updates: stopping a nickname, taking over a deceased coworker’s office, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager and I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. Taking over the office of a colleague who died (#5 at the link)

First, it was nice to hear from you and the commentariat that I was basically on the right track. Second, it was exceptionally helpful to hear from the people who said that having a memento might be problematic (when would I get rid of it? how would that make feel? etc.). And it also encouraged me, when I moved, to leave behind a memento from the first colleague who’d died. So thank you all for that.

Other things that happened:
– I think I mentioned that I was planning to call the EAP (employee assistance program) – I am now a huge fan. I called them, they responded really quickly, and I met with someone (over the phone) once who was a great match for me. That was very helpful and we actually started a second session but we agreed that I just didn’t need it.
– I think I also mentioned that I was planning to speak to my supervisor who was lovely about it but said that there were no other spaces so she said I should try it out and then we’d see how it was working.
– Big thanks to the person (people?) who suggested moving the furniture around. In the end, I couldn’t move the desk because of outlet access — but! I got a new desk that looks really different (both color and style) from the old one so that was a huge help. I also cleared out (what felt to me like) excess furniture, moved the location of the bulletin board, yadda yadda yadda and, overall, the office just feels really different.
– One thing that the EAP therapist helped me with was to stop calling it Deceased Friend’s office and start making the transition to calling it my office.

Lesson to be learned? Coming at a problem from multiple perspectives — mental re-framing, physical redecorating, consulting with supervisor, getting a little mental health support, and consulting with you all is a great plan!

I’m still sad of course, and there are times I still look around and can see her sitting in it but, overall, things really are fine.

2. How do I stop a coworker from using a diminutive version of my name? (#3 at the link)

I have a nice update – everything worked out fine!

I stopped worrying too much about finding a “good moment” to correct my coworker on my name and just said it the next time it happened – he used the diminutive while asking me a work-related question, I answered the question and then added “By the way, I prefer to be called Carmen, not Carmenita” (borrowing the names from a comment). He apologized and started using my first name.

And to speak of the comment section… Many people shared their anecdotes about names, nicknames, shortened versions and so on. A fun read (and I learned some stuff), but much of it wasn’t applicable to my situation. I really should have mentioned in the letter that these conversations were not in English, and that a diminutive is not a shortened version. Diminutives are a grammatical function that modifies nouns, with the literal meaning being to indicate smallness, and a very wide range of figurative meanings. And regardless of the intent, one shouldn’t pick a name for someone else that is different from the name they presented, especially at work.

Thanks for the straightforward advice!

3. Could being difficult mean you won’t get extra training? (#3 at the link)

I wrote back in August last year about my friend who works at a secondhand store and has intense jealousy issues.

The situation has become extremely… weird. They pushed back on getting therapy vehemently (to the point where when both my significant other and I suggested online therapy to try to alleviate their concerns, they were outright gleeful when the site we suggested ended up not being the best). But professionally, it’s… even weirder, somehow.

Recently, they were working on the shop floor and very stressed out when they dropped something and ended up swearing in front of a customer. The customer complained, and so they ended up having to have a disciplinary meeting. They proceeded to complain about the disciplinary meeting every single time we spoke (and they contact me at least every other day) for the whole two weeks leading up to the disciplinary meeting. Not only that, all of the complaining was phrased as if the entire incident wasn’t their fault at all. They got mad at their managers and outright called one of them “fake” (not to her face) because she was usually pretty nice, but was “harsh” when she spoke to them about the incident.

The problem with their statement that it was “harsh” is (as mentioned last time) they have a bad habit of negatively perceiving EVERYTHING. Once when a coworker told them they were improving at a task, they accused him of saying they were bad at the task. It’s very hard to believe any statements where they say something is harsh or mean when they have a habit of twisting it into their being the victim.

Honestly, the friendship is very unhealthy, and it took evaluating it from a much more professional standpoint to fully realize that.

{ 66 comments… read them below }

    1. BuildMeUp*

      Yeah, there are some people who always assume the worst about everything and everyone. It sounds like the friendship has run its course.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Yes, time for the African violet of friendship-ending (see Captain Awkward for more context).

        1. ferrina*

          Good call out. This is the exact type of situation the African Violet of Broken Friendship was invented for

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Thank you, I couldn’t remember the official name. I shall try to commit it to memory now. :-)

        1. Observer*


          This person sounds like they need a LOT of help, but I don’t know what it’s going to take to get them to move in that direction. In the meantime, it’s good for the OP to limit how much energy they allow this person to suck up.

      2. Quill*

        These people are toxic positivity’s mirror universe evil twin. (They’re both evil.)

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Yup: It goes a long way to explaining why they aren’t getting that training. Someone would have to train them, and who wants that grief?

