What’s Up With White People And Nicknames?

March 1, 2013  |  

My father’s name is Edward. And if you should meet him, you’re to call him Edward. Not Eddie. Not Ed. Edward. He’s very particular about his name. Growing up his parents and family members referred to him by his middle name; but by the time he got to college and had an opportunity to “reinvent” himself, he insisted that he was no longer to be called DeWayne. He helped his family adjust to this change by simply refusing to answer them until they called him Edward. And it worked…for his family.

As a child, when my parents started allowing me and my sister to answer the phone, people who clearly didn’t know my dad would call, trying to perpetrate as his old college chums. This happens to everyone but we knew these people didn’t know my dad because they would say things like, “Is Ed there?”May I speak to Ed, please?”  No you may not because there’s no Ed here. Most of the time we’d correct them, “Do you mean Edward?” People were often taken aback by the fact those close to him, his family members, referred to him as Edward. One time when someone called with the “Ed talk,” I gave the caller my typical, “Do you mean Edward?” response, and he said smugly, “Yeah, same thing.” Uhh, no it’s really not.  I told him that no Ed lived there and hung up.

But this, I’ve noticed is a thing with white people. Years later as an intern I was assigned the task of making a series of phone calls. And sure enough as my boss was telling me what to say and how to say it, she said “And if you notice that they have a name like William or Richard, you can say Will or Bill so you sound like someone they know.” I liked my boss but I couldn’t do that. Years living under my father’s roof had taught me that everyone doesn’t appreciate being called a nickname they never gave you permission to use.

I’ll never forget the time I saw President Obama called “Barry” in the newspaper. What the hell?! The man’s name is Barack. It’s a strong, African name yet this nationally recognized publication was whitewashing it, calling him Barry. For what?! When I expressed my disgust about the nickname, someone less ignorant told me that he’d been given that nickname very early in his life. Oh.

But he, like my father, decided to go by his formal name once he came back from college, feeling like he needed to connect to something bigger than himself. The name connects him to a history, whether he decides to run down his family tree or not. It demands respect. So yeah, I revert back to my original perturbance about the use of Barry. Why the publication would refer to the president by his first name, I don’t know; but if you must, call him Barack.

The latest person to undergo the nickname treatment is 9 year old Quvenzhané Wallis. During the Oscars’ red carpet, Ryan Seacrest announced that he and his E! coworkers had decided to call Quvenzhané “Little Q.” Oh ok. Did you ask Quvenzhané if she was cool with that? She’s a very outspoken little girl, I’m sure she would have been able to tell you if she approved or not.

And that’s the problem with these despicable nicknames, rarely is permission requested. They’re not given because the person has gotten to know the other and feel a pet name more appropriately suits his or her personality. The names are given because the person’s formal name, the names the parents decided upon, most times, before they were birthed into the world are “too hard to say.” Which is really a nice way of saying too “non-white” to be bothered with.  I don’t recall anybody coming up with a nickname for Arnold Schwarzenegger. We just learned to say his name. And it’s no more difficult than Quvenzhané. It’s just more European. Really, this nickname thing is just lazy and further perpetuates the “ignorant” American stereotype. We know the least about other countries and cultures because it’s hard to learn about other countries when you’re determined to call Ting Feng “Lisa.” If you won’t even attempt to pronounce her name, why would she feel comfortable sharing her culture with you? Americans just don’t care. When white folks hear those foreign sounds and their brain just shuts down temporarily and only reboots as it searches for a more appropriate, more westernized moniker. It’s not cool. So, white people, black people with white friends, or black people who’ve adopted the habit of giving out unapproved nicknames. Cut it out. These nicknames are more than just annoying they represent a lazy, insensitive culture and we have to do better.

Trending on MadameNoire

View Comments
Comment Disclaimer: Comments that contain profane or derogatory language, video links or exceed 200 words will require approval by a moderator before appearing in the comment section. XOXO-MN
  • Tsuki R.

