When I went to the summer transition program (STP) for my university, I encountered the power of nicknames.
When I first arrived on day one, I was with my mother. Often she would go right to groups of random people and introduce us. As a captive audience to her socializing, at first I thought she was being ridiculous. But people seemed receptive to our introductions. After a few of her ‘introductions’, I had made a couple of ‘friends’ and was set up to go shooting with one of them on the up coming weekend. Not bad.
At first I rationalized the success of her introductions by thinking to myself “It’s introduction day. People don’t think I’m weird because she’s doing the introduction. Any friend I make is through the shared bond of a forced social interaction pushed by a parent.”
Upon further reflection, I realized that what she did made sense. The next day I followed her example. I went up to random groups of people, introduced myself, and got to know the people I met.
I would walk up and introduce myself, “Hi, my name is (blank)”, “What’s your name?” Then I would ask the first person what their major was, why they chose the Institute, and what ROTC they were. Then I would point to a different person, “You! What’s your name.” I took control of the social interactions I entered. For the first two weeks while I did this, I gave people nicknames. Some girl had the same name as my cousin, so I called her ‘Concordette’ a spin on the place she comes from. Another girl’s name was Harper. “I’m going to call you Harper Lee from now on.” One girl had a name I didn’t like because it sounded like a boy’s name, so I called her “Pandora”. “No! Not Pandora. Can’t you come up with anything else?” “Too late”, I smirked.
I gave almost everybody I introduced to myself nicknames, “Top Gun” wanted to be a fighter pilot, “Surf” looked like a surfer hippie, “Scissors” was some guy I borrowed scissors from. People started asking me what I had nicknamed them. “I’ll get back to you.”
I never really had a nickname. The only thing everybody knew was that I had an accent. When asked why I had an accent, I would tell whoever asked me that they, in fact had an accent, with a smile on my face.
I refused to accept any nickname that people would try to come up with for me. Most people accepted that I was “he who must not be nicknamed”. The one girl who did try to give me a nickname ended up with the nickname of “mouth sex”. She never tried to give me a nickname ever again. I maintained my frame the nickname giver, separate from those who could receive nicknames.
At the end of STP, a lot of people knew me. During the school year people would come up to me and say, “Hey man, remember me?” and I would have no idea who they were.
Some people who I got to know later, never personally met me, but heard about me from others.
In conclusion, to me this experience reveals that nicknames give you status above the people you give them too. If you have the status as giver of nicknames, you have status above everyone.