Care and Feeding

I’m Worried My Daughter’s Mortifying Nickname Is Going to Haunt Her Forever

Is it better for us to be the ones to tell her?

Young girl scratching her head and thinking as she looks off.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by AaronAmat/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Our daughter is bright, kind, and about to start kindergarten. Since she was old enough to speak, she’s gone by a nickname. She chose it herself—it’s based on her given name—and has been adamant that it’s what she wants to be called. We love her autonomy, and we love her nickname! It’s spunky, sweet, and unique. However, I’m really worried about how people will react to it.

She has almost exclusively gone by the nickname Beo (as we tell people who ask, “it’s like Leo with a B”). Over the years we’ve had people make comments/ask about it, shocked that we would name our child “B.O.”—which of course we didn’t. As she enters elementary school, we know it’s only a matter of time before she gets questions or teased about it. It seems like a natural time to have her start going by a different name, at least at school (before she gets to middle school when all this will probably be worse). The problem is, she’s never heard the phrase B.O. and doesn’t know that some people think her name basically means stinky.

Is it better for us to be the ones to tell her, and then she can decide if she still wants to use it? Or do we wait for someone else to do it and then she’ll ask why we didn’t tell her? Maybe she would decide it’s worth it (and of course, we would say that teasing is never OK and address it when it happens), but we kind of feel like she should know and be able to make that decision on her own. On the other hand, it breaks our hearts to think of telling our fantastic kid that this is what many people think of when they hear her name. Help! School starts in three weeks.

—Sometimes Parenting Stinks

Dear Parenting Stinks,

I don’t think B.O. (as in short for “body odor”) is as universal as you may fear. However, I do think it’s worth warning Beo that her nickname does sound a little bit like a somewhat common phrase—and that the phrase isn’t exactly nice. Encourage her to tell anyone who makes the connection between the two that her name is Beo, which is pronounced somewhat differently, and that she smells just fine.

Your daughter may be a little disappointed or confused to hear about the similarity between her moniker and the phrase, and that’s OK. It would be better for her to be prepared by you than for some smart-ass kid to be her first introduction to what her name sounds like. She may decide that she wants to be called something else. Or she may feel that the difference between the two is clear enough that she wants to keep her nickname. I think that’s a decision she should be able to make before an awkward situation arises.

In my years spent around children, though, I don’t think I’ve ever heard one use the phrase “B.O.” It’s a rather adult colloquialism and I think adults are the ones most likely to think of it when they’re introduced to your child; as such, they should be able to keep their commentary to themselves, or to ask you about it, as opposed to questioning her about the similarity.

—Jamilah

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