Welcome to Net Positive, a series about nice places and things on the world wide web.
If there’s one thing for certain in this uncertain world, it's that teens are always getting up to some shit on TikTok. For the most part, this pertains to highly skilled, vertically oriented dancing or jumping atop milk crates, but once in a blue moon, the For You page delivers — no exaggeration — a miracle.
Enter: @betternames4u, an account run by a girl who identifies as “Container-Lynne” (almost certainly not her real name) who generates nicknames for her peers on a whiteboard. In an ideal relationship between myself and a teenager on a website, any other information about betternames4u, including her age and appearance, is unknown to me. All I have to go off of is her voice and her highly distinctive handwriting (more on that later).
A typical betternames4u video will go like this:
She’ll introduce the premise of the video (“nicknames for Olivia”) and then make a list of nicknames. The list will begin with somewhat conventional suggestions (“Liv” and “Olive”) before taking an immediate minimalist left-turn to “Via” (or “Ivia”) and then dovetailing into nouns. The noun modification in betternames4u is where the videos go from 0 to 100. “Olivia” becomes “Trivia,” “Broccolivia,” “Raviolivia,” and the truly — and I don’t use the next word lightly — random “Colin.”
“This whole thing is very finding your name on a novelty keychain,” a friend pointed out to me, and it’s true: There is a whole subset of TikTok centered on a fascination with having your name written down by someone you don’t know, whether it’s on a whiteboard or in water on a sidewalk. Though I am in my 30s, I have spent a few weeks asking betternames4u to write my name, and I intend to post again if she does.
What I can say with the utmost sincerity is that I believe wholeheartedly in the creative genius of betternames4u. The nickname game can often be cruel, uncreative work; I say this as someone who got called “Franny Pack” in both Jewish camp as a child and in graduate school in my late 20s. What’s important with betternames4u is that she knows that a nickname is not just a shortening: It’s an opportunity to enhance character, be it “Japplesauce” or “Jacknowledge” for Jack, or “Ellenten promise” or “Soundrellen” for Ellen. Some of her nicknames are truly brilliant manipulations of language, like pulling out the “ily” nested within Cailyn for a nickname that is the abbreviation for “I love you.” Watching her videos is like witnessing a mastermind at work.
I can’t imagine all of betternames4u’s names are going to good use, but the fact that she’s so committed to the cause is very funny and very charming. And, not for nothing, she writes her lowercase e’s in a way I’ve never seen before, like a reverse @ symbol. Her videos all end the same way, with a little wave and a “that’s all I have time for.” With a life that I assume is full of homework and extracurriculars, not to mention a re-upping on dry-erase markers, I’m glad we have betternames4u to make a betterworld4us.