I’m lucky enough to have lived an unencumbered-by-an-offensive-nickname life. That’s not to say that I’ve never had a nickname: I have, but as nicknames go, mine — Sweet Drew — was pretty sweet. As such, my nickname, the good one, quickly faded into the nickname ether once I threw my high school graduation cap in the air and said farewell to the memories. Negative nicknames, though, tend to be stickier — just ask Creepy Uncle Joe, Crooked Hillary, Pocahontas and Little Adam Schitt, all recipients of the president’s trademark offensive/borderline repugnant nicknames.
Before we look at those with less fortunate nicknames, however, let’s ponder why we give each other nicknames in the first place. Etymologically speaking, the word itself stems from the Old English word eke-name, meaning “additional name,” but was later misinterpreted as “neke name,” which eventually evolved into the word we know today. Per psychotherapist and counsellor Sinead Lynch, nicknames are simply part of what people do. “As humans, we are programmed to respond to affection and kindness — just like the family pet,” she told the Irish Examiner in 2014. “One way to connect with someone is to create a nickname for them. A name that says ‘I know this person.’”
“It’s a really human, natural behavior to take language and shape it for our own purposes,” explained Carol J. Bruess, an author who wrote her master’s thesis on pet names, in a 2015 Scientific American article. “I think that’s how nicknames evolve. We name things, we give things symbols and over time we tend to naturally manipulate those symbols toward a certain outcome.”
Of course, not everyone is lucky enough to be anointed with a positive nickname. One redditor, for example, claims that when he told his friends that alcohol is like “spicy water,” he earned himself the nickname “Spice Boi.” “Now I keep getting called Spice Boi and that’s good and all, but now my mum thinks it’s slang and I’m a drug dealer,” he writes.
Another redditor says that to differentiate between two kids in his neighborhood, they gave one of them a dick-ish nickname, “since the only real choice back then was to nickname one of them for clarity,” he writes. “We named kid #2 Scrotum, Scrode for short. This name stuck until well after high school and into college.”
But even those two are fairly mild when you consider that a different redditor was dubbed “Statutory Rory” once he turned 18 because the girl he was dating at the time was a year younger than him.
Back to my original premise, though. That is, how long do these offensive nicknames last? According to my colleague Sam Dworkin, whose nickname in high school was “Jew” — later “Bear Jew,” after Inglorious Bastards — the offensive moniker haunts him to this day. “A lot of my friends still have it as their contact: Sam, Jew.” Another MEL staffer tells me that his nickname, “Blow Job,” faded away once he stopped playing football in high school. “When I run into them now, it’s mostly BJ,” says staff designer Bryan Jones. “It was mostly the friends that I played football with that called me that.”
Unfortunately for MEL staff writer C. Brian Smith, his entire fantasy football league — made up of old friends from boarding school — continues to refer to him by his high school nickname, “Stanky Bri.” “Most shorten it to ‘Stank’ now,” he admits.
According to several different redditors, the offensive nickname lasts as long as your “friends” think you care about it. “By not responding to them whenever they call you a nickname you do not want to be called no matter how many times they may pester you,” writes one redditor. Better yet, use the nickname yourself: “Call yourself the Spice Boi as much as you possibly can,” responds a different redditor. “Just like be 100 percent annoying about it, every time you say it once say it seven times, soon enough they’ll hate it more than you do.”
Really though, the only way to guarantee that your offensive nickname dies a quick, clean death is to do something else to gain notoriety — as per one evil-genius redditor’s suggestion: “Commit a particularly disgusting crime.” The tabloid press will gift you a new nickname in no time.