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A nickname is a substitute for the proper name of a familiar person, place or thing. Commonly used to express affection, it is a form of endearment and amusement. In rarer cases, it can also used to express defamation of character, particularly by school bullies. As a concept, it is distinct from both pseudonym and stage name, and also from a title (for example, City of Fountains), although there may be overlap in these concepts. A hypocoristic is a nickname of affection between those in love or with a close emotional bond. "Moniker" is a synonym.
The compound word ekename, literally meaning "additional name", was attested as early as 1303. This word was derived from the Old English phrase eaca "an increase", related to eacian "to increase". By the 15th century, the misdivision of the syllables of the phrase "an ekename" led to its rephrasing as "a nekename". Though the spelling has changed, the pronunciation and meaning of the word have remained relatively stable ever since.
English nicknames are generally represented in quotes between the bearer's first and last names (e.g., Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower, Daniel Lamont "Bubba" Franks, etc.). However, it is also common for the nickname to be identified after a comma following the full real name or later in the body of the text, such as in an obituary (e.g., Frankie Frisch, "The Fordham Flash"). The middle name is generally eliminated (if there is one), especially in speech. Like English, German uses (German-style) quotation marks between the first and last names (e.g., Andreas Nikolaus ,,Niki" Lauda). Other languages may use other conventions; for example, Italian writes the nickname after the full name followed by detto 'called' (e.g., Salvatore Schillaci detto Totò), in Spanish the nickname is written in formal contexts at the end in quotes following alias (e.g. Alfonso Tostado, alias «el Abulense»), and Slovenian represents nicknames after a dash or hyphen (e.g., Franc Rozman - Stane). The latter may cause confusion because it resembles an English convention sometimes used for married and maiden names.
In Viking societies, many people had heiti, viðrnefni, or kenningarnöfn (Old Norse terms for nicknames) which were used in addition to, or instead of the first name. In some circumstances, the giving of a nickname had a special status in Viking society in that it created a relationship between the name maker and the recipient of the nickname, to the extent that the creation of a nickname also often entailed a formal ceremony and an exchange of gifts known in Old Norse as nafnfestr ('fastening a name').
In England, some nicknames are traditionally associated with a person's surname. A man with the surname 'Clark' will be nicknamed 'Nobby': the surname 'Miller' will have the nickname 'Dusty' (alluding to the flour dust of a miller at work): the surname 'Adams' has the nickname 'Nabby'. There are several other nicknames linked traditionally with a person's surname, including Chalky White, Bunny Warren, Tug Wilson, and Spud Baker. Other English nicknames allude to a person's origins. A Scotsman may be nicknamed 'Jock', an Irishman 'Paddy' (alluding to St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland) or 'Mick' (alluding to the preponderance of Roman Catholicism in Ireland), and a Welshman may be nicknamed 'Taffy'. Some nicknames referred ironically to a person's physical characteristics, such as 'Lofty' for a short person, or 'Curly' for a bald man. Traditional English nicknaming - usually for men rather than women - was common through the first half of the 20th century, and was frequently used in the armed services during World War I and World War II, but has become less common since then.
In Chinese culture, nicknames are frequently used within a community among relatives, friends and neighbors. A typical southern Chinese nickname often begins with a "?" followed by another character, usually the last character of the person's given name. For example, Taiwanese politician Chen Shui-bian () is sometimes referred as "" (A-Bian). In many Chinese communities of Southeast Asia, nicknames may also connote one's occupation or status. For example, the landlord might be known simply as Towkay (Hokkien for "boss") to his tenants or workers while a bread seller would be called "Mianbao Shu" (literally, Uncle Bread). Among Cantonese-speaking communities, the character "?" (pronounced "zai") may be used in a similar context of "Junior" in Western naming practices.
In the context of information technology, a nickname (usually called a nick) is a common synonym for the screen name or handle of a user. In computer networks it has become a common practice for every person to also have one or more nicknames for the purposes of pseudonymity, to avoid ambiguity, or simply because the natural name or technical address would be too long to type or take too much space on the screen.
Nicknames are usually applied to a person and they are not always chosen by the recipient themselves. Some nicknames are derogatory name calls.
A nickname can be a shortened or modified variation on a person's real name.
A nickname may refer to the relationship with the person. This is a term of endearment.
Many geographical places have titles, or alternative names, which have positive implications. Paris, for example, is the "City of Light", Venice is "La Serenissima", and New Jersey is the "Garden State". It is not correct to call these titles nicknames; these alternative names are often used to boost the status of such places, contrary to the usual role of a nickname. Many places or communities, particularly in the USA, adopt titles because they can help in establishing a civic identity, help outsiders recognize a community or attract people to a community, promote civic pride, and build community unity. Titles and slogans that successfully create a new community "ideology or myth" are also believed to have economic value. Their economic value is difficult to measure, but there are anecdotal reports of cities that have achieved substantial economic benefits by "branding" themselves by adopting new slogans.
By contrast, older city nicknames may be critical: London is still occasionally referred to as "The Smoke" in memory of its notorious "pea-souper" smogs (smoke-filled fogs) of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and Edinburgh was "Auld Reekie" for the same reason, as countless coal fires polluted its atmosphere.
Besides or replacing the demonym, some places have collective nicknames for their inhabitants. Many examples of this practice are found in Wallonia and in Belgium in general, where such a nickname is referred to in French as "Blason populaire".