Every time I introduce a new friend or girlfriend to my friend group, I hear the same series of complaints. “You guys have so many inside jokes that I never know what you’re talking about,” “You guys are way too old to be taking shots, and now I think I’m going to die from this hangover,” and the most common, “I have no idea who anyone is because you all have multiple names you call each other.” Now, I don’t know about the first two complaints, but as for the third one, I’m pretty sure that’s how the world works.
Every person in my friend group has, on average, three names they go by. They can go by their first names (very rarely), their last names, or their nicknames. Some are fairly easy, like my buddy John, with just a couple of nicknames (Sassy or Sasshole depending on how much he’s pissing us off). Others, like my friend Thomas, are not so lucky. On any given day, we refer to him as Tommy, Thomash, The Belly, Wafflehouse, Toe Dick, Stone Hands, or Buzz Lightyear. Each of these names has a long-standing back-story, and each can be used in a variety of specific circumstances. So when someone tells me they have no idea what to call my friends, I understand that. But I also understand that if you don’t have a nickname, you don’t have friends.
A friend group that refers to each other only by their first, god-given name is a boring-ass group that I don’t want to be a part of. When greeting my friends, I don’t give them a polite handshake and say, “Great to see you, David. Hope all is well with you and yours.” I’m a lot of things, but I’m not a boner. I hug them, maybe toss in an ass slap, and yell “Big Biiiiiiird. What’s good?” (He earned that nickname in college through a combination of his impressive wingspan on our intramural teams and the fact that he hooked up with a girl that looked like Miss Piggy. The Pledge Master wasn’t very well versed on the relationship dynamics of Sesame Street/The Muppet Show, but he could make a nickname stick like no one else).
Not only does using nicknames transform your group of friends from a bunch of uptight losers to a crew of boisterous, fun-loving people, it also has several other benefits. First, it automatically ratchets any dumb story up a notch. You wouldn’t want to hear a story about Robert throwing a tantrum after losing a video game, but you would want to hear the story about Robby Bobby accidentally knocking himself out with a Wii nunchuck controller. Let’s be honest, most of the “hilarious” stories your group loves to tell are probably not funny for the 99.99 percent of the human race that wasn’t there/drunk at the time. A well-timed nickname will keep the story fresh, or at least diverts it into a better story about how that nickname was received.
Without nicknames, your friends are never going to know when you’re being serious. My friends and I like to joke around a lot, and as such, it’s pretty hard to tell when someone is actually mad about something, and it’s pretty easy to keep giving them shit well after you should have stopped. A nickname eliminates this problem. When a serious situation arises, all you have to do is switch to a person’s real/first name, and suddenly the entire mood changes. If I’m yelling at K-Bone to hurry the fuck up in the bathroom, he may well take longer just to fuck with me. However, if he hears “Kevin. I need you out of the bathroom right now,” he knows that he’s got ten seconds before I need to take my shit that’s brewing. It can also lend a note of sympathy to a serious moment, letting the person know that you understand the severity of the situation and that you’re there for them. I know that seems like a lot to be conveyed in a simple name-change, but it does make a difference.
Finally, a nickname shows your friends care about you. Granted, they’ll probably never say/show it outright, and you’ll probably hate the nickname, but that’s just what friendship feels like. If I don’t start making fun of you or giving you shit after meeting you a few times, it’s safe to say I don’t like you. I might not dislike you, but I definitely don’t feel a friendly enough connection to be mean to you. Nicknames are a step up from that. Someone giving you a nickname means they’ve spent time and, likely, a good amount of effort coming up with something that they know will bring joy (to the rest of your friends. You’ll hate it). A nickname means in an inclusion into the group and a sense of familiarity that shows your bond goes beyond your real name. There are thousands of Mike’s out there, but there is only one Clitman, and he’s my boy. Does he hate that nickname? Yes, with the fire of a thousand suns. But does he know that it means we love him? Hopefully, otherwise I have no idea why he puts up with it.
Take your friend group to the next level and start doling out nicknames. You may have to try a few times before some good ones stick, and you may end up with one you hate, but that’s the way friendship works. You don’t pick your nickname; you earn it. .
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