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A Rose by Any Other Name

I remember growing up jealous of people who went by nicknames. It seemed like it was a way you could still keep your parents happy (they got to name you after all) and yet carve out a little personal identity for yourself. My girlfriend was named Melissa but you called her Missy; Pamela was Pam, Katherine was Kathy, and the boy next door named Juan Ismael Rolando was called Pepino. Go figure.

My sisters and I had short names that did not lend to shortening further with a nickname. Although we fantasized about having other names altogether. We practiced with our Barbie dolls. Mine was always named Joanna. Sometimes when mom got really mad we were called by our first, middle and last names at once; that’s when you knew you were in for it. Occasionally I’d experiment with calling myself by my middle name and see if it would catch on. No dice.

I envied the guys with names so long, they had serious options. Leonardo. Leonard. Leo. Lenny. Len. What about all of my Hispanic friends? They had so many names to choose from! Sometimes even Maria Yolanda Leticia Mendez Rodriguez couldn’t tell me which ones were middles and which ones were last names.

My girlfriends came to the rescue. I made the mistake of whining out loud about it once and was instantly granted two nicknames for whenever I was feeling un-special.

Jolie Frijole. And also, Jolie Guacamole. Oh yeah. That’s special, all right.

Fast forward to naming my own children and I realize I deliberately chose names that would not be nicknamed! I distinctly recall feeling horrified that if I named my son James, he would instantly be called Jim by the world and there was no way to stop them. I love the name James. I can’t stand the name Jim. No offense to all you Jims out there, but if I name a kid James, then James it has to be. The one son I went out on a limb with lets himself be called by both his birth name and a nickname interchangeably and doesn’t seem to have a preference.

Deciding on which name to use on forms is always a question. Too many name options can get confusing fast and the last thing you want to do to your teacher, the IRS or immigration (but perhaps not the police?) is confuse them. Is your nickname an alias? Maybe a nom de plume? Do you have different groups of friends that call you different names, depending on who you’re with?

This was a fun idea as a kid. Sounds exhausting from an adult point of view.

I was Jolie before Angelina Jolie was. I have to give credit where credit is due. Once she became a household name, the barista at Starbucks began spelling my name correctly. Even more times than she could spell Joanna.

Why not just tell them your name is Nachooooooooooo…. and be done with it?

Published inFun & Games


  1. Edwin D Thompson Edwin D Thompson

    Who the heck is Nick? Does our given name say something about us? And or does our Nickname describe us? Or do we really have a choice? Or do we want one??

  2. Pattie Wolfe Pattie Wolfe

    Hey Jolie!
    Not one to really feel like anyone needs my two cents but this story I can relate to. I have two older sisters. One was named Deborah and we have only ever called her Debbie and the other was named Rebecca. We have called her Becky all her life. When I came around I have always wondered if my mom named me Pattie because she knew if she named me Patricia it would be shortened anyway!

    • Everyone’s two cents counts! I would love to get rich in feedback!
      Yes, I do believe at some point we mothers just skip to the end with things. Very efficient and all.

  3. Kiki Kiki

    I was named Catherine so that my parents could call me Kati. Old times when only formal names could be baptized. When I was born, my sister called me Kiki and my parents never got the Kati they wanted….until my Kati was born. I purposely called her Kati so that no nickname could be used. Thanks for this article. I loved reading it.

  4. Karen Linzey. Karen Linzey.

    I always thought Jolie was such a pretty name. And you could go with Jo lie'<accent on the lee. ps Some of my grandsons call their niece Elizabeth : 'Lizard Breath'. All in love of course. 🙂

    • Oh dear. I’m afraid “Melissa” became “My Lizard” for a spell. With great respect, of course, yet always accompanied with a cheeky face. Everyone should feel special you know. 😉

  5. Pat Tunnell Pat Tunnell

    Hi Jolie, I have a granddaughter named Leah and she is often referred to by her dad and uncles as Leah tortilla. As always love your writing.

  6. Working as a midwife all my colleagues called me Joanna and my name tag said Joanna, however I introduced myself as Jo to the women and their family’s. The nickname as my given name gave me instant rapport with the women I looked after- it put them in the station as “friend” not “associate or acquaintance”. Nicknames are powerful things!

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