Do you know when people substitute a name for something or someone, calling it something that it is not officially called or is not the actual name of the thing, usually meant in a sarcastic or derogatory way?

“Micro$oft” or “M$” is a popular example. I’m a big fan of Sean “Diddy” Combs and the New York Yankees and have heard people call both all sorts of names, derived from their actual name or stage name. You could say that it is name calling.

It’s like the prototypical schoolyard bully, in a way. The one we see on television and the one, I’m sure, some have seen in real life. One of the things that he or she does is twist your name into other, less kind names in order to inflict some level of abuse.

When it comes to my online communities, I gave this action a term: inflammatory name substitution. I know that’s pretty micro, but really, this sort of comment is just another form of inflammatory comment – one that generally doesn’t add much to a thread outside of hostility. And that’s how we handle it.

Some may scoff at this, and suggest that people need to develop a thicker skin. But, that sort of suggestion can be used to excuse a host of other comments that I also don’t allow on my community. There are plenty of communities where it is allowed, I’m sure. So, there is no reason for mine to be one of them.

Inflammatory name substitution is just a way for people to demean others or demean something that others like. Imagine if your boss called you some sarcastic, condescending twist on your name all day, every day, in front of your co-workers, customers and anyone else, including your family at company outings. It would be very demeaning. It’s really a bully mentality.

Some might say it is harmless. It’s not harmless if you are the one it’s directed at. And whether it is being used to demean you or your taste or interests (and, as such, to demean your speech in general), it is normally not a recipe for a respectful online community.

What I have found, and what I believe, is that these sorts of remarks immediately put people on edge, setting the tone for a hostile, unproductive discussion. Disallowing them, like disallowing inflammatory comments in general, helps lead to on topic, productive discussions where people feel as though they are respected, even if they are disagreed with.

This is crucial and though the idea of “inflammatory name substitution” may be small and may not be something we see on a daily basis, the strategy behind why we don’t allow it is one of the cornerstones of a respectful, productive online community.