By John Leaf Special to Published Jul 23, 2011 at 11:31 AM

"Hey Fatso!"

So what if you have a nickname you don't like? Self-esteem, by definition, shouldn't be a fragile thing, even if your nickname is "Fatso." But fragile it is.

Often times, our self-esteem and self-perception become the same thing. But where does our self-esteem come from? Too often, it doesn't come from a loving parent, but rather it comes from something hammered into us from the neighborhood bully, or the jealous "friend."

So often, the wrong nickname comes as a result of being on the bottom of the pile at the playground. Or it is thrust upon us by an insensitive family member or well-intentioned "friend," albeit a wounded one.

As little kids, and even adults, we give our power away all too unknowingly, to all kinds of healthy and damaged people, without the wisdom to give it a second thought. And all of the sudden, we no longer control the power of a runaway label. And once a bad nickname is "out there," other people are all too quick to make it stick. And then, if you are little Timmy or Becky, how in God's name do you recover it?

Too often, our sense of self esteem resides in one of our life's most embarrassing moments; or comes from a physical characteristic; or from a big failure at a critical time, as a member of a losing team. And at that moment, the wrong nickname can quickly turn into a life-long nickname that can completely cripple us for life.

Don't believe me? I've heard the stories. And the web site has a section devoted to helping kids overcome nicknames they don't like, but also can't seem to shed.

And the "funny" thing about this fragile thing called self-esteem? Some people would rather be called "Fatso" than nobody, because our insatiable need for a sense of identity around something often times trumps our own sense of self worth.

Ever know anyone nicknamed "Fatso" or "Brace Face" or "Short Stuff" or "Piano Legs" or "Snaggle Tooth" or "Down Wind" or "Elephant Ears?" Take the time to care enough to ask, and be ready to grab the Kleenex box if you've earned the right to be heard by them. Some of these stories aren't pretty, but they do end up residing in their DNA.

As fun as this nickname topic has been over the past few years, I've also heard some gut wrenching, heart-flopping stories that have left me grabbing for the Tums, and there is plenty enough pain in some of these stories to go around for everyone.

You see, the wounded people that give others these pejorative and horrible nicknames have no self-esteem themselves. If they did, they would have no need to defeat other people, to feel good about themselves. They, too, are the walking wounded.

We need to recognize that we are all wandering around this planet damaged and wounded. It is just a question of degree. If we weren't damaged, there would be a lot fewer nasty nicknames in play.

In the end, self esteem is simply related to whether or not we chose to grow as a person. And the only people who are wrong in this name game, are the ones who have not taken the time to think they might not be right.

If you have a nickname you don't like, and have a story to tell about it, I want to hear it. Let me know.

John Leaf Special to

John Leaf was born in western Illinois, a mile east of the Mississippi. College in Chicago. He holds a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Leaf was goalie on the soccer team and captain of the golf team in college. He cut class to ride the "L" to see Cubs games, hung out for hours at the Art Institute and bent the brain doing graduate school in Theology.

He spent three mind-blowing summers in coastal British Columbia, as a resort photographer. He worked and lived in Minneapolis. He did hard time at a bank on LaSalle Street in Chicago and learned about PR, working at big firm a block off Michigan Avenue, while living in Evanston.

Now Leaf is just living the dream, under the radar, in Cedarburg. He's passionate about nicknames and launched his website three years ago.

He dabbles in yoga and cycling. Fishtailing as always, and taking a whack at life, like everyone else.