It’s very tempting to give a child a nickname, especially when an infant is starting to show some personality traits. Some nicknames are shortened forms of a proper name such as ‘Joe’ for Joseph. Other nicknames may be given in affection or according to the child’s character
However, some babies’ nicknames are inappropriate and can border on cruelty. I can clearly remember my nickname as a 4-year-old boy. I was called Blackie because I had the darkest skin complexion among the kids in the extended family of 100% dark-skinned people. Although my parents never called me Blackie the nickname stuck for some time. I was too young to understand why.
I come from a background where children’s nicknames maybe given according to the child’s physical appearance. I’ve heard babies being given mean nicknames like: Big Nose, Big Ears, Little Head, Bones (nickname for a skinny child), Yokozuna (given to an overweight child being compared to a Japanese sumo wrestler).
I recall visiting a new mother in hospital with some of the women in my family: “What a beautiful child,” they said gazing adoringly at the newborn
. I was shocked a few minutes later as we drove back home when the same women were talking among themselves saying: “What an ugly baby! She looks just like her father.” I was surprised to hear these women, who were also mothers, cruelly referring to the newborn as “The ugly one’. Of course, ‘The Ugly One’ grew up to become a very beautiful young woman.
A nickname for life
Elsewhere some parents have given their children not-so-kind nicknames such as Knuckle Head, Monkey, Stinky and Sissy. The problem with some of these nicknames is that they can follow the child to school, when friends or siblings refer to the child by their nickname. If the nickname is a bad one it’s easy for the child to feel bullied at school.
Sometimes childhood nicknames can stick for a very long time. I know a family member whom we stopped calling by his childhood nickname only when he got married.
What is the effect inappropriate nickname on the child’s emotional self
? I can only speak for myself. Because of some of the nicknames I got as a child such as “Big Head’ and ‘Large Eyes’ my young mind got one message—you are ugly. Later in my mid-teens when girls would come at me and say “You’re such a hunk.” I honestly thought they were laughing at me. It took me years to gain my self confidence and view myself just as an ordinary guy.
I think before a parent gives a child a nickname the following questions should be asked:
- Is this nickname appropriate and does it show that I love and respect my child?
- Will it subject the child to bullying by other kids?
- Does the nickname have negative connotations which can have an adverse effect on the child?
- How does the parent feel when third parties use the nickname?
- Does the nickname embarrass the child or border on verbal abuse?
If in doubt it might be best to refer to the child by his or her real name.Did you have a negative nickname, or do you know someone else who suffered with one? Why not share your thoughts below.
Read more by Sipho Yanano
Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.