Moving to the States: help picking a nickname (and dealing with social media)

Hi! My name is "Laís".

I'll be going to grad school in the States and I need some help. I've lived in Canada in my teenage years and people usually mispronounced my name. Some teachers in high school just had no idea how to say it. I found it cute when they asked if it was a French name (it isn't), or when they would pronounce it like "Lace". But it bothered a lot if the mispronunciation went towards "Lay's", "Lies" or "Lice". 

When I moved to the US a few years later, I started introducing myself as Liz. I love how it sounds! Also, it's kind of a mix of the two nicknames I had as a child back in my country (Lala and Iz). The problem was that knowing me as "Liz", sometimes people would call me "Elizabeth". I even had a name tag printed as Elizabeth once, even though I signed up as Liz. When they saw my email address or Facebook page (where it says Laís), it would get even more confusing.

I could create a new email address and change my Facebook name to "Liz" to solve this problem, although I believe that my professors will have access to my legal name on the school records, so I'd have to kindly ask them to use a nickname. If I stick with Liz, would it be weird, as they will know I'm not named Elizabeth?

I considered the nickname "Lis" to stick with the original spelling of my name, but the pronunciation wouldn't be as intuitive as in "Liz", would it? There's the annoyance of telling everyone "Liz with an S", but if that solves the Elizabeth problem, I could live with it.

A few friends gave me other suggestions: Lisa, Lacey, Lala.

Lisa doesn't work for me. Friends and family back in my home country would find it super weird if I change my facebook name to an anagram of my own name.

I love Lala, as it's very intuitive as short for Laís, but my boyfriend says it can't be used in professional settings - if it really can't, it doesn't solve my problem. I need a nickname that people would always use.

Lacey is not my favorite nickname, but if it's intuitive enough, it could do. But should I change Facebook and email to Lacey?

This is where I am. I appreciate suggestions, comments, and your support!



January 17, 2017 10:23 AM

I love your name. I'm pronouncing it "Laa-ees," long a, long e, sort of like "la isla bonita," but without the la bonita, obviously. If that pronunciation is correct, than "la isla bonita" might be a useful way of explaining the pronunciation. 

Given the popularity of what Laura on this blog has termed "liquid names", your name will fit right in. I know little girls named Issa pronounced ee-sa, not to mention Lala, Lola, Lula and names with the ah-ee sound, like Tais, which has an umlaut over the i and is pronounced how I think your name is. 

I think that you might want to try sticking with your actual name. Graduate school is a much more cosmopolitan context than high school. I bet people will be able to handle your name and pronounce it correctly. 

An alternative might be the aforementioned "Issa," pronounced EE-sa. To me, it's an intuitive nickname for Lais, unlike Liz. There's a fairly famous TV producer/actress named Issa, so people may have heard it too.

I'm also curious. What naming tradition does your name come from? Did I guess the pronunciation correctly? [Edited to add: I googled the name and see that it's Brazilian Portuguese. I also see that it's been discussed on these forums before, where the ability for Americans to pronounce it was quite thoroughly debated. You might want to take a look. I would link to the URL, but this site has given web links trouble lately, so I'll just say "google the name and babynamewizard."]

Good luck!

January 19, 2017 11:43 AM

Thank you for saying you like it! People who speak some Spanish usually have no trouble pronouncing it, and you're right, the correct way to say it is "La-ees". But even when I'm pronouncing it the correct way, some people insist that they hear "lies/lice". Or they learn it, but get it mixed up if they're speaking too fast. My college roommate said that I should just drop it and accept being called "lice" -- which makes me really uncomfortable.

Sometimes I would tell people that the pronunciation is "Lace", just to avoid any embarrassment. 

Yes, the origin is Brazilian Portuguese. What's your opinion on Lisa, Isis or Elle as a nickname for Laís?

January 17, 2017 11:14 AM

Here is the link that Dorit wanted to post: (moderator powers allow me to still post links)

As for the name Laís, I think that it's a beautiful name and that you shouldn't drop it entirely. Grad school is a different beast from high school, often containing students from around the world who have experience with a wide range of languages and have a wide range of names themselves. I suspect that more people will be able to catch on pretty quickly. 

