NICKNAMES OF ADOLESCENT BOYS

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  • NICKNAMES OF ADOLESCENT BOYSSTEPHEN HABBE, PH.D.

    New York City

    A s PART of a larger study) the writer recently collected the liked and hatednicknames of 96 New York City boys, age 12 to 16. Half of the boys werehard of hearing! and half were of normal hearing. The two groups were recruitedfrom the same public schools and were matched, boy for boy, on items of age,intelligence and socia-economic backgrounds.

    One of several approaches to an understanding of these boys was through anautobiographical form, titled, "A Story of My Life in Ten Parts."3 Each boyfilled out one of these booklets which consisted of ten mimeographed sheets andand which probed into some of the more important adjustments in his life ex-perience. Adequate space was allotted in each of the ten sections for the boy towrite all he cared to on the indicated subject. Thus, each boy prepared his ownpsychological history or case study.

    Part 3 of the autobiography was devoted to nicknames. The following explana-tion and directions appeared in this section:

    Everyone has nicknames. I have some nicknames which I like and some which I hate.These are the nicknames I like for other boys to call me:

    Half-way down on the sheet, the mimeographing continued:These are the nicknames I hate for other boys to call me:

    The mere counting of the nicknames yielded some interesting figures. Nineteenof 96 boys mentioned no liked nicknames. Twenty-three mentioned no hatedones. Eleven boys failed, or were unwilling, to mention at least one nickname,liked or hated. Thus, 85 boys (89% of the population studied) made some re-sponse to this section of the autobiography.

    It is worth noting, parenthetically, that this response seems incredibly good.If the 96 boys had been interviewed individually, it is doubted that a largerpercentage wculd have been willing to divulge nicknames.' The reactions of thepresent group of boys to each of the sections of the autobiography suggest thata technique such as this one may be preferred to other approaches for elicitingcertain items of personal information from young adolescent boys. For the in-terested reader it is explained that the examiner knew none of the boys in thisgroup at the time the testing program was begun. The various forms, includingthe autobiography, were administered to classes of 12 to 18 boys in the cooperat-ing schools. The autobiography was presented as an ordinary paper and pencil

    1 HABBE, STEPHEN. "Personality Adjustments of Adolescent Boys with Impaired Hearing."Bur. of Publications. Teachers College, Columbia Univ. 1936.

    I A boy was adjudged hard of hearing only when the diagnosis of an experienced otologist con-firmed uniform "low" readings by several audiometer tests.

    3 HABBE, STEPHEN. Op Cit. Appendix B. Pp, 80--82., An arbitrary opinion but based on 6 years of clinical experience.

    371

  • 372 THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF ORTHOPSYCHIATRY

    test. Speed was not a factor: the slow-working boy was allowed all the time hedesired to complete his paper. A gratifying amount of spontaneous interest wasevinced by the boys as they worked from section to section through the auto-biographical form.

    A total of 279 liked and hated nicknames were given, an average of about threenicknames per boy for the entire group studied.! The number of liked and hatednicknames was very nearly the same, the figures being 148 and 131, respectively.These data may be interpreted in several ways, viz., that the subjects expressedthemselves freely in this section of the autobiography; that they did not show thereluctance one would expect in divulging hated nicknames; and that the numberof hated nicknames among boys of these ages must, in reality, far exceed thenumber of liked nicknames. The last suggested hypothesis is well worth studying;unfortunately, the present investigation throws little light on it. For the moment,despite the knowledge that he will be branded as exceedingly naive by theanalytic group, the writer is content to think that under favorable circumstancesadolescent boys do feel free to express themselves with considerable candor anddirectness.

    Table I below shows that more boys mentioned an even number of liked andhated nicknames than mentioned a greater number of either kind. The 6 hard-of-hearing boys and the 5 normal-hearing boys who gave no nicknames arecounted in the first column. The totals for the two groups of boys are all butidentical.

    Hard-of-hearing groupControl group

    TABLE IDivision of individual responses

    Even mention More liked names More hated names21 16 II19 19 10

    A second study of the nicknames of the two groups is offered in Tables 11Aand IIB which classify each subject according to the number of names of bothkinds mentioned. As to the actual totals, the hard-of-hearing boys listed 77 likedand 65 hated names, while the control boys listed 71 liked and 66 hated ones.

    TABLE IIALiked nicknames, number mentionedNone One Two More than two

    Hard-of-hearing group 10 17 13 8Control group 9 IS II 13

    Here again the outstanding finding is the similarity of the scores. Treated statis-tically.? none of the contrasting totals shows a reliable difference.

