The crucial nickname etiquette rules. The polite ways to use nicknames and avoid offending others or looking inappropriate.

What nickname etiquette is

Nickname etiquette is the set of rules to properly use someone’s first name. Such rules include:

  • When it is appropriate to use someone’s nickname.
  • How to use your nickname in public.
  • The most common mistakes.

Follow nickname etiquette to properly address people without disrespecting them.

General nickname etiquette principles

Addressing someone by their nickname is very informal and sometimes can imply an acquaintance, friendship, or relation with the person. Thus, some people may be uncomfortable if someone they are not acquainted with addresses them by their nickname. Under some circumstances, the improper use of the nickname can even be perceived as aggressive or offensive.

Nickname etiquette is based on two main principles:

  • Avoid making the other person uncomfortable.
  • Avoid being perceived as abusive.
rules for how to use someone nickname and your nickname

Nickname etiquette rules

1) Wait for permission before using someone’s nickname

It is appropriate to use someone’s nickname only upon receiving permission to do so. Without such permission, you should address others by their first name, last name, or title. Such as “John”, “Professor”, or “Mr. Smith”. Wait for the other person to say “call me Smithy” or a simple “Smithy” if they prefer to be addressed by their nickname.

When you meet someone for the first time, if they introduce themselves by saying their first and last name, you should address them by their last name or title. You can address them using their nickname if they introduce themselves by their nickname alone, or they ask you to do so.

If you are in doubt, try to notice how they refer to themselves. However, at first, it may be best to avoid using any name to address someone that you just met.

2) Use of the nickname with established acquaintances

In general, it is polite to address by nickname only somebody who you are acquainted or have a close relationship with. When there is a significant difference in age or role, such as with seniors or with a former professor, using a nickname risks being very inappropriate.

3) Consider the occasion 

On formal occasions, it is best to always use titles and last names and avoid first names or nicknames. The same applies to formal communication. In general, if you are in a situation where the majority of the people address each other by title or last name, do not address anyone by their nickname. Even if you have a close relationship with them and normally address them by their nickname.

Similarly, on every occasion where the other person has a somehow institutional role, such as a professor or doctor, it is best to address the person by their title.

4) Respect the local nickname etiquette

The use of nicknames can greatly vary by geography and social circle. Before addressing someone by their nickname, observe the local customs. When in doubt, opt for a conservative approach.

5) Use your nickname appropriately

It is not appropriate to introduce yourself by your nickname. Instead, you should introduce yourself by your full name.

If someone introduces you by your nickname, it is polite to explain why you have such nickname. Nevertheless, you should still say your full name. Then, you can give permission to the other person to use your nickname. “My full name is John Smith. But you can call me Smithy”.

6) Do not assign nicknames without consent

Before assigning a nickname or shortened name to someone and using it in public, make sure that the other person is comfortable with that nickname. Otherwise, addressing the person by that nickname is abusive behavior.

Nickname etiquette on specific occasions

Use of nicknames at work or in the office

It is almost never appropriate to use nicknames at work. Nicknames tend to be too informal and can look unprofessional. On some circumstances, it can be acceptable to use shortened names, such as Cathy for Catherine or Oli for Oliver. However, it is best to avoid it, especially when addressing managers or senior coworkers. Never use nicknames or shortened names with customers, vendors, or business partners by their last name.

Use of your nickname without permission

If someone addresses you by your nickname without permission, you should clearly ask them to avoid doing so. Say politely “Please call me John”.

nickname etiquette worst mistakes

Nickname etiquette: the worst mistakes

The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors. 

A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.  

Avoid the worst nickname etiquette mistakes. 

  • 8/10. Using someone’s nickname without permission.
  • 7/10. Not adapting to the local customs.
  • 7/10. Using nicknames at work.
  • 6/10. Using someone’s nickname on an inappropriate occasion.