    I’m sorry but this whole article just seems like one huge racial slander against “white people” as she so eloquently put it. Nicknames are used all over the world, not just within the Caucasian community.
    As for the nickname for Barak Obama, I seem to remember during the election season in 2008 that his own wife Michelle called him “Barry” so, dear writer of this “fine” article, before you start calling people ignorant for going with his wife and calling him by his nickname, do some research. It will save you a load of embarrassment in the future.
    I don’t know about anyone else but I am just so tired of all this racial crap. The ONLY reason it’s a problem still is because the true ignorant people out there keep bringing it up and giving it fodder even though ever single person I know has nothing negative to say about any race really.
    As an Asian American I have heard my fare share of racial comments, including my absolute favorite that all Asians can’t drive, and it’s just really annoying.
    People like this writer need to stop using news and other media outlets to feed into this racial crap that never seems to go away.

  • Guest

    You sir are among the dumbest of fucks. In fact from now on your nickname is Dumbfuck. Why? Because all races use nicknames.

  • Pingback: Some times you just need to Shut the BLEEP UP! | perfectomy()

  • getoveryourself

    Quaven…….. i don’t need to go there, stop trying to make a fashion, racial, or any kind of statement with your childs name. You look and sound like an idiot. The only one that is hurt by it is the child.

  • getoveryourself

    It is not a color thing, it is an inferiority complex or a jealousy complex because i work in a multicultural environment and it’s always the same thing……black, white, all races have “nick names”. And actually i never noticed it until now, i’m sorry, it was never brought to my attention until now. Your magazine must be VERY hard up. If you want something to be appalled and make a statement about, figure out how to keep racial veiws and words like “WHACK ” out of your magazine, if you pretend to call it that.

  • xxdiscoxxheaven

    God! This site does nothing but race-bait!! I have had various nicknames given to me my entire life and my name is just Ashley!! This is crazy. Nicknaming doesn’t have anything to do with race. My cousins MeMe, JJ, and Tara (short for shatara) would disagree!

  • MrsBamford

    I have given all my four girls a nickname, one was nicknamed prior to birth! I completely feel giving another persons child a nickname simply because you would prefer to not say her actual name is downright rude! Not a race thing, but I do believe white people, some of not all of us, aren’t completely used to the uniqueness of ethnic names. At the same time, my second oldest, Malia, is always having to correct people on pronouncing her name. I figured once we had a Malia as a first daughter, it would stop, nope. Its simple laziness!!

  • ElleGee

    I’m Black and I’ve been referred to by my nickname my entire life. The only people that call me by my first name are strangers, but even they eventually start using my nickname.

  • Britt

    This article made good points and the comments section has good points as well. I remember seeing a tweet on Oscar night about a reporter from the Associated Press interviewing Quvenzhane Wallis, and the reporter said that she was just going to call Quvenzhane “Annie” ( I guess because Quvenzhane is going to star in the movie “Annie.”) Quvenzhane corrected her and said, “No, my name is Quvenzhane.” In this situation, I’m guessing the reporter just thought it were easier to call Quvenzhane the name Annie.

    SN: In my family, most of us have nicknames and are called by our middle names sometimes.

  • chanela

    black folks give nicknames all the time!! tee tee,nene,taytay,kiki,light brite.lol

  • Joules

    My mother gave my sister and I names that both start with “Ang-“. Luckily for me, she got, and liked, the nickname “Angie”. I hate being called by nicknames and have told people, on more than one occassion, that they can call me by my full first name, my last name or they can make up a third name, not related to either, and call me that. When they ask why I just point out that my sister got the good nickname and they feel sheepish, as they should, instead of angry.

  • Miai

    Barack is actually HEBREW


    So then I guess this site …and the sister site (BLAWSIP) are going to STOP IMMEDIATELY with media-created nicknames like: YEEZY…WEEZY…DRIZZY…BREEZY…KIMYE…& KHLOMAR…right? Did’nt think so.

    • miemie

      don’t forget KIMMYCAKES! that site Bossip is full of ish

  • Dichu eba realy lub mehSteebie

    Is it that deep tho?

  • Lana

    Did you all read the article until the end? The writer said: “So, white people, black people with white friends, or black people who’ve adopted the habit of giving out unapproved nicknames. Cut it out.”

    People give me nicknames all the time and I hate it. I get that my name is unusual but it’s not difficult to say. Some people just like to give nicknames because they want you to have a name they’re familiar with, just like the writer stated. There’s a Chinese girl in my class who gave herself a more european name just because others don’t want to make the effort to say her real name. Of course, hearing people butcher your name can be very annoying but for me, changing it means you’re ashamed of it.