    I An average of 3.28 nicknames for the 85 boys who wrote in at least one name. This finding con-trasts strongly with the opinion offered by Orgel and Tuckman (ORGEL, S. Z., and TUCKMAN, Jacob."Nicknames of Institutional Children," Am. J. of Orthopsych. Vol. 5, NO.3. July 1935), who write:"There are cases where a child has several nicknames, but in these exceptions the nicknames aresynonymous," (p, 277)

    e The probable-error-of-an-observed-frequency formula was used. As given by Karl Holzinger in

  • NICKNAMES OF ADOLESCENT BOYS: HABBE 373

    TABLE IIBHated nicknames, number mentionedNone One Two More than two

    Hard-of-hearing groupControl group

    12II

    2212

    719

    76

    A far more interesting and valuable approach to this subject than the quanti-tative one is that which deals with the actual names listed by the boys. TablesII IA and II IB show the classifications under which these names were groupedas well as the totals for both the hard-of-hearing and the normal-hearing boys.

    TABLE IlIA

    86%322ooII

    Control groupNumber Percent

    28 3917 24

    I II I

    9 136 8

    34 4410 139 126 84 64 6

    89%22-I22I0

    77 total 71 total

    The categories under which the names were classified mayor may not suit thereader's fancy. They were made up by the writer, without reference to any plan,as the nicknames, one by one, were taken from the original papers. Anotherworker, doubtless, would have found other classifications; however, the finalresult could hardly have been different in any fundamental respect."

    Giving first attention to the categories containing the greater frequencies, wefind that an adapted name often formed a popular nickname. Bill for William,

    A classification of liked nicknamesHard-of-hearing group

    Classification Number PercentName, given or surname, adaptedGiven name, other than ownReference to appearanceReference to masculine qualityName of uncertain derivationName, given or surname, unchanged

    Racial or national nameName of a heroReference to physical anomalyReference to physical prowessReference to social statusReference to filial relationshipReference to psychological anomaly

    Statistical Methodsfor Students in Education it is as follows:P.E.f.=.6745Vf(1 -fiN).

    7 Compare, for example, the categories used by Orgel and Tuckman (Op Cil.). They are:(a) No nickname (f) Distortion of name(h) Affectionate form (g) Physical defects(c) Sweetheart's name (h) Personality defects(d) Nationality or place of birth (i) Miscellaneous(e) Name of animal

    The present writer has not seen this study, or any other one dealing with nicknames, at the timehe tabulated his own data.

  • 374 THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF ORTHOPSYCHIATRY

    Mike for Michael, Berry for Berezowski, and Benny for Benowitz were examplesof such names. Occasionally a boy gave his own- name or surname, unchanged,as a nickname. If he considered these names to be nicknames, then they were soregarded by the writer. Ten in 12 times these names were liked. Within the hard-of-hearing group the boys' real names and adaptations of them accounted foran even 50% of all the liked nicknames; within the control group they accounted

    TABLE I1IB

    12 185 8

    24.16

    4 66 9

    77%432202I0I0

    66

    Control groupNumber Percent

    98

    A classification of hated nicknamesHard-of-hearing groupNumber Percent

    17 2614 211.1 2065

    Classi fication

    Name, given or surname, adaptedReference to psychol. anomalyReference to physical anomalyReference to mental statusName of uncertain derivation

    Animal name 2Feminine name IGiven name, other than own IReference to misfortune IName, given or surname, unchanged 2Racial or national name 0Reference to unpleasant odor IReference to historical character IReference to social status 0Comic-strip-character name I

    65

    for 47%. Among the hated nicknames the same categories contributed 29% and18%, respectively, for the two groups.

    Given names of other boys are likewise popular as nicknames. Max likes thename Joe, Herbert the name Sammy, and so on. Probably most boys couldthink of names which they would prefer to their own given names.

    Vanity appeared to be somewhat more prevalent among the hard-of-hearingboys than among the normal-hearing boys. Twelve percent of the liked nick-names given by the impaired-hearing group referred to items considered favor-able in personal appearance whereas only one control boy listed a nicknamewhich was entered under this heading. The reader may evince some surpriseupon learning that some of these names, listed as liked, included Blondie andSquarehead. A possible explanation is that some liked nicknames are simply theleast disliked nicknames.

