Wednesday, October 15, 2008


I have an elaborate, polysyllabic given name that lends itself to nicknames. The nickname I grew up with essentially from birth can be compressed further. So if my given name was "Shortencia Q. Geologist III", I grew up as a "Shorty" and some people call me "Short". I'll answer to Shorty or Short, and as long as I'm not trying to be overly professional (i.e. at a job interview or a pre-bid meeting) I tell people to call me Shorty.

I've noticed that people from a working-class background (whether or not they now have white-collar jobs) will call me Short, while folks from a privileged background (and male supervisors) never call me anything other than Shorty. For comparison, I consider myself to be from a middle to upper middle class background. Drillers always call me Short. There's some interesting sociological interaction going on with nickname selection.

Incidentally, you know how if you use a particular word too much, it starts to look really silly? Yeah.

Anyway, nobody has ever called me Shortencia within about a half hour of interaction, with one exception. I was working in a team with several other scientists, all male, from the deep south. For the entire time we worked together, they would call me nothing except Shortencia. A couple days in, it started to feel really strange, but then I felt sort of silly making a big issue of it at that point. I got the definite sense that they were using my elaborate name as a way to separate themselves from me. They certainly didn't have any problem giving anybody else a nickname.

Before that point, I'd never considered a female scientist to be unusual. Both my parents are scientists, and in college, grad school, and the offices I worked in, there was a roughly equal number of males and females. This was the first time I was made to feel different because I was a female scientist. There was more to this than just how I was addressed (making it clear the use of my given name did not indicate respect), but it was the refusal to use a nickname that really made me feel out of place.


Unknown said...

Interesting observations. I'd like to point out that some of us* tend to refer to people by a longer first name rather than a nickname because we don't comfortable calling people by something other than a formal name unless they've actively declared themselves to a buddy or friend. I personally feel like I'm, well, assuming too much about my status in a relation to another person if I call them by a nickname right off the bat. (Oh, full disclosure warning, I am from the deep south.)

*And by 'some of us' I mean actually mean 'me' and that I am assuming that I am not weird enough to be the only person to do this.

Short Geologist said...

That's an interesting observation and may have been true for this group of people. However, to be the only "not-friend" in a large group of "friends", all of whom work closely together, is a position of profound isolation.

C W Magee said...

The other possibility is that they were trying extra hard to make you feel comfortable by using the exact term you introduced yourself with and, well, oops.

Silver Fox said...

Nicknames are kind of funny things, I think. For the longest time, since childhood, I went by a nickname ending in "y". Sometime along about my 40th birthday, I decided to go by my full name (not a long one). It took a long time for people to come around to this idea - and to many old buddies from before that, I'm still "Blanky" rather than "Blankette". (ha!) And I don't mind that, it reminds me of old times.

My former husband had quite a formal 1st name of three syllables, and never went by a very common shorter version (one which is also a full name). But a few people insisted on calling him the shorter name, as if it made them closer to him - and it always seemed weird to me. Like, call people what they want to be called, not what *you* think is appropriate!

Too bad to have to work in such an isolating environment. :(