walter/Wat-kin Hobkin/Robert/Hob-kin or Thompkin/Thomas/Thom-Kin. While most of these have died away, a few remain, such as Robin (Rob-in, from Robert), Hank (Hen-Kin from Henry), Jack (Jan-kin from John), and Colin (Col-in from Nicolas).
Many nicknames usually drop the final one or two letters and add ether ie/ee/y as an ending: Davy from David, Charlie from Charles, Mikey from Michael and Jimmy from James
In some cases, another name may be used as a nickname.
Initialization, which forms a nickname from a person's initials: A.C. Slater from Albert Clifford Slater
Dubya for George W. Bush, a Texan pronunciation of the name of the letter 'W', President Bush's middle initial.
Nicknames are sometimes based on a person's last name ("Tommo" for Bill Thompson) or a combination of first and last name ("Droopy" for Andrew Peterson, or "A-Rod" for Alex Rodriguez)
Loose ties to a person's name with an attached suffix: Gazza for English footballer Paul Gascoigne (though used more widely in Australia for Gary) and similar "zza" forms (Hezza, Prezza, etc.) for other prominent personalities whose activities are frequently reported in the British press. (See also Oxford "-er" for a similar but wider phenomenon.)
Use of the second name.
Combination of first and middle name, or variations of a person's first and middle name. For example, a person may have the name Mary Elizabeth but has the nickname "Maz" or "Miz" by combining Mary and Liz.
A nickname may refer to the relationship with the person. This is a term of endearment.In Japanese culture, Japanese honorifics are designed so that a term of endearment conveys the exact status of the relationship between two people. However, the recipient of the honorific is allowed to restrict the use when used by a certain person.
A few surnames have a generic and traditional nickname, at least in England. Examples of this are:Nobby for Clark or Clarke
Dusty for Miller
Chalkie for White
Bunny for Reed
Yosser for Hughes
To avoid confusion between peer groups with the same given names, surnames may be used as a nickname. Also common prefixes for names can be used as a nickname:Mac for someone with the name Macmillan, MacIntyre, McCarthy, M'Clure, etc.
Fitz for someone with the name Fitzgerald, FitzPatrick, etc.
And other variations on the surname, such as:Brownie for someone with the name Brown
Jeff for someone with the name Geoffrey, Jeffry, Jeffrys, etc.
Klu (or Ski) for someone with the name Kluszewski
Smittie (or Smitty) for someone with the name Smith, Smythe, Goldsmith, etc.
A specific incident or action can sometimes generate a nickname:Capability Brown was so called because he used the word "capability" instead of "possibility".
Chemical Ali and Comical Ali.
Thirteen for Dr. Remy Hadley from TV's House M.D., because she was assigned the number 13 in her job interview process and continued to be called by her number even after she was hired.
"Opa" for the Dutch lifesaving KNRM-hero Dorus Rijkers. Dorus became a Grandpa (Dutch:Opa), at the age of 23 (by marriage to a widow with eight children), and soon everybody called him Opa.
"The Falling Man" for one of the jumpers during the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attacks.
A nickname may compare the person with a famous or fictional character.Napoleon or Hitler for someone with a dictatorial manner.
Pollyanna for someone with a very optimistic view of things.
Hawkeye from the novel The Last of the Mohicans, as in Hawkeye Pierce, from M*A*S*H, the media franchise
Jaime Lannister from the novel A Song of Ice and Fire, commonly known as the "Kingslayer". Nickname derives from killing King Aerys Targaryen in the throne room.
Sometimes, a nickname may be related to their place of origin or residence.Gloucester, Paul from Gloucester or PFG for someone named Paul who comes from Gloucester.
Newf or Newfie a person from Newfoundland, Canada
Nicknames may be derived from or related to what the person is well known for.The Duke for John Wayne
The Angel of Death for Josef Mengele
The Hangman, The Blonde Beast for Reinhard Heydrich
Tippecanoe for William Henry Harrison referring to the Battle of Tippecanoe
A person's political affiliation may be the basis for a nickname:Dipper for a member of Canada's New Democratic Party.
Tory for a person affiliated with the United Kingdom's or Canada's Conservative Party.
Grit for a member of Canada's Liberal Party
Many geographical places have titles, or alternative names, which have positive implications. Paris, for example, is the "City of Light", Venice is "La Serenissima", and New Jersey is the "Garden State". It is not correct to call these titles nicknames; these alternative names are often used to boost the status of such places, contrary to the usual role of a nickname. Many places or communities, particularly in the USA, adopt titles because they can help in establishing a civic identity, help outsiders recognize a community or attract people to a community, promote civic pride, and build community unity. Titles and slogans that successfully create a new community "ideology or myth" are also believed to have economic value. Their economic value is difficult to measure, but there are anecdotal reports of cities that have achieved substantial economic benefits by "branding" themselves by adopting new slogans.
By contrast, older city nicknames may be critical; London is still occasionally referred to as "The Smoke" in memory of its notorious "Pea-Souper" Smogs (smoke-filled fogs) of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and Edinburgh was "Auld Reekie" for the same reason, as countless coal fires polluted its atmosphere.
Besides or replacing the demonym, some places have collective nicknames for their inhabitants. Many examples of this practice are found in Wallonia and in Belgium in general, where such a nickname is referred to in French as "Blason populaire".