Names WILL hurt me

Nicknames can be cool. And, deadly accurate.

I'll never forget the nickname my childhood buddy, Dave, pinned on an older bully. He called the goon Red 'You Need Me. I Don't Need You' Adelhoch. It nailed him to a T. Seinfeld-man-hands-heavyweight-cotton-t-shirt_design

I've been known to coin nicknames for friends and family. I've always called my younger brother 'The Youngster' for example. And, I've given friends such sobriquets as 'The Longshoreman' and 'The Audible Breather'. The first swears like a longshoreman. The second's inhaling and exhaling can be heard for miles. And, then there's 'The Mumbler.' He's a low-talking dentist. (Try answering a question you can't understand while being attacked by a high-powered drill. It's no fun.)

Those nicknames are harmless and kind of funny. But, nicknames aren't amusing when they're used in the workplace and bestowed by a person of power. They're especially hurtful when the power broker is a client.

We once reported to a woman who worked in-house at one of the world's largest and most respected corporations. She coined nicknames for each and every member of our account team. And, she would whisper person A's to person B only when the former wasn't present. Nice, no? I'm not sure what her motivation was, but the team made sure not to play along.

She nicknamed one team member 'Hairy Knuckles.' And, she gave an amply-endowed female a suitably graphic moniker. Ed and I knew she'd also coined nicknames for us, but the team mercifully decided not to share them with us.

We were in a bit of a quandary since our nascent firm was still rather fragile at the time, and the client was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars with us.

It was a classic abuse of power and a great example of how an individual's behavior can adversely impact an entire organization's image and reputation. I know it's continued to color how I think and feel about the corporation.

We eventually found a replacement account and the evil client moved on as well. Today, she's a top honcho with a West Coast PR firm. And, she's probably still coining nasty nicknames for subordinates.

I'm tempted to share a nickname that would suit her perfectly but, instead, will sign off with slightly altered wording for an old aphorism: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names WILL hurt me.”

4 thoughts on “Names WILL hurt me

  1. You’ve hit the nail on the head, Julie. My sentiments exactly. Leo Durocher was right when he said, ‘Nice guys finish last.’ There’s a certain segment of corporate America that rewards poorly behaving executives. And, to think that this happened at one of America’s biggest and best known organizations makes it all the more perplexing.

  2. Wow — that’s even more inappropriate. The CMO sounds like the queen bee in “Mean Girls.” I believe that employees emulate the behavior of their leaders. The bigger question for me is — how do these folks rise to the top of an organization?

  3. Here’s the interesting thing, Julie. This person’s boss knew all about the nickname abuse and actually laughed out loud when they were mentioned. So, who’s worse? The lieutenant who devised the nicknames or the CMO who allowed it in the first place?

  4. People who resort to name-calling are juvenile at best and have serious issues stemming from childhood, I would guess. It reminds me of schoolyard bullies — only they have shifted to the workplace. One would think this reprehensible behavior would have stopped once one reached adulthood (or had some therapy).