The Joys and Perils of Having a Nickname

Legally, I’m Nicole — but everyone knows me as Nikki. Who am I, really?

Nicole Peeler
Human Parts


Illustration: Lennard Kok

I’m visiting my dear friend Julie in California, and she’s introducing me to someone.

“I’m Nicole,” I say, extending my hand just as Julie says, “This is Nikki.”

The stranger looks between us, clearly confused. Julie looks at me, equally confused.

“Which do you prefer,” asks my friend of many years. “Nicole or Nikki?”

I can’t answer her.

To nickname or not to nickname… that is the question.

My troubles began in college. Before that, I was always Nikki. This isn’t because I’d chosen my nickname, but because my family had always called me Nikki and my parents were veteran teachers in the district. On the rosters of my elementary, middle, and high school classes my name may have been Nicole Peeler, but every teacher knew to shout “Nikki!”

Then I went to college on the other side of the country. Suddenly, my professors were looking around for someone named Nicole Peeler and I realized I would have to make a choice.

Was I a Nikki or a Nicole?

This was not the first opportunity I’d had to change my name. When I was 16, I’d done a summer…