A nickname isn’t a preferred, short, alternative or familiar form of the actual name on your passport. It may be mean and unkind, unrelated to the actual name, or even offensive.

It’s commonplace in the Netherlands (like many other countries) for someone to be known by a different name than what is formally written on their passport. This can range from a shortened form to something at first glance unrelated. It is known as a roepnaam, i.e. what you are called, and for some reason it seems always to get translated as a nickname. Which is something totally different.

  • a nickname could also be something mean or unpleasant that some poor kid’s school-playground enemies use, anything from Babyface to Stinker or whatever and possibly something you wouldn’t dare use to that person’s face
  • a nickname doesn’t have to be a name at all. Scarface for Al Capone: that’s a nickname. The character in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels called Nick the Bubble (from rhyming slang ‘bubble and squeak = Greek): that’s a nickname
  • so no, there isn’t really a sensible translation for roepnaam. The solution is to use a very short phrase such as “known as” , or just introduce it in brackets/quotes – that convention is widely understood: Charles (Chuck) Rutkowski, or whatever.

This is of course perfectly common in English as well, and not just for shortened forms like my own “Mike” (Michael on my passport): take Bill or Billy for William, Kate for Catherine… and Liz, Beth, Lizzie and Betty are all usually Elizabeths.

Prevalence: medium. When people try to write CVs in English in particular.
Frequency: endemic. For some reason, Dutch people always call it their nickname.
Native: no. We don’t really have an agreed term for it. But we don’t use the wrong term.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

One thought on “Nicknames

  1. Hoist by my own petard: a friend from Friesland objected to me calling the country Holland above (correctly, as that is technically just two of the provinces – a bit like calling all British people “English”, I suppose).

    Even though the entire country is happy to wear soccer regalia with “Hup Holland” on and watch the Olympics from “Holland Heineken House”…


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