Background. Name-calling, unkind nicknames and other forms of verbal harassment represent some of the most prevalent forms of bullying in school but they have been little studied. Name-calling and nicknames in particular are ambiguous social events that can serve positive as well as negative goals, and their adverse consequences can be difficult to identify. Aims. (i) To assess the incidence of nicknames and name calling as reported by a sample of primary school children; (ii) to examine the kinds of names reported by children, and to relate these to names reported in other social contexts; (iii) to explore the impact that name-calling and nicknames have on children. Sample. Pupils (N = 60) from the top two classes in a British primary school completed a questionnaire; 20 of the children were subsequently interviewed. Method. Pupils completed a questionnaire that was constructed for this study. Pupils were asked to provide examples of nicknames and to report on the types and incidence of several forms of verbal harassment. The interview included questions which aimed to explore the children's reactions to harassment. Results. Being called disliked nicknames, called names, teased, and other forms of verbal harassment were reported by most of the sample, with more than 20% of children experiencing nasty comments and unkind nicknames on a daily basis. Girls reported more disliked nicknames than boys. The most common nicknames referred to the child's appearance, whereas nasty comments and untrue stories contained a preponderance of sexual references. In the interview, nearly all children reported that being called names and nicknames were negative experiences that caused distress. Conclusions. Name-calling and the assignment of unkind nicknames are prevalent and hurtful features of school life. The kinds of names are similar to those reported in other studies of children, adolescents, and adults. It is proposed that these names are hurtful because they threaten the child's identity.
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