The Dad’s Guide to Nicknaming

  by Erik Wolgemuth

“Gyro, Flaps, and Santee…”

I was listening spellbound to a story about F-16 pilots and training missions for night landings on aircraft carriers when the retired admiral who was regaling us began to reminisce about nicknames. Though it’d been decades since he’d served with these men, their call signs required no effort to recall. There was a story for each, and there was immediate warmth, joy and camaraderie conveyed simply in remembering the nicknames of his fellow pilots.

I’ve loved nicknames for as long as I can remember. Whether they were mine, my kids’ or my favorite athletes as a kid (who can forget the glory days of the Chicago Bears with Sweetness and The Fridge?!), but listening to an admiral’s stories helped me grasp their significance and made me reflect on exactly why I loved them so much. What follows is the dadcraft guide to nicknames – how to find them, when to use them, and when you know you’ve landed on a winner.

1. Nicknames can come from anywhere.

There might be a singular moment in life where a nickname is born and lasts a lifetime. Other times a nickname can be planned and carefully constructed. The right nickname can come from a character trait, a pop culture reference corresponding to a child’s name, a favorite toy/activity/book, a word that rhymes with a first name, an older sibling’s attempt at pronouncing a first name, etc. We call our youngest “Chuck” quite simply because at the wise old age of 17, I determined it’d be a hoot to have a son called Chuck. (Little did I know…)

Don’t worry if it takes a couple of false starts before landing on just the right moniker. There is no exact process for identifying the right nickname, and you can discover it innumerable ways. The winning nickname will stick, it’ll appear in conversation naturally and – most significantly – you’ll see it bring joy to your child.

2. Nicknames can be fun, but they can’t be demeaning.

Here we likely depart quite a ways from some of the nicknames that arose in college dormitories where a good number of us (guilty) had a fair bit of maturing to do. Your child’s nickname shouldn’t have a shred of embarrassment associated with it.

3. Nicknames mean something.

If I were to call my daughter “Peach”, it doesn’t mean she’s fuzzy, bruises easily or has an orange-ish complexion. No, the dadcrafted nickname means something more significant. The best nicknames convey loads of significance in just a word or two. Your child won’t grasp this fully right off the bat, but as they grow you’ll want them to know the love, safety, affirmation and connection that’s contained in their nickname.

4. Nicknames can have varying frequencies of use.

Don’t worry about using it all the time. You might…or you might not. A dynamite nickname doesn’t equate to one that’s always used in place of your child’s name. It’s significant because of what it means, not because of how often it’s used.

5. Nicknames are used at the right times.

Out of control tantrum. Heated moment of correction. Dealing with the consequences of a mistake. All (and many others) are moments when using a nickname likely isn’t a good call. Remember, nicknames convey more than just a word or two to your child…and they have the potential to carry love and affirmation or disappointment and frustration. Guard the nickname, you won’t regret using it at the best moments – in celebration, providing comfort, and even in the remarkably significant and ordinary moments of everyday life.

The “official” naming process for your child is often a journey marked by mind-numbing baby name books that simply feel like a repackaged dictionary. With a nickname there’s much less in the way of pressure, expectations and regrettable spousal disagreements. Enjoy the process land on the right name and use it well.


Nicknames can arise from a shared activity – say, a Kung Fu Night or some dad-led foraging.

Picture courtesy of Mark Heath.