Nicknames come in two flavors.
Endearing nicknames are earned through time and are typically related to a special event or a quirk of your personality.
Then there are the other type: pejorative names that are used intentionally to harm someone.
The trick, of course, is that some nicknames can have either connotation.
I walk with a cane often and was once known as “Doctor House” at a previous job, but the same nickname was used to mock my limp.
So, what happens when someone uses a nickname and you aren’t as comfortable with it as they may have hoped?
That was the issue facing Redditor and Original Poster (OP) NotJezzFRabbit when she came to the “Am I the A**hole” (AITA) subReddit for judgment.
“AITA for reporting my boss, over a nickname?”
OP began with a little history.
“I’m 31yo, female, and recently started a new job.”
“(Well, a few months ago). It’s a 5 guys office, plus the boss.”
“The boss is one of those guys who think has a natural charm that ladies would instantly fall for, but he looks like a thumb, and has a lot of dumb confidence for making inappropriate comments.”
“Even when talking to me about work issues.”
“I keep him at arms length, and I’m very professional with my workmates.”
She then got to the situation at hand.
“Some days ago I was chasing after some workmate, because was procrastinating sending me a document.”
“I went to him to make him send it, and he said ‘Ok”‘ Took his phone, opened the messages’ app, and sent me the file, but looking at it, I noticed that he saved my number as ‘Jessica Rabbit”‘.
“I asked him about it, confused, and looked at me, shocked, eyes wide opened.”
“Just said ‘Im sorry’. I didn’t let him go, and interrogating him until he confessed that the boss always calls me ‘Jessica Rabbit”‘.
OP felt it necessary to add a disclaimer here.
“To be clear, I’m naturally a redhead, got it from mom, and dye my hair red when it gets darker, but I dont look like ‘Jessica Rabbit’ I’m flat as a table, yes, I had trust issues about it, and worked very hard to like my body.”
“I despise the thought of being compared to a hyper-sexualized cartoon character.”
“I talked to my boss when he came into the office, and asked about the nickname.”
“He just said ‘Because you both are sexy redheads’, I told him to stop it, because I don’t feel safe, he just said ‘why are you so angry? It’s a compliment’ I said it’s not and stormed out.”
“I went to HR to do a formal complaint, the HR lady said that she’ll process the complaint, but that it was worthless, because ‘Boss is just like that’. I told her that I dont like my boss’ attitude, and need a warrant to stop.”
“Since then, my boss stopped talking to me, and my workmates say that I’m way too dramatic, and don’t know how to take a compliment.”
“They also complained that don’t feel safe around me, because they don’t know if I will twist their words somehow.”
OP was left to wonder,
“Am I TA here?”
Having explained the situation, OP turned to Reddit for judgment.
Redditors weighed in by declaring:
- NTA – Not The A**hole
- YTA – You’re The A**hole
- NAH – No A**holes Here
- ESH – Everyone Sucks Here
Redditors decided: NTA
Some found Boss’s response troubling.
“‘why are you so angry? Its a compliment”‘
“NTA. This makes me nauseous.” ~ Aggravating_Start411
“’It’s a compliment.'”
‘It’s just a joke.”’
“The same excuses sh*tty people have used to excuse their sh*tty behavior for millennia” ~ blackbirdbluebird17
“This mindset is disgusting. It’s not a compliment if it makes the other person feel bad or uncomfortable.” ~ Substantial-Bee122
Others wondered about the legality of it all.
“F*ck those victim blamers and enablers.”
“This is literally illegal.” ~ MySuperLove
“In the US of A, this unfortunately is not illegal because it was not an ongoing or pervasive thing.”
“Unfortunately nicknames behind your back that you are unaware of isn’t considered sexual harassment.”
“However, them retaliating for her complaint is in and of itself not allowed.”
“Now that she knows about it if they call her that again, in front of her it starts to add to the pattern and becomes closer and closer to officially being considered sexual harassment.” ~ EnvironmentalFuckwit
“And then creating a hostile work environment after she complained.”