That said, I think that having a simple nickname ready go will be beneficial to you. So, when you introduce yourself to people, you can say something like, "I'm Laís, but feel free to call me Issy". This gives people an easy option, but also leaves open the choice to call by your (beautiful) name, should they want to. 

On social media, take advantage of the nickname option, or enter your name as Laís "Nickname" Surname. This will keep continuity for your family, keep you connected to your roots, and explain any name discrepancies. 

In my experience, in grad school, having an "ethnic" name is a really good conversation starter because it easily leads to questions about where you're from,  etc, which is nice when you're in a new environment. (I go to school in my home city, but the vast majority or students are from elsewhere.)

Since the stress in Laís is on the second syllable, I find nicknames that use that syllable, like Issy, to be intuitive. I do find that to be more professional than Lala, though Lala is a logical nickname. 

Liz rubs me the wrong way because it feels more like you're trying to distance yourself from your cultural background than like a nickname. Laís may not be intuitive for people unfamiliar with that sort of name or diacritic accent, but it doesn't contain any sounds unpronounceable in English. It almost feels like you're just saying your name really, really quickly. And yes, Liz is almost always a nickname for Elizabeth (or that family of names). Something more ambiguous like Issy or Lala will lead people to ask what it's short for, rather just assuming.

January 19, 2017 11:45 AM

Thank you, Karyn. It was a really sweet answer and I felt very comforted by your comments.

What do you think of Isis or Elle as nicknames? It's such a challenge to be the one picking my own nickname!

January 19, 2017 12:19 PM

Well, Isis doesn't feel like a nickname for Laís because it's a full name on its own, with a totally different origin. And that's aside from the highly problematic current association with the name. 

Elle, however, works very well for me. I have a friend whose name is Melissa but who always goes by Em, so using the name of your first initial seems logical and usable to me. The most important thing is that it feels good to you. Try it out (for example when ordering a hot beverage from an establishment that asks for your name) and see if, when you hear the name Elle called, it feels like you.

I think it's a great option. It's really easy to explain if you get any quizzical looks ("It's my first initial" is a very easy response), it's easy to spell, it's a full, professional-sounding name, it's not specifically linked with another name, and it can easily be used in tandem with your full name. In my opinion, it's a winner. 

January 17, 2017 9:03 PM

I agree with most everything that's already been said, so I only have a couple things to add.

First, I was pleasantly surprised after checking with Forvo that I had guessed the pronunciation of Laís correctly! I don't know Portuguese at all, so I really don't think Laís would be that difficult in grad school. I'm also stubborn, so I would just insist that people learn how to say my name correctly if that's what I wanted to be called.

When it comes to social media, it's actually against Facebook's rules to use a false name, so you could get locked out of your account if your profile gets flagged for any reason. They relaxed this policy slightly about a year ago, but it's still in place. I think Karyn's solution to use Laís "Nickname" Surname on Facebook is perfect because Facebook's name standards shouldn't have a problem with it and it can help clear up any confusion people have about your name.

January 19, 2017 11:42 AM

Thanks! It looks like using Laís "Nickname" Surname is the best option for social media.

I just need to pick the nickname now! It's so weird to be the one choosing something that usually family/friends choose for you instead. It's a shame that my Brazilian nicknames won't work in English either.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on Isis, Elle, Lisa and Liz as nicknames for Laís.

January 19, 2017 12:25 PM

Unfortunately Isis is unusable right now. Do you really want people thinking you have chosen the nickname of the terrorist organization?

I think Elle and Lisa work well, Elle in particular for the reasons Karyn stated above. I might try to use Laís with trusted friends and colleagues, but use the nickname for casual acquaintances or people whom you don't expect to see again. 

January 19, 2017 4:03 PM

If someone named Laís told me to call her Lisa, I'd be confused because, again, it doesn't feel like a nickname as much as an alternate name - an avoidance of your culture more than a way of making your name easier to say or remember. I mean, yeah, if you're never going to see the person again I suppose it doesn't matter, but I really want to see you embrace your name while also finding an easier version for those who struggle. (Apparently I feel emotionally invested in this decision...)

I also want to mention something that is being discussed on another thread. Even if the name feels right,  it may take some time for your new nickname to feel like you, but I think that time will help that quite a bit.

