I was teaching the topic''what's in our name?'' to the monk students of Chokyi Gyatsho Institute at Dewathang, East Bhutan. One of the interesting words that we have discussed was ''a nickname''. What is a nickname? A simple answer is a name given to a person to substitute an actual given name.
Who gives those names? Many a times our friends give those names. Why?
So, what is the big deal? Well, nicknames are a most commonly used form of identity next to our given names in many social settings. Be it in the school, college, institute or office, we have gotten a nick name. Certainly, I have one, and presumably, you are not excluded.
A nickname undoubtedly has many implications to a person and is subject to change depending on place and environment. My friends in college call me ‘’Naku’’ as my complexion is dark. In middle secondary school, one of my teachers call me ‘’Dagap’’ as I am originally from Dagana, a district in South Central Bhutan. I have a friend in high school who is known as ‘’Khenpo’’ (a master in Buddhist philosophy) because he likes to share and talk about Buddhist ideas and philosophies, and a friend known as ‘’Kuchu’’ (bulged forehead) are some of the names associated with individuals who manifest personality, habit, an appearance and cultural environment.
There are situations in which a person would be recognized easily by a nickname rather than by his orher real name. I still remember how I could not answer one of the visitors who asked me the name of one of the lecturers in the college. I knew him by his nickname but not his real name. It is quite interesting how nicknaming culture has evolved and influenced us.
I asked a question to the students in class if they have any nicknames. Certainly the response was a loud yes! All the students have at least one. I was curious and asked them to share it. A boy at a corner said I am a “Zala” (monkey), next a “Solo” (chilli), then ''Nado'' (dark appearance), a “Khengpa”(belonging to one of the communities in East Bhutan), a “laughing Buddha” (a boy who keeps on smiling), a “Yedpa” (a boy who belongs to yak herders in Singye Dzong, Lhuentse, East Bhutan), a “Phagpa” (a pig, because of his body size), a “Manchereatoka” (Mancherea is a place name in Dewathang and toka means an oxen) and so on.
The origin of those names show a strong relationship with their physical appearances, personalities, habits, likes and dislikes, cultures, and social backgrounds. Knowing and learning those names are worthy particularly for educators, because it gives some information about their personalities and their identities.
Calling someone by a nickname has charm and humor in its own way, and it expresses personal understanding of a person. Nicknames have a sense of identities, and these identities often reflect our cultural backgrounds and belief systems of the place where one is born. There are different ways of nicknaming with their own significance to the name given.