In the cyberworld, one can choose a screen name to project any image they desire. Their name might truly reflect an ideal or identity of theirs, or it might be embellished with an attribute they wish they could claim. As all of us bloggers know, there's a thought process involved in forming a blog/ger name. There are so many options to control the biases through which our posts are received, and it can be a challenge to be fair to yourself in how you are framing your writing.
The debate of how well ones online persona predicts how they conduct themselves in real life fascinates me, but that discussion is for another time.
What is presently on my Mind are the names that we do not choose for ourselves. Having been exceptionally popular when I was younger, and less outwardly popular but more respected for intelligence as I matured, I thankfully was never the object of derogatory nicknames. But consistently though throughout grade school, I was taught that the prohibition of ona'as devarim (torturing someone through words) includes calling someone a nickname, particularly one that they do not like. I could recite the pasuk from which we extrapolate this prohibition for years. It always seemed like a nice way of being sensitive, perhaps going an extra mile to avoid something that isn't really that mean. But the depth and insight that went into forbidding this action under actual torture only became clear to me a few weeks ago.
I tend to Touch, but on occasion I wrongly take my audience's acceptance for granted and push the limit into saying something inconsiderate. A long time ago, in a half-attempt to flirt and half-attempt to tease with a particle of truth, I called a boy who had a crush on me by a nickname. It was not a mean name at all; it was just a nickname. There was nothing inherently flattering or derogatory to the name I chose, but he was very hurt and I did not understand why. I took it back and apologized to him... I had a theory of why it upset him so much, probably because it was supremely neutral and borderline immature, while he was rightfully hoping that I would view him with more of a sexual appeal. I could understand that, but never would have anticipated this train of thoughts in time to switch the nickname I had chosen to one that would not be offensive to him.
In a similar twist of events, a colleague that I had reason to believe respected me (if not more, but at least he is not religious so there is nothing up for discussion) recently publicly proclaimed me with a new nickname: Giggles. I had laughed a few seconds before that and tend to laugh more than my peers in order to make everyone less neurotic. I also tend to laugh incredulously at things my superiors do, or at inside jokes when a comment is way too arcane for anyone else to find funny but I can actually reference. But apparently he was perceiving all this as immature, girl-next-door who Giggles, and the playing field between us so low that saying it in public held no ramifications as far as his own shame. It really got to me, even though I know that the rest of my colleagues find me talented and valuable B"H.
Perhaps the name I was given is neutral, but when you hold yourself to a higher standard that you've earned, even neutral is derogatory. I wasn't able to explain all this to the colleague, but after ignoring him for a while (he missed my laughs!) I told him that giving me a nickname like that was flat out douchey. He claimed he didn't mean it and that I should know him better than to take him seriously. Of course he didn't mean it mean it, and I know he is in full-realization of my other good qualities besides for being easy going. But there is truth behind every joke, and when an all-encompassing nickname does not line up with how a person wants to be perceived, it is painful. It is painful to hear what first comes to mind when others think of you, and likewise there is no way to anticipate how your neutral nickname will resonate with another person. The Torah incorporates human psychology all-knowingly when it forbids us from doing just this. I finally understood and fully regretted what I did to that boy so long ago... and with that I swallowed my medicine.