    Names descriptive of unquestioned masculine qualities naturally appeal toyoung adolescents. Favorite names of this sort within the present populationwere Skipper, Machine-Gun Butch, and Spike.

    Table IIIB shows that nicknames referring to anomalies of physical develop-ment, particularly those based upon unfortunate physiognomical characteristics,

  • NICKNAMES OF ADOLESCENT BOYS: HABBE 375

    formed an important category of hated names. Twenty percent of the namesamong the hard-of-hearing boys and no less than 36% among the control boysfell in this group. The following are examples of those which appeared: Buck-teeth, Baldy, Shrimp, Balloon, and Football Head. It is worth noting that nohard-of-hearing boy mentioned a nickname which in any way referred to hissensory handicap.

    Nicknames based on psychological anomalies were as numerous as those deal-ing with unusual physical characteristics among the hated names given by the48 hearing-loss boys. They appeared, however, much less frequently on the listssubmitted by the normal-hearing boys. The contrasting figures are 21% asagainst 8%. This difference is an interesting one, but it is not significant whenexamined statistically. The reader is cautioned against concluding, for example,that hard-of-hearing boys must exhibit many strange psychological behaviors,that they must be very poorly adjusted as compared with other boys, and thelike. It would be just as reasonable to infer from the same figures that hard-of-hearing boys discuss personal characteristics with great freedom and that thisattitude reflects a wholesome life adjustment. As a matter of fact, the preponder-ance of experimental evidence in the field of study with the deafened suggeststhat they exhibit no unique psychology but, to the contrary, that their reactionsand adjustments are quite similar to those of their normal-hearing peers.

    The following hated nicknames are examples of those grouped under the head-ing, "Reference to psychological anomaly": Show Off, Blubberhead, Shyster,and Eggy.

    The frequencies in the remaining categories of Table 1 I 1 are hardly largeenough to merit special attention, excepting in cases where these small scores inthemselves are significant. For example, it seems remarkable that only 2 (outof 131) hated nicknames referred to racial or national origins. Five such names(out of 148) were liked. The explanation, no doubt, lies in an understanding ofthe composition of a metropolitan community where racial-national mixturesare taken for granted. An Italian boy in a small Middle Western town faces quitedifferent problems of social adjustment from those which confront a boy withthe same background living in New York's heterogeneous Lower East Side.

    Some nicknames such as Jack, Lou Gehrig, and Butch, appeared so favorable,and others such as Jake Girl, Vinegar, and Dope, appeared so unfavorable, thatthe writer was lured into an attempt to predict a degree of adjustment in these"obvious" cases. A measure of adjustment was available for all the boys used inthis study, based upon personality tests, teachers' ratings, and the autobiogra-phy. Without reference to this, the writer picked forty "extreme" cases whichseemed to fall rather clearly into the categories of well adjusted or poorlyadjusted on the basis of nicknames reported. When compared with the criteriaof adjustment just mentioned, it was found that the lists agreed 19 times out of40. Thus, the writer's attempt to gauge adjustment-maladjustment on the basisof knowledge of nicknames alone was about as successful as a chance distribution

  • THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF ORTHOPSYCHIATRY

    would have been. Of course, this experiment does not mean that a knowledge ofnicknames is of no value for an understanding' of adolescent boys. In a givencase, where the nickname or nicknames can be seen in association with otherdata and properly evaluated, such knowledge may prove of considerable impor-tance.

    Sixteen boys capitalized their liked nicknames but wrote their hated nicknamesin small letters. An analysis of the latter reveal that 34 out of 38 such names re-ferred to physical or psychological anomalies. This is additional evidence thatthese two categories are important sources of hated nicknames among adolescentboys.

    The only other experimental study of nicknames to date appeared in thisJournal about two years ago." The present investigation finds its conclusions atvariance with the results of that study at several points.

    Orgel and Tuckman think of the nickname as "a verbal caricature or conden-sation of the outstanding physical, intellectual or personality characteristic ofan individual. ... "9 Our evidence indicates that nicknames most frequently aresimply name-adaptations without significance as caricatures or condensationsof outstanding characteristics of the individual.

    Again these authors write: "With the exception of nicknames of the affection-ate form, the nickname is a source of much unhappiness.l"? Their data do notseem to warrant this drastic conclusion. As to our material, we have shown al-ready that the nickname is more likely to be an innocuous name-shortening oradaptation than an instrument for the mental torture of the individual. Thatit may be used as just such a weapon by boys towards an unacceptable groupmember is readily admitted, but the inference that such...