        1. MigraineMonth*

          If there’s anything I’ve learned from this site, it’s that “do nothing and hope the problem solves itself someday” is a problem for managers as well as other employees.

          Which is too bad for the friend. I know I didn’t take my professionalism problems seriously enough before I was fired for them.

    3. learnedthehardway*

      Sometimes, you have to realize that someone else’s issues are something you just cannot help them with. If they won’t address the issues themselves, there’s nothing you can do.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Totally. It’s suuuuuuuper frustrating when this happens, but ultimately better for your own mental health if you can let it go.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        This is the friend version of not caring more about your workplace than your boss does.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Heh, exactly. You do not have the authority or ability to fix the situation, all you can do is put up with it indefinitely or walk away.

    4. Ms. Norbury*

      Yes, so much. I have met a few people like this (though few were cases as extreme as OP3’s friend) and I learned to avoid them like the plague. I do feel sorry for them – a lot of people became chronically defensive and cynical through a lifetime of aggression – but I do not have the mental and emotional energy to deal with them often.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        I’ve known people like this, too, and it usually has to do with family of origin and/or abuse issues. (One very defensive, cynical, assume the worst, guy had an emotionally impoverished home life AND was the victim of clerical sexual abuse. And he was from a generation and social class that did not believe in therapy, and of course treated rape of males as a big ha ha joke. Added up to a huge pile of yikes on bikes.) And I have found that distancing myself is really the only option. I can feel sorry for them, but I can’t be around them unless they get help, and a lot of people like this don’t think they need help, or won’t do the work…and it’s way out of my wheelhouse to try and help them.

        1. Aelfwynn*

          That’s the thing, isn’t it? We can feel for a person when bad things happen to them and know that the bad things are not their fault and really shaped who they are, but ultimately it’s up to each of us to work on ourselves and heal ourselves. Others can’t do that work for us (and you can’t do that work for other people). If someone isn’t willing to work on themselves, others will ultimately (and rightly) keep their distance.

    5. HigherEdAdminista*

      Absolutely. The gleeful response to therapy not working to me screams someone who is miserable and content to be so, weirdly enough. There are people like that out there, who relish the negative side of life and only want to talk about/embrace that.

      1. MsSolo (UK)*

        someone who has made their negativity their personality, and sees attempts to help them as a personal, malicious attack, so is gleeful when those attacks fail. LW should be aware that though the friend probably does genuinely consider them friends, they may not actually like you very much, and it’s almost certainly as negative about the friendship to other people as they are about work to LW.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          Absolutely! This type of person is usually contemptuous of their “friends” as well and will smack-talk them behind their backs. At least LW is not this person’s child (and should thank their lucky stars they are not).

          This type of person may “love” their friends, but they don’t like them nor do they treat them well. And, as far as I am concerned, love is a verb; you don’t get to spout how much you love or value someone while at the same time mistreating them.

    6. Sara without an H*

      Indeed. LW#3 — Why do you consider this person a “friend”? Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate this relationship.

  1. yamikuronue*

    For #2 I’m so glad it worked out. Just the other day I tried a breezy “I’m not a woman, but yeah, basically” on the phone and the guy apologized and was still just as friendly and talkative after, as if it really was no big deal to be corrected. (I think it helped that I laughed at his joke first).

  2. Richard Hershberger*

    OP2: If you want to get all fancy, a nickname is a “diminutive” if it is formed by adding a suffix that, while making the word longer, denotes being smaller. A non-name version is how “booklet” is a diminutive of “book.” A nickname formed by shortening the name is a “hypocoristic,” which, the word coming from Greek rather than Latin, is even fancier than “diminutive.” In practice, “diminutive” is frequently used for both, only onomastics nerds knowing or caring about the difference. In fairness, “diminutive” is hardly intuitive for something that makes the word longer.

    1. mb*

      You’re applying English standards to what OP2 is saying. As a multi-lingual speaker, I can understand exactly what they’re saying. There are certain endings or shortenings of words that basically cutseyfies the word or name in some languages. The closest in English that comes to this is calling Rob/Robert Robby, or Timmy. Those versions of the names denote a childishness which is what the letter writer is talking about.

      1. Ms. Norbury*

        I think both you and Richard Hershberger* are right – diminutives work exactly as he described in my native language (not English). Still, OP2’s description is also pretty accurate, and their example with “Carmenita” is a spot on sample of what a diminutive version of a name would be like.