“OP at the very least has cause to talk to an attorney and start documenting everything that transpires from now on.” ~ Sklibba
“He’s said this consistently to others, and they refer to her this way behind her back.”
“This results in a loss of respect for her from her peers, which detrimentally affects her ability to work in this job.”
“Sounds like it qualifies to me.” ~ goodevilgenius
Several HR professionals had to put in their opinions.
“HR Manager here -“
“in total agreement with this comment.”
“If an employee came to me with this complaint and explanation of how she tried to handle it professionally, I’d be all over that ‘boss’ like white on rice.”
“The problem is probably that the boss is the owner, not someone answering to anyone else.”
“If talking to him and insisting on sexual harassment training for the group didn’t work, I’d have a very detailed file (which is discoverable, OP) on the situation and if the DOL came knocking, I’d have no choice but to turn it over to them.”
“Wink wink nudge nudge, OP. Just sayin’….”
“You’re NTA and may have an actionable complaint depending on your state/country.”
“If you’re in CA, HI, or NY, DM me and I’ll give you some free guidance.”
“ETA: THANK YOU all for the totally unexpected awards! It’s the first time being an HR professional on Reddit has garnered praise for me instead of derision. LOL!” ~ geckotatgirl
“I’m also in HR.”
“The number of comments here saying this isn’t sexual harassment is insane.”
“And just goes to show why sexual harassment is so hard to stamp out.”
“Because how many male colleagues are sitting there thinking, ‘I don’t like when my boss talks about my female coworker that way, but it isn’t sexual harassment so I guess I can’t say anything.”
“Guys, this situation is ABSOLUTELY sexual harassment.”
“OP is in a situation where her very identity as a worker has been reduced to her gender, hair color, and perceived sex appeal.”
“This isn’t a casual nickname thrown out once and stopped when OP spoke up.”
“It’s so pervasive that her name is stored this way in a colleagues phone, used for work.”
“With HR doing nothing about it except advising to suck it up, OP would not be wasting her money on an attorney.” ~ EatAPotatoOrSeven
Some even pointed out that this is a standard problem for small businesses.
“A lot of times, especially at smaller companies, HR is pretty ineffective.”
“Because someone gets hired with the main duties of hiring, payroll, benefits, etc –which are all HR-related duties —
“But they have no training in the other aspects of HR, when it comes to things like a company’s legal obligations against harassment and discrimination, or handling complex personnel issues.”
“But they’re still expected to handle those functions anyway, so predictably they are totally useless because they don’t know what they’re doing.”
“HR is sh*tty and your boss is sh*ttier. ‘He’s just like that’ is not an excuse, especially not when it comes to accepting sexual harassment.”
“Until and unless there is someone above both you and your boss who has the good judgment and the authority to shut this down, I think you need to accept the fact that Your Boss Sucks And Isn’t Going To Change.”
“And then decide if this is something you’re able to live with as a ‘cost of doing business’ to stay in this job. Or if you want to go somewhere else.”
“(My two cents — there’s no harm in looking around to see what else is out there, even if the end result is you stay where you are!)” ~ sarita_sy07
OP did return for some final thoughts.
“I didnt expect that many comments.”
“Thank you, but now is very hard to read them all, but I’ve been taking notes, and I’ll try my best, even tho, I can afford to be jobless for a few months, so I’m not scared of quitting if it goes nowhere.”
“To be clear, I did not snoop on the phone, I was standing, and my coworker has sitting in his chair, so I had a clear view of his phone, and then I saw that he saved my number as ‘Jessica Rabbit'”.
“Oh, and the guys who called me horrible names in my Dm’s and wished for horrible things to happen to me, I hope you get help, or otherwise, you never work with or be in a relationship with any women.”
“Since you seem to hate women so much.”
Of course the issue isn’t nearly as complicated as some might hope.
A nickname is wonderful when it makes someone feel good.
I felt respected and accepted when my co-workers called me “Doctor House” so this was an excellent nickname.
When it was used against me it was a terrible nickname.
The difference of course, as in so many things, is consent.
Remember to be open to feedback about the names you give people, and also remember that they can give – or take – consent at any time.