One mark of a bully beyond the physical is intimidation of others through direct and veiled belittling. One way that kind of emotional bullying occurs is through the application of invented “Pet Names.” Some refer to pet names as “nicknames” but “pet names” is more appropriate for the intention behind the naming because it conveys ownership and dominion over the named.

A positive or negative pet name instantly re-defines a person by tending them in a place not of their own choosing with a new label that can be used to either help or hinder based solely on the inventor’s intonation and facial expression.

When others begin to use, and document, the pet name instead of the name given at birth by parents, the giver of the pet name is provided even greater power over the newly named. Creating pet names is a brazen play for power few recognize. The one who creates the pet name is demonstrating, in a true Foucauldian sense, that the power to name is an intrinsic, but unspoken, sign of importance and dominance over others:

Power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society.

To wield power in providing pet names for friends, adversaries, and family members, one must innocently claim on the surface it is all done in the name of fun and in a prep school spirit of goodwill while intentionally ignoring the darker selfish merits of the act: “The name by which you are known is not good enough for me so, in order to control you, and to force you to respond to a name that is not your own, I will re-baptize you with an infantilized label that can demean you, and empower me.”

Here are some a few pet names being used today:

FAMILY “Old Man” and “Bushie”

FOREIGN LEADERS

“Pootie-Poot” and “Landslide” and “Dinosaur”

STAFF

“Turd Blossom” and “Big O” and “Hurricane Karen” and “The Blade” and “Big Country” and “Brownie” and “Tree Man”

POLITICIANS

“Big George” and “Freddy Boy” and “Congressman Kickass” and “Pablo” and “Benator” and “Ellis”

JOURNALISTS

“The Cobra” and “Stretch” and “Little Stretch” and “Super Stretch”

OTHERS

“Kenny Boy” and “Weadie”

All those pet names were invented by, and are currently being used by, the President of the United States of America, George W. Bush.

26 Comments

  1. Thanks for the note, Robin. We’ll have to agree to disagree about the intention of pet names even in private relationships. They may appear endearing on the surface but the intention beneath is not endearing and the explanation is found in the rule that people cannot pick their own pet name. 🙂

  2. I wonder if it’s a Washington D.C. thing?
    I had an internship in D.C. in 1991 and was christened with a nickname upon arriving to work at an organization that lobbied federal leaders on issues of concern to urban areas.
    My nickname was a play on my name and a prominent political figure, so it was a good name to have, in my opinion. It was definitely better than being known as just “the intern.” My boss had a nickname, as did others in the office.
    One has to wonder about demeaning nicknames. There’s a difference between being called a cool nickname and a belittling nickname. I’d rather be called “T-bone” or “Killer” than “Fluffy” or “Snowball” any day.

  3. Well Pooky, I once read a book called Botchan by Natsume Soseki (terrific book, I recommend it) and the protagonist made nicknames for all of his peers and it was creepy. Quote from a review on Amazon “He nicknames all of his fellow teachers and superiors: names such as Redshirt, the Clown, and The Badger… Botchan runs into many difficulties with his fellow teachers and students…” People don’t like it for the reasons you mentioned. It’s just a way of asserting control.
    I do use nicknames for my friends etc. on my blogs, but I do it to “protect the innocent”. I think they might not want their real names published. I don’t use them in real life.

    Here is a good photo on flickr that pretty much sums up my feelings about Bush…

  4. Hi Chris!
    Pet names are big in groups like sports teams and as a way to creating unique controlling identifiers in smaller groups you find in colleges and on the street.
    I find “T-bone” just as ridiculous and belittling as “Snowball” — especially when the pet name is the opposite of the person — all nicknames are demeaning in some way to someone by design or the real person’s name would be used from the start.
    What is the intention of calling an overweight guy “Tiny” — it certainly isn’t to compliment him. Sure it may be funny — but who is laughing?
    When you were pet named it was to indoctrinate you in the code of your new office gang. It’s interesting it was given to you. They didn’t ask you to think up your own name. Were you named by a peer or by someone above you in the chain?

  5. Hi suzanne — Thanks for the pointer to that book! There’s a difference between a pseudonym to protect identity and a nickname to control someone. I have no comment on that Bush pic!
    Dave — Now that’s a funny one and I needed a laugh today! It’s raining here and they just said on the news it won’t stop until Friday night. Yuck!

  6. My dad grew up in a small town one county over from where we live now, and he got a nickname of Bud. I’m not sure why; I can’t exactly remember the story behind it. But his family still refers to him as Bud, and if people who grew up there rarely even remember that his real name is Carl. But if you say “Bud,” they’re like, “Oh yeah, Lucy’s boy.”
    Actually, that whole side of the family tends to create nicknames from the mispronounciations of the children. I couldn’t say “Martha” (my dad’s sister) when I was little; I said “Masa.” Well, the name stuck, and I can’t bring myself to call her Martha… or Martha Jean, which is what most people call her. Such a southern thing also — calling people by their first and middle names.

  7. That’s an interesting story, Carla, thanks!
    Last semester I had a graduate student who was born a preemie and her entire family called her “Mini” growing up because she didn’t grow as much as the other children. Now she’s older, incredibly smart, and talented and currently in medical school to become an MD, and she still has to deal with the embarrassment of being called “Mini” in public by her family who know her by her pet name.

  8. Hello Jeff!
    It’s nice to see you back here! To quote Flannery O’Connor from her great short story “Greenleaf,” I thought the plaster might have fell on you. :mrgreen:
    We accept the “Green Gimp” pet name because, as detailed in the main post for today, you are stronger than us, prettier than us, and more powerfuller than us. 😉
    I think we should all start making a list of what we think your wife calls you. 😆

  9. I went to an Ivy League school, and I agree with the sentiments of this post; though I am now wondering if it translates to the names I call my girlfriend — (baby, sweetpea, cutie, sugar, and of course snookums)
    Please help?

  10. Hi Jeff — Ivy League Bully! :mrgreen:
    fruey — I think there’s an attempt to appeal to the “regular guy” in our current President, though some might even go lower and recommend he gets there by projecting a “slacker attitude” and that his disengaged style of leadership most accurately reflects his personal interest in policy and people outside his circle of protection. If you’ve ever done any teaching at you immediately recognize in Bush’s eyes how unprepared he is to give any sort of live answer to any meaningful question. His eyes glaze over and he goes into robotic answer mode where memorization is valued over engaged learning. He’s had an easy life and there isn’t anything “Common Man” about him beneath the political fakery and “aw shucks” veneer. I’ve always wondered how Valdimir Putin, the President of Russia, privately feels about being pet named “Pootie-Poot” by Bush.