Names provide the primary means by which persons are known. The importance attached to naming a child varies among cultures. In some, naming is a ritual carried out with great ceremony; in others, the pleasing sound of a name or names of favorite book characters may be sources. In the United States, criteria for naming a child span the entire range from highly informal, even whimsical ones, to those based on considerable reflection.
Sometimes nicknames are temporary; others stick for a lifetime. Some nicknames are complimentary; others are neutral or derogatory. In any case, they are used when some characteristic is so marked that the nickname seems to identify the person more suitably than the actual name does. Furthermore, a person may acquire a name completely different from that given at birth. Some are adopted to hide one’s identity or to show significant behavioral change, for example. In literature as in life, nicknames fall into several categories such as those associated with ethnicity or race, status or position, regional practices or customs, geographical location, and identification with religious or classical figures.