Imagine it: You’ve thought of the absolute best baby name. The one that goes perfectly with baby’s last name, the one that pays perfect tribute to a beloved relative, the one you’d be proud to yell across a crowded playground (unless your kid is having a tantrum – then you don’t know whose kid that is).
But almost from the time your child is born, it seems like everybody is calling him or her by a different name than the one you spent weeks and months to carefully and lovingly choose. Suddenly your little Victoria has become a Vicky or a Vic or a Tori, or your Dominic has been chopped down to Dom or Nic or Nicky.
Essentially, everyone from family to the most casual of acquaintances are changing your kid’s name. Whether you – or your kid – like it or not. Sounds annoying, right?
This is why, no matter how well a person’s name lends itself to being shortened, you just shouldn’t do it. To cut someone’s name down to a diminutive without permission is just an asshole move, and nobody wants to be an asshole Well, most people anyway.
Shortened names are intimate, reserved for the closest friends and family, and that suggests a level of familiarity that you may not have. It’s like the verbal equivalent of going up to someone you barely know, throwing an arm heavily around their shoulders, and planting a kiss on their cheek. Okay, maybe not that extreme, but you get the message.
Not only that, but a person may not like their name shortened for the exact opposite reason – if the nickname has negative associations. Maybe Elizabeth doesn’t like to be called Liz because her fifth-grade bully used to call her “Liz the Lizard.” Maybe you think Elizabeth just sounds too formal, but guess what? That’s not for you to decide.
This also works in reverse. Some people’s full names are traditional diminutives. This is why you should never presume that an Angie should be called Angela, or Jenny should be Jennifer.
There’s no denying that a Bart is way different than a Bartholomew, an Eddie more laid-back than an Edward, a Ginny more bubbly, but less elegant, than a Virginia. When you shorten someone’s name, it alters the world’s perception of who they are, or gives them an identity of who they aren’t. A person’s name is a critical part of their sense of self.
Even if it you mean no harm, changing someone’s name — no matter how inconsequential it seems at the time — is sending a message that you don’t care how they feel enough to find out what they prefer. You’re just going to call them whatever sounds best to you.
And this should go without saying, but if their name can be shortened to something that’s potentially cringe-worthy like Dick or Willie? Just don’t.
If a person introduces themselves by a certain name, and their email signature reflects that, and it’s embroidered on their freaking work shirt and that’s what their vanity license plate says, then that’s definitely what you should call them. Even if their name is something horrible like Jennatalia and you can’t bear to bring yourself to say something so close to “genitalia.” It’s better to just use no name at all than to call her Jen or Jenna without her permission.
If all else fails, just ask. Even if it’s hard to pronounce, try. If you struggle to say names like Rihanna, Sinéad, and Schwarzenegger, you’ll likely master it eventually. And until you do, don’t shorten it. Keep on trying.
Yeah, it may feel awkward, but it can’t be any worse than secretly being known as that jerk who always calls someone by the wrong name.