Since the descriptive ability of human beings developed, there has always been a strong tendency to give names to people, animals, things, etc. to make sure the sound of that particular name runs in line with our liking. The prefix “nick” makes it not official or not the person’s given name at birth. Even before the advent of Islam, people used to tailor perfect nicknames for their sons; even their animals and weapons..
Islam came and accepted some names and nicknames which, contextually, meant bravery, perseverance, obedience and so on, but equally forbade others that meant partnering with Allah. But given the evolution of names and emergence of strange nicknames, has Islam changed its position on nicknames? No. According to scholars it is not haram at all to give someone nicknames but the condition is that the nicknames should not run contrary to Islamic principles. Going back to the life of the prophet, almost all his companions had nicknames, he even nicknamed some of them. For instance, Abu Bakr, his best friend and the first of the four Rashidun Caliphate, did not have that name at birth. His real name was Abdallah bin Abi Quhafa.
There is a hadith that mentioned that our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) went to the masjid and found Ali lying and sleeping in the masjid while dust was on his body. According to that narration, the Prophet dusted sand off Ali’s body and said, “Get up! Father of Sand”. And the most notable of all the nicknames during the lifetime of the Prophet was Abdurahman Ibn Sakhra, Abu Huraira, a shining example of hadith narration. He was nicknamed Abu Huraira—father of the kittens—by the Prophet himself (PBUH). This nickname even overshadowed his real name and he was happy to carry the name. Muadh bin Jabal—son of the mountain—was also one of the recognizable companions of the Prophet and that was a nickname. The list goes on.
One of the main factors for the debate over nicknames is the way people use them nowadays. Human creativity improved and that has reflected in the way we give nicknames. Islam accepts giving nicknames but it should be good names. For example, if you get on the social media and browse the names that people use under the pretext of anonymity, you will be surprised. Nicknames like The Killer, Crazy B, Tsunami, etc. Islam will never accept such nicknames because all they connote is something unpleasant and abominable. Islamic scholars have unanimously agreed that if the nickname means something acceptable in Islam then you are free to use it but anything other than that will not be considered Islamic.
What definitely not accepted is giving someone a nickname they do not like but you insist on still address him/her with that nickname. It has sparked violence in many circumstances. Such things are not considered traits of a good Muslim. Therefore, following the footsteps of the Prophet, we are allowed to give nicknames to people but we should select them carefuly.