IT is one of those nightmares that unfortunate students go through. It is a baptism which is done behind their back. Yes, we are talking about nicknaming children at school. Despite being a universal feature of school life, educationists have linked nicknaming to lack of self esteem and poor performance and in some extreme cases; a child might drop out or change schools.
Most nicknames express contempt or dislike while others express one’s physical description. The majority of them draw upon physical characteristics of the learner. Although nicknames are derogatory in intent - aptness, wit and cleverness are seen as important characteristics of nicknames.
Pacifique Kiiza, a former student of Rusomo High School, says students used to be given names basing on their appetite.
“Students who used to eat a lot of posho were nicknamed warthog or Ngunda (Ngunda is a character in a local folktale famed for his abnormal greed),” Kiiza says.
Good deeds, according to Kiiza, could also sometimes earn someone a bad name.
“One student who was a good sprinter was referred to as a night dancer. This used to anger him so much that he always wanted to confront anyone who called him that name,” Kiiza adds.
Josephine Mutesi, a student in a Kigali school, says if a student is big in size they are baptised ‘fattie’, while those that are small bodied are called ‘mosquito’.
One’s looks can also cause them ‘problems.’
For instance Emmanuel Agaba, who was a student at King David, was baptised ‘toast’ because he always looked thirsty.
“They said I had dry lips so whenever they looked at me they would shout out ‘toast’,” Agaba explains, adding that he eventually got used to it.
Teachers, psychologists speak out
Education experts argue that learners are affected by this trend of nicknaming.
Henry Habimana a retired teacher warns that nick names affect the self-esteem of children.
“A negative name will definitely bring someone down; children can become very irritable and angry and this may affect their concentration in class and performance.
Just like negative nick names can bring down children, Habimana says that the positive nick names can encourage the children to work harder.
Gashom Buzare, the headmaster of Kigali Parents School, warns that although some people may not necessary care about their nicknames, they can have devastating effects.
“Once called by the name, an individual feels rejected by the society simply because of being undermined due to appearance,” Buzare explains.
Buzare also cites a common nickname — ‘head boy’ — that is usually given to people with big heads.
“Given such a name, it’s no doubt that the person will feel inferior,” Buzare warns. “Students who understand that they are victims of this kind of rejection end up being poor performers.”
Buzare therefore calls on different school officials to be vigilant and reprimand pupils who use derogatory nicknames to describe their colleagues.
Sylvia Uhirwa, an administrator at Kepler Institute in Kigali, also believes some nicknames have a retarding impact on one’s academic progress.
“When students call people names for fun, they are usually ignorant about the harm they are doing to the person in question,” Uhirwa says, adding that teachers should firmly deal with offenders to discourage other students from similar behaviour.
Nicole Namwabula, a psychologist, explains that unofficial names given to students usually depict one’s appearance, behaviour, religion or culture.
“Sometimes the names can be flattering. Have you ever heard any one complaining when they are named after a celebrity? Such nice names boost a student’s confidence. However, when names are coined to cause embarrassment or humiliation to others, the little confidence they had can be crashed hence affecting one’s performance,” Namwabula says.
“As a pupil, you definitely feel belittled when you discover you have a nick name for wrong reasons. It gets worse if the name is based on your physical features because that is something you cannot change,” Joseph Nshimye a student notes.
Do you like your nickname?
I am called Kenzo (after Ugandan singer Kenzo) at school although I am not sure about its meaning. When my schoolmates call me by that name I always respond positively. If I don’t pay attention to them, they instead shout making it difficult to completely avoid that name. However, I don’t call others by their nicknames.
Nicknames are very common in schools. We usually use them to make fun or during casual settings. Some names are flattering and I don’t mind them. The problem only comes when the name is offensive Anyone would get very angry with a person who calls others names that seem to belittle them.
Almost everyone at school, including me, has a ‘special’ name. I think nicknames are as old as mankind and cannot be wished away like that. I only feel uncomfortable when teachers or parents are also ‘baptised’. Offensive names should also be avoided in order not to hurt others.
Nicknames add humour to a rather serious and sometimes boring life. I see no harm in someone calling you by your new name as long as they are doing it politely. The only problem is when we give them to our elders because they deserve maximum respect. I also think the name should be dropped if the ‘owner’ doesn’t like it.
The worst names are those created based on your character. Sometimes you are forced to change how you do certain things in order to please bullies.
At this rate, one can easily lose their identity.
I think schools should do more in fighting bad names because they affect one’s performance.