Nicknames are fun. In your childhood years, you may have had a nickname which others used to communicate with, and about, you. People who know our nickname are typically regarded as closer in relation than people who do not. Knowing and using your friend’s nickname in everyday interactions signifies a closeness which is difficult to match without a significant amount of time being invested into the relationship.
Nicknames though, can serve different purposes. As life went on, people may have given you nicknames you didn’t agree with. One embarrassing instance could have given birth to a nickname which references that embarrassing event. Your act of falling down the stairs in public, for example, could have been humorous to onlookers. After ensuring of your well-being, your friends may have gone on to refer to you as, “Stairmaster.”
Like in the example above, nicknames can be humorous and relatively harmless. Others however, can be effective tools to elicit a change of behavior in the person who you’ve given a nickname to. Our desire to not be predictable plays an important role in how we interpret nicknames given to us. By anticipating a person’s reaction to a potential nickname, you can strategically assign those nicknames.
Below, two types of nicknames will be explored. Seemingly positive nicknames, such as “Nice Guy,” can elicit a reaction to not be so predictable in those who you give that nickname to. On the other hand, negative nicknames such as “Negative Nancy,” can do well in motivating individuals to prove their nicknames wrong.
Good Nicknames: The Desire to Be Unpredictable
Predictability in people is seen as a weakness. A predictable individual doesn’t have the ability to surprise us. Their existence in this world, is easily figured out, and is simple for that matter. Predictable individuals are often seen as having no backbone, or having too much of it.
A friend who predictably does not enjoy altercations will make you feel safe in being authoritative around them. On the other hand, a friend who gravitates toward seemingly every altercation they can find, would encourage you to be more subtle in your approaches to change their mind.
On either side of the coin of predictability is weakness. A predictable violent tendency and desire for power in an individual is in itself still a weakness. Those who take note of how predictable even the most powerful people are in their domain, would be able to dance around their predictable behaviors.
The people you interact with however, typically know that predictability is a trait they don’t want to possess. It would make them feel uninteresting, unintimidating, and weak. If they were labeled to be predictable, a shift of behavior is rather easy to predict. They would likely attempt to shed whatever label makes them seem predictable.
Seemingly positive nicknames are good ways to implicitly label someone as predictable.
For instance, if your friend Frank’s speedy driving makes you feel unsafe being in his passenger seat, you can assign a seemingly positive nickname which would make him feel predictable. A nickname such as, “F1 Frank,” would allude to Frank’s tendency to drive like a race-car driver.
Though Frank may take pride in the nickname the first few times it’s used, a consistent use and abuse of any nickname is bound to send the message of predictability. “Do you want to hop in with me or with F1 Frank?” you can ask your friends. As you take a seat in Frank’s passenger seat you can say, “Strap in everyone, F1 Frank is at the wheel.”
In an effort to feel unpredictable, F1 Frank would be in a predicament. Though he may enjoy being labeled as a speedy driver, that label would make him feel predictable. Should he relax on the accelerator pedal? As he weighs out which trait is better to be known as, over time, the trait of unpredictability seems to be picked over any good, but predictable, nickname.
Bad Nicknames: The Desire to Prove People Wrong
Giving people negative nicknames seems to work quicker in their desire to prove those labels wrong. Rather than predictability being the main factor at play, the simple desire to not be seen as whatever the nickname implies leads to quicker behavior change.
Calling someone a, “Debbie Downer,” is effective in making them think about how negative and deflated they always are. Negative nicknames are quick to lead to self analysis and adjustment. The catchier, more truthful, and more widespread these nicknames are, the quicker their behavior would change.
For example, seeing that your desk-mate James always has to take a call when a new assignment comes in at work, you can jokingly refer to him as, “Phone Call James.” In the face of giggling agreements from other colleagues, he’d feel the pressure to change that habit quickly.
Negative feelings from those you label with negative nicknames is a rather predictable happening. People don’t like being labeled with a negative trait, and will look at the source of that negative label with disdain. Assigning negative nicknames to people is thereby a risk you choose to take.
To deter their hate for you labeling them with a negative nickname, you can try to keep the following things in mind. Ensure there is always an element of humor in the nicknames that you give. Calling someone, “Jealous Johnny,” makes no case for there being good willed humor at the root of your label. Humor is your out of a cycle of negativity with the person you’re labeling with a negative nickname.
When you find it difficult to make a nickname humorous, simply look toward sarcasm. Calling a person who is always negative, “Positive Pauline,” automatically makes that nickname humorous. An air of sarcasm would surround that nickname, and people who don’t perceive it to make sense at face value would be likely to give out a subtle chuckle once they see the sarcasm at play.