        1. Lionheart26*

          I think what OP and mb are saying is that you are pointing out that in English the different forms of name shortening are no longer used, and so can be used interchangeably, and therefore OPs clarification in the update was irrelevant. That may be true in English, but is not the case in many other languages. In other languages there is a distinct difference in tone and meaning between a short version of the name and a cutesy version, and “diminutive” is the correct English term for this concept. For those of us who speak languages with similar conventions, we understood immediately that what OP was describing is very different from calling Elizabeth “Liz”, but this was lost on a lot of the original post commentariat who weren’t familiar with the term. Therefore OPs clarification was helpful.

          To give another example, in Turkish we use the word “diven” for both shoes and gloves, and we have to clarify eg hand-diven or foot-diven. Imagine I came to AAM asking about work shoes, and the Turkish commenters chimed in with helpful facts about gloves. The distinction is not a big one in Turkish, but it is in English.

          1. mb*

            Well said – it’s funny you were thinking about words in Turkish, I was thinking about words in Serbian (among other languages, but primarily Serbian).

      2. GreyjoyGardens*

        That sounds like the type of thing your close family and childhood friends can call you but is not appropriate for one adult to call another at the workplace.

        1. Warrior Princess Xena*

          It is absolutely not. In languages with diminutives they’re used for either cutesy purposes or for intimate purposes – not just romantic intimacy, family & close friends are also common users, but it implies a level of familiarity and connection that would be waaay too close for most coworker relationships. Like saying “darling” or “dearest”.

          OP is still not wrong that you should call people by the names they have given you – you should not nickname people without their permission – but the additional details make it even more egregious.

      3. Richard Hershberger*

        I’m not sure what we are disagreeing about. Robby and Timmy are diminutives, just like Carmenita. Rob for Robert is, strictly speaking, a hypocoristic. In practice, “hypocoristic” is an obscure technical word, and “diminutive” gets used for both. The distinction mostly matters if you are interested in the morphology of nicknames, which is pretty darned niche.

        1. Ita*

          Oops! Error in nesting so I’ll post again…

          I think the confusion comes from phrasing. It seemed like Richard was explaining to the OP what a diminutive was, when they clearly know, rather than explaining to the commentariat, which I assume was the intention. I didn’t know the term ‘hypocoristic’ so I appreciate this comment!

          But yes, diminutives work like that in Spanish. I also think that the term ‘diminutive’ is not particularly fancy or prone to causing confusion in Spanish so OP assumed people would know what they meant. Carmenita = Little Carmen not Carm.

            1. Silver Robin*

              Oh goodness I tried pronouncing that in my head and English “Chauncy” + Russian “ishka” just did not compute.

              There are so many diminutives in Russian and they can morph from previously diminutized names….my siblings take great joy in finding the most gushy version of my name they can think of. Think Silver – Silvka – Silvusha – Silvulya – Silvulyishka and on and on and on

              1. GreyjoyGardens*

                Wow. That’s a long string of diminutives. Can’t help but pun that it’s like one of those Matryoshka dolls, with diminutives within diminutives.

                By contrast, English is pretty lacking in ultra-diminutives except directed at pets or children, at least that is how it seems to me (my own family wasn’t big on nicknames). Robert might be “Robert” on official forms or when he’s in trouble, “Rob” to most people he meets, “Robbie” to his close family and childhood friends, and “Honey” to his spouse. But something like “Robbiekins” would be what a parent or adult family member would call a little kid. Or maybe Rob’s spouse or a good friend as a joke. But “Robbiekins” or “Robbie-Poo” at work, no way no how.

                1. Silver Robin*

                  It is like a little matryoshka doll! It is fascinating to me how societies have a very clear distinction between public and private names. If anyone calls Robert, “Robbiekins” in a work context, it is immediately jarring and almost certainly inappropriate, even though “Robbie” would be a common assumption made by plenty of English speakers (people do that to me all the time even though I prefer my full name in professional contexts). So it is fine to assume familiarity, but only so far or so much.

              2. Ita*

                Love that! In Spanish, you’d add -ti on top of the -ita and could keep going. Laura–> Laurita–> Lauritita –> Laurititita and so on…

                1. GreyjoyGardens*

                  Now I’m in mind of that ABBA song “Chiquitita.” (The song is from the POV of someone telling her best friend You’re Too Good For Him and please feel free to confide in her, so I guess the context is right…)

            2. Neee-wom*

              Or Sasha for Alexander. Diminutives are fascinating, but not really something you just start calling someone out of the blue.

                1. Silver Robin*

                  I have a relative with that name who is losing his hearing. We took inspiration from Stewie of Family Guy meme fame and run the gamut of versions of his name when trying to get his attention.

                  Alexander alexander alexander
                  Sasha sasha sasha
                  Sashka sashka sashka

              1. Random Dice*

                I’m now utterly confused about whether this is a diminutive or a nickname or a hypo-whatsit… but I hear people jump to nicknames all the time. A quick “oh I go by Michael / David / Rebecca” is just fine.

