I have a friend who was recently asked by his employer to use a different name in his workplace. My friend’s nickname is “Tater Log.” But mostly, we just call him “Tater,” “Tater Bug,” or “Sweet Tater Pie.”
Tater’s employer, however, felt this name was unprofessional to use when dealing with high-level clients. He said it sounded, quote, “hillbilly.” (“Hello, ma’am. Your loan officer today is “Sweet Tater Nugget.”)
Sadly, Tater has had to start using his legal name, which is Marian. So you can see why this is so tragic.
When Marian was a boy, we used to give him a hard time about his legal name. He hated the name Marian. Any time the name was invoked, you had to run because in a few seconds a glass object would be hurled in your general direction.
Well, all this got my dander up because forcing someone to change their name is discriminatory. Moreover, it raises important ethical questions:
Such as (1) why, exactly, is “Tater” less fit for the workplace than other names such as, for example, Hubert or Archibald? And (2) what precisely does it mean to get one’s “dander up”?
Furthermore, in this part of the world we have a cherished tradition of nicknames. I don’t know how other regions such as, say, Ohio, approach nicknames, but to us a good nickname expresses lovable personality traits and characteristics. Nicknames are often given by family members and friends. They are terms of endearment.
When I was growing up, for example, I had several nicknames. My initials are S.P.D. So my Little League coach called me “Speedy.” Which I did not care for because “Speedy” is what is known as a “reverse nickname.”
A reverse nickname expresses the opposite of the truth about its titleholder. It’s like calling a big person “Tiny,” a bald person “Curly,” or saying a Congressperson “has strong family values.”
If you would have seen me in a baseball uniform, you would have understood the irony of my nickname. I was a chubby kid and a terrible ball player. During the time it took me to run the bases many of my teammates had already graduated college.
I’ve had other names. My mother gave me the nickname “Biscuit Booty” when I was 3. My uncle used to call me “Skillet Licker.” And my cousin, Ed Lee, used to call me, for no apparent reason, “Husky Jeans.”
My cousin Ralph’s nickname was “Muffin Top.” My cousin Jack’s nickname was “Super Pooper Scooper” because he was always digging in his drawers during class.
My redhead cousin Margarett Ann’s nickname was “Tootie.” I don’t know how she got this name. Perhaps it was because Tootie was redheaded, and redheads were usually stereotyped as, among other things, having hot tempers. Which is expressly untrue. And that is how all her friends lost their front teeth.
Speaking of redheads. I am a redhead. And anyone born with red hair has been called “Red” at some point in life. My grandfather was Red. My father was Red. I was called Red on my first day of kindergarten by my teacher. Of all the names I hate, I dislike Red the most. I would rather be called Super Pooper Scooper.
I have another friend named “Butta.” This happened when his baby brother couldn’t pronounce “Brother,” and so the name Butta just came out.
I have a friend named “Tabby” even though her name is Tammie. My friend Lola is called “Copa Cabana.” And my friend Peter has never been called Peter. We call him, simply, “Tallywhacker.”
Either way, I don’t think it’s fair to make someone change their name simply because it sounds “hillbilly” or “unprofessional.” I think this is unfair. And I think you should write to your congressperson about this issue.
I don’t think it’s American to make someone change their name. Unless, of course, their name is Marian.