Vol. 62 No. 3 (2014)
Research Article

Nicknames in Prison: Meaning and Manipulation in Inmate Monikers

Published 2014-09-01



Each prison yard is a microcosm of society: a community with its own culture and hierarchy. Prison nicknames are a matter of social negotiation, a common everyday phenomenon with a multiplex nature. One of the authors of this article is currently serving a sentence and has supplied examples based on his own observations and informal interviews with other inmates who were willing to give him information they would not usually confide to outsiders. Knowing and using nicknames (1) gives a sense of unity among prison peers, while (2) representing their individuality, and (3) facilitating communication among them. Nicknames can be friendly, showing peer approval and in-group unity. They can also be cruel and vicious. Nicknames can be bestowed due to appearance, personality, preferences, background, or experience. They are also used for in-group communication about hidden activities or identities.


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