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I have a coworker named "Bob" (not his real name) who keeps insisting that I call him "Shah". I don't think it's right that I be required to use what seems to me to be a silly pet name; the guy is already extremely creepy. He says that he "feels like he's being punished" when I call him "Bob". We work for a very large professional engineering company; am I off base here? I'd really like to know what others have to say about this. Thanks!

To clarify some of the comments: he has asked everyone at work to call him Shah and some people do. The origin of the nickname has nothing at all to do with his origins or genealogy, it's that his that his sister called him that as a small child, which is part of my objection - it feels much more intimate than I want to be with him. I should say his given name is actually a very awkward name - one that just sounds a little silly or nerdy - and on top of that his middle name, a family name, is even worse!

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    Does everyone call "Bob" "Shah" or is "Bob" only asking you to call him "Shah"? – jcmack Nov 13 '18 at 22:38
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    Do you know where "Shah" came from? Is it a "legitimate" nickname or an ego trip based on the Persian word for king? It would rather impact how you'd best approach this. – Lilienthal Nov 13 '18 at 22:39
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    I don't think it matters where the name came from. If he asks everyone to call him "Shah", that is what he should be called. If he is asking the OP to call him by a different name from everyone else, that is inappropriate regardless of where it came from. – Patricia Shanahan Nov 13 '18 at 22:41
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    @PatriciaShanahan Normally I'd agree but I feel that there's some nicknames beyond the obvious that I would not be comfortable using. Royal epithets like Shah or Czar, or others that imply an hierarchy like Boss or Chief would be too much for me and the OP would have grounds to push back on those. – Lilienthal Nov 13 '18 at 22:50
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    @Upper_Case I think the concern is that "Shah" is the Persian equivalent of "King". – Patricia Shanahan Nov 13 '18 at 22:54
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The key question here is is the person asking you to use a nickname for their own comfort? If so, then you should be respectful and use their preferred nickname.

Of course, this is not the only reason that people ask for people to use nicknames with them. Other possible scenarios:

  • They want to be more personable or likable - use the nickname.
  • They want to be obnoxious (aka "call me Emperor Jim") - ignore them if it bothers you.
  • They want to harass (aka "call me sweetie") - get your manager or HR involved.

With the few details that we have, I feel like it could be for comfort or for being obnoxious. Maybe they're just really bad at being friendly with co-workers and don't know how their behavior comes across. With that in mind, here's my suggestion.

  • If you are annoyed at the nickname just because you are annoyed at the idea of using a nickname, you should bite the bullet and call them by what they ask to be called. Maybe if they are more comfortable, the workplace will be more comfortable for both of you.
  • If you feel that Bob is legitimately trying to be obnoxious, talk to them and ask why he wants to be called Shah. If it seems like a legitimate reason, you should probably use the nickname.

As a general rule, though, it's best to assume people have good intentions until they demonstrate otherwise. Barring any further information, it's probably best to just call him what he asks to be called.

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    After posting this question and reading the comments I'm beginning to see that the real issue here is that I don't like this guy. He often comes up behind me and watches me for a while (unnoticed) before he announces his presence. There are other factors involved, as you pointed out as a possibility. – spemble Nov 16 '18 at 0:50
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    @spemble This behavior is creepy and inappropriate and seems like a way bigger issue than the question you asked. You might want to ask another question about this. – AffableAmbler Nov 16 '18 at 3:02
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    @spemble In that case it sounds like he's just engaging in inappropriate behavior. You don't need to let yourself be uncomfortable in order to entertain him. – TheSoundDefense Nov 16 '18 at 17:28
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It depends on whether it's really a nickname that he always goes by, or some sort of power trip or strange form of harassment targeted only at you. Assuming none of those unlikely factors are in play, you should call people by the name they choose to go by.

While most workplaces are on first-name basis by now, you wouldn't persist in referring to a colleague by their old name if they adopt a new last name after marriage either. The general rule when it comes to names is that people get to decide what they would like to be called. Within reason of course, slurs or overly grandiose nicknames are often frowned upon. But good managers will quickly put a stop to those shenanigans.

So in regards to your main question: you are indeed off-base here. If this is simply the name that he goes by, that is for all intents and purposes his "real name". In some countries he wouldn't even require an official name change. So in this case you should simply do the professional thing and use the name he'd like you to use.

This situation is trickier if it's a nickname only used within the team. If that's the case this is more about team dynamics and fitting in than it is about respecting professional norms. But if your entire team calls him "Shah" then it would likely be best to join them in that.

There's some useful reading on a related question "How to stop nicknames from being used?"

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    The hilarious Seinfeld episode where Elaine dates a guy who conducts an amateur orchestra and insists on being called, "Maestro" at all times. Even in bed. – Nolo Problemo Nov 15 '18 at 23:34
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    The thing is, I was introduced to him as Bob and some time later he told me his friends call him Shah. It's not what everyone knows him by; to me it seems contrived and unprofessional. – spemble Nov 16 '18 at 0:56
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You should just call him the name that he prefers to be called.

It is not for you to decide.

My legal name (bank, tax etc) is Edward. But everybody else calls me Ed. That is my choice. Would you like to be called some other name apart from your preferred name?

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    If the name is rude, offensive, or somehow unprofessional in the culture, perhaps there is a limit. – Bill Michell Nov 13 '18 at 22:44
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    Are not most people reasonable with a choice of nickname? And when a person enters the workplace they would probably had that nickname for many years – Ed Heal Nov 13 '18 at 22:46
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You are not obligated to use a silly pet name. You could let him know that you are uncomfortable calling him Shah and that you will either call him Bob or a more reasonable nickname like Rob or something else closer to his real name. If he continues to insist and will not agree to a more reasonable name then just keep calling him Bob. You should not get in trouble for using somebody's actual name even if they prefer a nickname.

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    You do not get to choose someone's preferred name, full stop. – Thegs Nov 13 '18 at 22:54
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    @StackUnderflow There's no need to demand an exact line. We can agree that calling you "Stack" is reasonable and calling you "Lord High Chancellor of Elbonia" is unreasonable without having to define everything exactly. – David Thornley Nov 13 '18 at 22:55
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    @Thegs You also do not get to force anyone to use language that makes them uncomfortable, full stop. – Stack Underflow Nov 13 '18 at 22:55
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    @DavidThornley So it's a grey area. That means you might agree that Shah is okay, and I might disagree. – Stack Underflow Nov 13 '18 at 22:56
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    For those who disagree, where then would you draw a line? If there's a line to be drawn, I would at least start with allowing for names that are also common legal names, which Shah definitely is. – BSMP Nov 15 '18 at 0:21

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