Wednesday, January 11, 2006

What's in a Name?

Nicknames are powerful things.

They can be used as cudgels by bullies. For example, one friend in high school had the unfortunate nickname of "Porky". Everyone called him by that awful name, and over time he even gladly answered by it.

My oldest son played college baseball and in his freshman year was nicknamed, well... let's just say it was a less-than-complimentary term for "eccentric". Funny thing was that he was given the nickname by the most eccentric player on the team. Of course, that didn't mean my son's nickname didn't fit. Or to put it with fewer double-negatives: The nickname was spot-on accurate. When my mother heard about the nickname, she gasped and then chuckled to herself, "it wouldn't be so bad if someone else was nicknamed 'shit-for-brains'." As the season developed, we all got used to it. The following year my son edited his own nickname to make it something of a Simpsons reference. By his senior year, his nickname had transmogrified into something bearing very little resemblance to the original, which it occurs to me is something "Porky" might have attempted had the thought ever popped into his pudgy little brain.

I have a client who is very disagreeable. He erroneously thinks he knows more about practically everything than I do -- including the architecture biz. He whines and complains about everything, he needs constant hand-holding, and he has masterful bullying tendencies. His first reaction to bad news, of which there has unfortunately been plenty, is anger. And I don't mean pouting and blaming and getting pissy. Nope, this guy is a hothead. He curses. He threatens. If we were face to face, he would probably slug me. I know this because he has told me so. I only call him or email him with bad news. Did I say he curses? And the one time I cursed back -- yes, I did -- he immediately grabbed the moral high ground for the next month.

Nevertheless, I've worked very hard for him. But he has been woefully unappreciative. When I try telling my family about his antics, I can barely extend the basic human courtesy of referring to him by name. So I resort, instead, to a nickname. My family now knows him as "The A**hole". Again, my mother was a bit taken aback by my bold use of profanity, so she began referring to him as "The A.H." Since I am a professional, I of course saw the wisdom in this, so I now call him "The A.H." myself... except when in private conversation with my wife. Since she knows what I have been through with this client, she wholeheartedly accepts the fully extended and articulated (and well-deserved) nickname. Unfortunately she sympathizes with him as well, knowing the challenges and heartache he has had to endure. And that drives me nuts.

Is it possible for someone to be too nice? I think so because my wife is a [naive] angel.


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