              1. mb*

                Serbian also uses “itsa” as diminutives. Not something you would use on a co-worker unless you were trying to disrespect them.

            3. goddessoftransitory*

              or in an example most Americans are familiar with, Ivana/Ivanka. Ivanka is a diminutive of Ivana and means “little Ivana.”

      4. Frost*

        “There are certain endings or shortenings of words that basically cutseyfies the word or name in some languages.”

        That’s right. The resulting word or name is known as a diminutive.

  3. JustMe*

    LW 3 – I’m so sorry, that’s awful. It’s unfortunate that sometimes seeing how someone is at work really DOES reveal who they truly are, and that may mean that you don’t want to be friends with them.

    At my husband’s work, a higher-up manager was found to be massively unqualified for his job/was frequently combative/faked his way into this position of power. There was a huge falling out. The kicker was that the manager had been recommended by someone else who already worked at the company, and it turned out they weren’t past colleagues, they were just social friends. Manipulative Manager was SUCH a manipulator that he convinced his friend that he was a business genius, and so his friend had recommended him for this job. When everything about Manipulative Manager came to light, his friend at the company who got him the job actually had a nervous breakdown. (First, because his professional reputation was now at stake, and second, because someone who he considered to be a close personal friend was potentially a sociopath.) You’re good to reevaluate your relationship now before you get too involved.

  4. GreyjoyGardens*

    LW 1: I am glad it worked out so well for you and that Alison and the commentariat were helpful. (I will never forget the letter about the office clique who lost a colleague and then kept revenging themselves on her replacements by making them so miserable they quit. Eeek. Sounds like your office is a much nicer place to work.)

  5. Frickityfrack*

    I had a friend a lot like #3 – she was always the victim and you were expected to be on her side no matter what or she thought you were attacking her. It was exhausting. Over time, most of us realized that she was seriously exaggerating most of her stories or just plain making things up, and we all either drifted away or she flounced angrily after we pushed back on her behavior. My personal flounce came after she posted an angry message about how anyone who didn’t buy her (self-published, not very good) book was a fake friend who wasn’t supportive, and I said friends don’t exist just to give her money.

    I know her career suffered as a result, too – she’d get a job, do well enough for a while and convince people of her woe is me back story, then something would go wrong, she’d flip out, a whole cycle of victimhood would start, and eventually she’d leave before she got fired. It was depressing to watch, and I really hope OP’s (former?) friend doesn’t end up in that cycle.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      Did we have the same friend? Right down to the job-hopping and bad self-published book!

      1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Lying Around*

        Oh boy it’s possible my former coworker/friend has published a book since her time here.

    2. Random Dice*

      Empathetic and kind people get sucked in by toxic emotional vampires… for a while.

      But actions have consequences, even if delayed. Toxic behavior is incompatible with friendship.

  6. Ita*

    I think the confusion comes from phrasing. It seemed like Richard was explaining to the OP what a diminutive was, when they clearly know, rather than explaining to the commentariat, which I assume was the intention. I didn’t know the term ‘hypocoristic’ so I appreciate this comment!

    But yes, diminutives work like that in Spanish. I also think that the term ‘diminutive’ is not particularly fancy or prone to causing confusion in Spanish so OP assumed people would know what they meant. Carmenita = Little Carmen not Carm.

  7. Marna Nightingale*

    On the other end of the spectrum, when my friend’s father, a professor, died one of his closer colleagues came up to friend’s mom at the funeral and said “I wanted you to know that I have asked to have Basil’s office”.

    This is quite difficult to properly convey in text, but while it was impressively awkward as an opener to condolences, this was absolutely meant to be comforting and was indeed comforting.

    Especially as my friend was in that department and passed that office regularly. It truly did help him knowing that someone who had been really close to Basil was behind that door now.

    1. LW1*

      After your first para., I went .
      After your 2nd paragraph, I said, “Ooooohhh…”.
      And after your third para., I was a little weepy. Thank you so much.

  8. Ridger*

    LW2 reminds me of a game show so long ago that The Flying Nun was on TV. Alejandro Rey was on the show, and the hist was pretending to have trouble with “Alejandro”; “don’t you have a shorter nickname?” Nope, says Rey, and the host said surely his mother didn’t call him that? Oh, no, of course not! “She calls me Alejandrito.” (The host laughed and had no problem with the name for the rest of the show.)

  9. Ramona*

    oh, yea– the personal anecdotes about names. Theres a few topics that just universally compell the internet (not just here!) to share their person, tangentially related experiances en mass-‘- food allergies being another one, or “smells i do not like”. captain awkward has to put in a moderation note not to do this every time a writer mentions having a food allergy or prefernce!

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