  • Raynell

    Is this article for real?! Girl (or dude) please! come down to earth! I give people nicknames all the time, especially celebrities and public figures and I’m black! It’s not out of disrespect but rather out of endearment, it’s my way of saying I like you. My nicknames for President Obama and First Lady Michelle are “Bam and Chelle”! I think it gives them round the way flare! Lol But seriouly if I met them in person I would address them as “Mr. President and First Lady”. I have always been a firm believer in taking the time to learn a person’s and the proper pronouciation of said name, because it truly is a sign of respect towards the individual. However, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with nicknames unless the person requests not to be called by such. Oh, I must ask where do u get the idea that nicknames are a white thing! Do you how many black children have grown up not knowing their real names until the first day of kindergarten! The family has been calling the child “Pokey” “Junebug” or “Boo Boo” since the day he was born, and when the teacher calls out “Calvin Roberts, Jr.” he ‘s looking around like everybody else wondering who is she talking to because he doesn’t that his name is Calvin and not “Boo Boo”! Naw, you can’t give white folks the nickname charge! Sorry!

  • Pamela Tyus

    I so agree! My name is Pamela, but they want to call me “Pam”. And when I politely correct them, they get mad at me! It’s my name….how you gonna change MY name??

  • gabrielle

    Okay, white people are the ONLY kind to make nicknames huh?? I’m so tired of this color thing. No, that’s not accurate. PEOPLE CREATE NICKNAMES NOT CERTAIN PEOPLE OF COLOR. GTFOH.

  • Rochelle89

    This kinda reads like a filler article. I think that nicknames and the informality in general is in some ways an uniquely American experience. It has nothing to do with white people whitewashing “our” names and thusly “our” culture…what about…Dayday, Lil whatever, T-Dawg, you get my point. It is part of the American experience and a lot of people have them.

  • JaneJane

    I make up names for the kids at my school all the time…actually do not know some of their real names (hundreds of kids to remember). One I call kissing bandit because I caught her kissing a boy. But I’m black! #ohnoidentitycrisis

  • Kenedy

    This is such a non-issue, like there’s more important stuff to talk about

  • Well I never notice and I’m pretty sure that they do it to everyone, not just us. I’m sure we have done things like this too. My supervisor called me Angie although no one else at work called me by that name, only my family and friends call me that. It didn’t really bother me it just made me feel like she feels that she know me enough to call me Angie. I don’t see anything to be offended about.

  • Shine

    Ummm, Barry was his nickname, that his FAMILY called him. As a “writer” I would expect this person to know that….

  • IllyPhilly

    Well they could have called them Toby.

    • Chey


  • SMHgurl24

    If you dont want to be called by a nickname then say so.. Its not a “white folk” thing like this uneducated idiot says lots of people give others nicknames. Again if you have a problem with it then address it upfront..

  • Trisha_B

    I recall visiting MN & other black sites where the commenters would make fun of Chris Brown ex girlfriend name b/c they couldnt pronounce it or spell it since it was a traditional asian name. Today i saw a comment from someone on your sister site that posted a comment on Jillian Micheals adopted daughter. She has a haitian name, Lukensia. They said it sounded like some type of disease. So its not only white people who are ignorant to names outside of their culture that they can’t pronounce

    • Chey

      say it!

  • sabrina

    Well, on the E! Special about the Oscars, they also nicknamed Jennifer Lawrence as J. Law, and continued to call her that throughout the show. White people are included in being nicknamed too.

    • Kahekili

      Giving someone a nickname out of love is not the same as giving someone a nickname because you can pronounce their given name.

      • sabrina

        To add to my argument, it seems like Ryan Seacrest, at least, is no stranger to giving people nicknames — did Ryan Seacrest come out and say “Hey, I can’t pronounce Quvhenzhane, so we’re just gonna call her Lil Q”? If he was giving J.Law a nickname out of love, is it really that far fetched that the same could possibly be the case for Quvhenzhane too? Or is that impossible because she’s black and has a unique name? #justsaying

        But you made a valid point. True, true!

        • Kahekili

          Quvenzhané had to correct a reporter who stated that she was just going to call her ‘Annie’.