In all my years of working in the staffing industry, the impact of something so seemingly simple as a nickname never slapped me across the face so hard as when I glanced at the ‘nickname’ box on the application of an otherwise unassuming, skinny, barely-out-of-high-school kid sitting across my desk at a job fair.
I glanced at the nickname again, then looked at him. I couldn’t help but wonder: if his parents (horror of horrors) gave him the nickname, what horrible thing did he do to earn it? Or was this a name his friends gave him in middle school for – what – dissecting a scorpion? Beating up some poor hapless kid in a particularly… scorpion-like way? Getting bitten by a scorpion? (Does this area even have scorpions?) Maybe he “earned” the name playing online video games. Maybe he’s some kind of superhero. Maybe he’s older than he looks and earned the nickname while serving time. (My quick search for ‘prison tats’ I may or may not have seen on MSNBC’s Lockup ended on a fairly positive note. The butterfly on his shoulder seemed benign.)
Instead of plunging into the interview, my mind kept wandering. I imagined some related movie-based nicknames he could have used – The Scorpion King (images of this skinny dude replacing “The Rock” almost made me chuckle), Lord of the Scorpions, The Dark Scorpion. I finally settled on The Scorpion’s Apprentice. Given his age and lack of work experience, Mickey Mouse as apprentice seemed fitting.
Regardless, one thing was patently clear – I wasn’t about to call him by his nickname.
Not now, not ever.
During the slightly awkward interview, I called him by his given name a couple of times, but generally avoided that as well. He turned out to be a pretty decent dude, possibly even somebody we could use for the right job, yet I couldn’t help but wonder about the power of a nickname. A quick, cursory office survey revealed several other funny ones we’ve had here at AtWork…
Goober, Possum (hey, it’s the South!), Tinker, Cotton (again, the South), Calf, Butter, Cannon, Donald Duck, Cowboy (not a bad nickname, but this guy made it clear to us that he didn’t go by his given name), Raging Wolf, Pimpin’ Sugar Daddy (OK, that one isn’t real but it’d be funny if it were).
It’s one thing when friends or family members use your nickname. I mean, my wife calls me “Honey” and sometimes even “Sweetie Pie,” but I don’t put those on my LinkedIn profile. Is someone who blatantly puts “Scorpion” on his job application ostensibly expecting us to call him that? (Hey, we did ask, right?!) Should we choose him over a candidate with similar experience but no odd nickname?