Dale Carnegie once wrote, “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” As sportscasters, we say names more than anything else throughout the course of our call and it begs the question – with all the emphasis on varying words to keep things interesting, does the same apply to nicknames and first names? Here are some guidelines.
The less you use nicknames and first names, the more professional you will come across. It’s as simple as that. Often times in the lower levels of broadcasting like high school or juniors, the sportscaster is often very friendly with the players he or she is covering. With that special relationship, it might seem easier for the sportscaster to revert to nicknames or first names, but remember the job of a play-by-play or color analyst is to bring the game across to the audience in a clear manner.
Chances are, majority of your audience doesn’t have the same familiar relationship with the players and can be confused if swapping back and forth between first name and last name or nickname and last night.
That’s not to say you should NEVER use first names or nicknames, because there are a few examples of a good time to use them. For future reference, when referring to nicknames, I’m referring to pet-names, not the common shortenings of names such as “Joseph” to “Joe” or even initials like “TJ” from “Thomas James” like me. In those cases, it’s always best to ask the player what they prefer and stick with their selection for the duration of the player’s career.
Nicknames: I almost never use nicknames. It sounds very lazy to me, and in a way like a humblebrag. When I hear a broadcaster use a players first name, all I can hear is this smug “Yeah, I know him. We’re on a first name basis.” It also disconnects me from the game, because I might not recognize the player he or she is referring to.
Now, there are some good times to use a nickname. My favorite useage of a nickname is when punching up a great moment. Take a walk-off homerun for example. Your first baseman David Ortiz just hit a bomb over the left-field wall. As he trots around the bases you’re finishing up your homerun call with the final score. Ortiz rounds third base and you interject:
“The man affectionately known around the clubhouse as ‘Big Papi’ is mobbed by his teammates as he reaches homeplate.”
In that instance the use of a nickname helps humanize the superstar to the audience. It allows the listeners to connect with the relationships shared amongst the players. Perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t convey a relationship between the broadcaster and the player that may come off as unprofessional and self-centered.
First Names: Using first names solo is a tricky business to get into. It’s likely that several players on a roster have the same first name, so using the first name alone is just asking for confusion. On my team for instance, we have three players named “Connor” and that’s not counting the player who has “Conner” as his surname. Airing on the side of first name and last name or last name only is always the best course of action.
Like nicknames however, using first names alone is something that can help your broadcast, if it’s done correctly. Let’s say you have a few players on your team all with the same last name and they find themselves on the field at the same time. If it’s a fast paced sport like basketball or hockey, it’s okay to say something like:
“John Smith and Dave Smith manning the blue line. John retains possession, slides it across to Dave. Dave Smith walks up the wall and takes a shot!”
Using a phrase like that works for two reasons. The first is that you prefaced the players by their full name before going with just the first. No audience member will be confused because milliseconds ago, you set the stage. The second reason it works is because you don’t lean on just the first name. It’s not a substitution for the full name, instead it’s sprinkled in and once it’s used, you immediately return it full name.