I have a name that English L1 speakers find hard to pronounce.* One of the first questions I get whenever introducing myself to one, is ‘Can I call you […]?’ After years in the university sector I have come to know many people from many different countries, but on no occasion has that question come from English L2 (L3, L4 …) speakers. As an aside, I remember Jeremy Clarkson joking about his own experience in the US, how they insisted on Jim or something similar because his name had ‘too many syllables’ for the Americans.

Nicknames and abbreviated names are of course not unique to English; in my own native tongue I know many who were known exclusively by their nickname our initials. But the insistence on requesting a different name than the one provided, is something I myself have only experienced with English L1 speakers.

Question and subquestion

Why is there (seemingly, alleged, &c) a proclivity for English L1 speakers to request using an abbreviated name over the one given them? Which differences or similarities in this have been found between IE languages? Are there any meaningful differences in this between the major L1 English variants (British, American, Canadian, Australian, Indian?)? Or is this simply a cultural thing, not related to language at all?†‡



* If relevant, I am a white European culturally and linguistically.

† Though it is worthwhile stressing (as mentioned) that at least in my experience, none of the many other nationalities I have met (e.g. Czech, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Korean, Russian, Slovak) have requested this.

‡ If I by accident insulted someone by asking this question the way I did, I apologise in advance and kindly ask for constructive criticism on how to rephrase the question.

Relevant questions

  • 1
    @phoog, nicknames indeed exist in many cultures/languages, but they are usually reserved for use among family members, friends, and long-term colleagues. What the OP has observed is the phenomenon of somebody one has just been introduced to asking for, and apparently regarding it as OK to use, one's nickname right from the beginning of the interaction, even when one has not offered it oneself.
    – jsw29
    Oct 28 at 15:55
  • 1
    @jsw29 but former nicknames often become formal names, Hans and Jan being examples. If the use of nicknames in the public sphere has become more common, which I suppose it has, it's probably attributable to varying degrees of change in different cultures more than any linguistic phenomenon. Calling someone "Mike" who has introduced himself as "Michael" has always struck me as a particularly annoying habit of my American compatriots, not a broady English-language phenomenon, but maybe that's because I've never lived in other English-speaking places than the US.
    – phoog
    Oct 28 at 16:41
  • 3
    The full answer to this likely depends on what exactly your name is and where you are in the English-speaking world. I think this is entirely a cultural thing, not something specific to English as a language.
    – alphabet
    Oct 28 at 17:12
  • 1
    @alphabet, why do you think that the answer depends on what exactly the OP's name is? The OP is not asking why he gets this reaction to his name, but why native English speakers react in this way to such names. Or do you think that the reaction is somehow unique to his name, and that he is simply mistaken in believing that the bearers of other difficult-to-pronounce names get the same reaction?
    – jsw29
    Oct 28 at 21:54
  • 1
    @phoog, yes it can be argued that this is more a cultural than a purely linguistic phenomenon, and the OP anticipates that possibility; if one believes that this is so, one can make it a part of one's answer. On the other hand, it can also be argued that the language and the culture that surrounds its use cannot really be separated when it comes to questions like this.
    – jsw29
    Oct 28 at 22:02


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