Is it sexism? A double standard? Is it perhaps just a difference in intent that makes men's nicknames more (or less) hurtful than women's nicknames? Why does the thought of a group of girls inventing "Formerly Fat Chris" rankle less than the thought of a group of guys inventing "Formerly Fat Kristen"?
If there's one definitive right answer to that question, I certainly didn't find it. But according to Mick, it shouldn't be less offensive at all. They're both, as he put it, "shitty, intentionally demeaning things to say."
Others, though, say the intent is often what makes guys' nicknames for girls—or at least, the kinds thrown around in fraternity-house basements—different.
As O'Brien learned from relationship educator Pat Love, women sometimes nickname their not-yet-fully-boyfriends to defer recognizing them as whole humans and thus minimize the despair if these guys disappear without warning. But according to a recently graduated member of a fraternity at Brown University—let's call him Dan—it's not about that for guys.
"We don't do it all the time," Dan explained. "But I think when we do, it's because referring to a girl by name makes her sound like your girlfriend. 'I'm hanging out with Lisa later' makes it sound much more serious than 'I'm hanging out with The Wrestler,'" he told me, adding that "The Wrestler" was a friend's consistent hookup whose last name sounded like "wrestler."
It also helps keep things casual, according to Dan. "A nicknamed girl doesn't sound like a girlfriend, and a girlfriend is a threat to bonds of bro-hood," he joked. "So the nickname relegates the girl to casual hook-up status, making it harder for you to think of her as a serious girlfriend, making it harder for her to 'break up the band.'
When I asked the creator and author of Bros Like This Site—an enigma known only to his fans and readers as Ned's Younger Brother—he stated outright that in his experience, the nicknames given to women by men were far more mean-spirited than those given to men by women. And when a guy gives a girl a nickname, he wrote in an email, it's not about self-preservation: "I really don't think that guys are in the mental state of trying to keep the girls at arm distance in case things don't work out. Instead it more has to do with being able to tell funny stories to our friends." And if there's a funny story to how a hookup happened, he added, "you better believe there will be a nickname coming out of that."
Ethan, a 23-year-old fraternity-affiliated DePaul alumnus, and Matthew, a junior and current fraternity brother at Butler University, explained that when young guys slap a nickname on a girl, it's often expressly for the purpose of mocking the guy who's seeing her. "It probably starts as a way to make everyone else laugh, but then sticks around because it's the perfect mix of funny, descriptive, and insulting," Ethan told me.