For a long time, I've been using the word 'nickname' to mean an unofficial name given to a person. However, as time went by, it became evident to me that the English use of 'nickname' seems to imply (but I'm not sure if this is a rigid requirement) that an individual can arbitrarily choose, or, conversely, veto a nickname choice. Thus, it seems to be the case that in the English language, 'nickname' has a meaning closer to 'this is how I call myself unofficially' rather than 'this is how others call me unofficially'.

What words can I use when I need to convey specifically the latter meaning? What word can I use to convey specifically the former one - is 'nickname' strictly used in the former meaning? Finally, what word should I use when I want to encompass both concepts?

  • 2
    I would use the word nickname in all of these circumstances. A nickname can be given or can be chosen (although it may not stick). When talking about a self given nickname, I would be more likely to say: People call me Bee. Instead of: My nickname is Bee. I'd suggest you migrate your post to english.stackexchange.com as you might get a better answer on there. :)
    – Gamora
    Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 11:25

1 Answer 1


It doesn't matter in English where the nickname comes from. The same term is used whether the nickname is chosen by the person or given to them by others. A person doesn't have as much choice about what nickname other people give them. They can refuse to recognize a nickname given by somebody else, but they can't force the other person to stop using it.

An 'epithet' is a descriptive phrase that is applied to person and might come to be a nickname. An epithet is more likely to be given by others than adopted by choice.

A 'pet name' is given by somebody else and usually only used by one person to address another person. It is usually affectionate in nature.

There isn't a special word for a nickname chosen by the person that's different from one given by others. If you wanted to make the point that the person chose their nickname you'd have to describe it by saying, 'her chosen name' or 'the name she goes by' or 'the nickname she uses' or something similar.

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