When a Nickname Hurts

words hurt bullying hate bigotry homophobia

This post may contain words offensive to some readers.

words hurt bullying hate bigotry homophobia

Nicknames: most of us have one, maybe more. Usually those around us give them to us. When I was born, I was a solid baby, and a long baby. My first nickname given to me by my parents was ‘Big Bird’.  And to this day, they still bust it out, now and again.

Once I started school, I was quickly named ‘Mars’ or ‘Mars Bar’ by my primary school peers.  Harmless and fun. Nothing hurtful about these nicknames.

Then came high school- ‘Bostik’ (the glue stick, as I was straight up and down, no curves, didn’t have boobs yet) and ‘skeletor’ due to my somewhat bony, gangly frame. ‘Millhouse’ because I was often the silly sidekick to a cool best friend. I have to say, these names just didn’t bother me. Later in school, I got ‘Maz’ and that has stuck. I’ve also had ‘Meemy’, ‘Meems’ and ‘Mimi’.

I was covering a senior music class (I’m a teacher) when the topic of nicknames came up. We all had a good laugh as we took turns revealing the silly, sometimes nonsensical names we’d had put upon us.

And then a voice cut through the laughs: “You think nicknames are fun? DO YOU? Because I’ve spent years being called ‘Faggot’. ‘Queer’. ‘Fat-arse’. ‘Pillow biter’. How is that fun? How is that harmless?”

We sat there in stunned silence. This student was always quiet, always pleasant, always respectful and most definitely heterosexual. However, his high-pitched voice, slight stature and lack of chest hair and biceps made him a ‘faggot’.

His subject choices, such as Food Technology, Music, Art and Drama sealed his fate. These aren’t ‘male’ subjects, are they? Just because he chose not to do metal work and timber technology, he clearly wasn’t a ‘man’ in the eyes of some of his peers, and these bullies used this as fuel for their own homophobia.

Even if he was gay- would that make these names OK? Would you be able to justify it? Of course not! It’s bigotry at its finest.

“Surely you’ve had fun nicknames?” I ventured. “From your parents, or in primary school?” He looked straight at me and said, “I was labeled a ‘fag’ in Grade 4. So no: I haven’t had any fun nicknames. My parents call me by my actual name, as do my friends. The only time I get called a name that isn’t actually my own, is when I’m walking across the quad and people call out “hey Brokeback- I just can’t quit you!”

I don’t want to offer him platitudes like ‘Bullies are cowards’ or ‘this will pass’, because it was obvious he had been told this before, and evidently, it hadn’t changed a thing.  I wanted to apologize for what he’d been through, but knew it would sound hollow- what good would an apology from a teacher do, when his persecutors lay in wait? So I listened to him, after class. I let him unload years of hurt. I so badly wanted to hug him- but that’s against the law.

I reported his bullying to the appropriate channels. His fear was that it would make the bullying worse. It was my fear too. He changed schools not long after this. I think of him often, and I hope and pray he has found a place where he feels safe, worthy and comfortable.

So I ask you: what’s in a nickname? I’d always thought of them as a term of endearment, something harmless, fun- even cute. I was wrong.

What nicknames have you been given? Have you ever been called names that hurt?


  • http://kikiandtea.com Tamsin Howse

    Ouch. I’ve had a few nicknames, including some hurtful ones, but not like that.

    I actually find people have no troubles saying my name like it’a an insult. “Taaammmm-sin” I don’t even know how they do it. Kind of like Jerry Seinfeld saying Newman.

    • Maree Talidu

      “They laugh at me because I’m different. I laugh at them because they’re all the same.”

  • http://sonjaouise.wordpress.com SonjaLouise

    So, it would appear that my parents did well in naming me. My name is so confusing that no one ever really bothers to make anything of it.

    I’m not sure you’d call it a nickname, but for a period in year 9 & 10, the most common insult used about me was that I was a ‘frigid sl*t’. It hurt, yes, but I actually found it kind of funny – clearly that had not grasped the understanding of either word. I was also called a ‘fat fugly b*tch’ (ok, that one was creative…and mean), but most of the time I was just ignored. Now that I’m engaged, people have started making jokes re: Mrs Robinson because a) that’s fiancé’s last name and b) i’m older than him. Still no nicknames, though…?

  • Maddi

    Being Maddison I get mostly maddi, which I’m fine with, but I love cooking and lately I’ve been getting kitchen bitch. Mum hates it, but I don’t shave a problem with it because I’m not insulted by it. It depends on who it is and what the nicknamers relationship with them is , I think.

  • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

    I get JJ and Jesse – probably the two least original nick-names ever…

    I’ve been trying to find a new nickname for T (which is also boring and unoriginal) but have so far failed miserably…

    • http://kikiandtea.com Tamsin Howse

      It’s very hard to find a nickname I approve of 😛

  • Me too

    Bullying cannot be controlled and it will never go away. It’s hard to deal with, though. Some people find it so bad they kill themselves. So no, nicknames aren’t just fun, and they’re a lot harder than you think to “just ignore”. If there’s an answer, I don’t know it.

  • Angelo

    I’ve been that kid. That was what school was like for me. i changed schools but it didnt stop. Thank you for showing the other side of a ‘nickname’ because I never had a funny or pleasant one. Just ones that came from a place of ignorance. As an adult, i don’t get treateed that way anymore, but you never forget those words and how they made you feel. It’s still inside me. Good n you for not offering your student ‘platitudes’ and for treating him gently. Empty words from an adult are the last thing a bullied kid needs.

  • http://inburgeringadventure.blogspot.nl/ MissNeriss

    I feel for that kid. I hope his life has improved and he can be happy.

    I’ve had a few nicknames. At uni I was Nags (because of a filthy kitchen rant in our student res) and Nackers/Nackerbags. My family and close friends mostly call me Niss.

    However, I was the fat kid at school (and when I look back at photos I really wasn’t fat. At all. Just bigger than all the other girls) and one of my nicknames was Purple Elephant. Apparently a purple winter coat wasn’t the best choice for me. I had so many fat nicknames as a kid I don’t even remember what they are any more.

  • http://kikiandtea.com Tamsin Howse

    One of my most common nicknames is actually “Mum”. Got it in high school and through TAFE. At TAFE I ran exhibitions, organised people for the field trips and reminded people of things like “Bring sunscreen” (only to always have it in my bag because they forgot).

    My mother in law says it’s because I’m a “natural mother” who doesn’t have children – which I believe is an extremely polite way of saying I tell other people what to do 😉

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