January 20, 2017 12:15 AM

I would avoid Isis because of the unfortunate current associations. I agree with Karyn that Lisa just doesn't feel like a nickname for Laís to me, but instead it seems like an alternate name that could be construed as an attempt to distance yourself from your culture.

Liz is ok, but I think almost everyone would assume it's short for Elizabeth, which could get confusing and possibly tiresome to explain.

I like Elle and think it would be an easy nickname to use. It's easy to explain that it's an initial nickname, and Elle isn't as commonly linked with a single longer name like Liz is with Elizabeth.

Is your one Brazilian nickname "Iz" pronounced like Liz without the L? If so, have you thought about Izzy? It feels like a natural extension of your Brazilian nickname to me.

January 17, 2017 9:14 PM

Lais is a beautiful name! If I'm pronouncing it correctly, it would rhyme with Anaïs which is a much more familiar name in the states, and might make for a good way to help people with the pronunciation ("think Anais but with an L").

If you want a nickname, maybe consider reversing the syllables of your name and getting Isla? It's very on-trend right now.

January 19, 2017 11:32 AM

You're correct, it rhymes with Anaïs. I'll give it a try to help people with the pronunciation. Thank you!

January 20, 2017 4:07 AM

I teach at a large state university. Over the past few years they've been overhauling the computer system so that students can enter into the system by their preferred call name, and as of this quarter, they've finally got it working! As of three weeks ago, you would show up on my roster and my course website as Liz Surname and your emails would say "Liz" Surname as the outgoing person, no matter what you officially enrolled in the university as (i.e. your birth certificate name). This has been a long time coming and accommodates trans students and international students who go by a "western" name alike, and I'm so pleased! (The roster also no longer denotes students as M or F.)

Before this was implemented, I would ask students on the first-day survey what their preferred callname was... but even if a professor didn't, I'd suggest you put Laís "Liz" Surname on all your papers, which nicely gets at the point that you're in the system under Lais but you prefer to be called Liz (or whatever other name). I can reassure you that it would be not even the slightest bit weird; as someone who teachers huge lectures I have the data to back up my telling you this is something that comes up quite often, especially with international students. I have many Asian students and many of those with more unfamiliar names opt for either a soundalike familiar name (like Liz) or a totally different name, like a traditional English name or a word name (either an edgy choice or something that is related to the meaning).

It really isn't even a little bit of a hassle; when the name starts with the same letter and/or the official name is an unfamiliar one it's very easy to match them up even if your surname is so common there are many in the class with it.

I did want to mention that you could also consider "Lace" as your nickname... or perhaps, Lacey is a very well-established name which feels like a nickname.

Facebook I'd probably move to being under Liz (or Lace or Lacey or whatever you decide to go by). There the format I see more often is Liz (Laís) Surname so people can find you by your old legal name as well.

I do think Lala lacks a certain gravitas and I wouldn't want to use it in a professional setting... unfortunate, but I think it's because of the Teletubby by that name (and possibly also the expression "in lala land" to refer to being in a spaced-out trance. I also know a toddler Lila who is called Lala as a nickname, and it definitely works, but ultimately it gives me a very petnamey, child-like first impression, which isn't one I'd want to make as a college student.


I do agree with the above points that you don't need to change your name at all; I think it's perfectly lovely to keep your name as-is, and people around you will enjoy learning a new name. However, I'd do what feels right to you - some people like having unusual names, and some people don't, and I think it doesn't have to be a sign of shame or rejecting your heritage to decide that in some contexts you'd just like to have a blending-in sort of name that you don't need to have conversations about when you don't want to.

January 22, 2017 7:15 PM

To be clear, I don't think that all "fitting in" (nick)names are a rejection of one's culture. I just got that feeling from Lisa, specifically.

How fantastic that students are actually able to change their email addresses! That shouldn't be as revolutionary as it is.

February 28, 2017 8:08 AM

You have a beautiful name, which could sound strange in english and I understand that you wouldn't want it even slightly associated with lice. So many people go by nicknames and you shouldn't have a problem with that. I would stick with Liz, since you already like it and have been using it for years. All the other options are nice too, (except from Isis which is a really risky choice right now), but you will have to get used to them first.