Stomas nicknames: to name or not to name

30 April 2019
Stomas nicknames: to name or not to name
Stomas nicknames: to name or not to name

Stoma care nurses Jane Cook and Jackie Hatton discuss the results of their survey on the names that people give to their stomas

Stoma care nurses Jane Cook and Jackie Hatton, in their practice, noticed that many of their patients named their stoma and that this helped them accept having one. In 2018, they carried out a survey to find out why people named their stomas and how they came up with names. They sent out 100 questionnaires, of which 65 were returned.

Asking questions

Of the people who responded, 66% said they had named their stoma, with the rest saying that they had not. An overview of the names that they gave can be found on the next page. Of the 33 respondents who specified their stoma’s name, more than two-thirds of those names were gendered. Just under half were gendered male (48%), with just over a quarter gendered female (27%) and the rest gender-neutral (24%). Male stoma names were more popular among both genders, but this difference was bigger for men. The table on the next page shows the exact breakdown of genedered names.

Types of names

The chosen names were varied, but patterns can be seen. There were a few genderless descriptive names, such as Daddy’s Plaster, Diddy’s Button and Nuisance. These sometimes emphasised the difficult nature of the stoma, for example, Gusher, which ‘gushes when it works—no control, has a mind of its own’, and whose owner considered it a ‘nightmare’ and ‘would not wish having a stoma on anyone’.

‘Male names were popular among both genders’

However, most names were English given names. Diminutive and informal versions of male names (Bob, Stan, Bertie, Terry, Stevie, Pat, Fred) were especially popular, thought to be more ‘fun’ and ‘friendly’. There was a preference for names starting with an [s] or [st] sound (Stan, Stevie, Stella), including Cilla, which ‘needed to start with S or C, [as] when it made a noise it sounded like it was singing’.

Stoma names chosen



Bertie (x2)
Bob (x2)
Stan the Stoma
Stanley the Stoma

Stella the Stoma

Daddy’s Plaster
Diddy’s Button

Choosing a name

The origin of names varied. One, George, was named after being created on St George’s Day. Some referred to fictional characters, such as Stig of the Dump and two animated sloths, Neal ‘from a TV advert’ and Sid ‘from Ice Age’. A number of female names were based on flowers (Poppy, Rosie, Lily), ‘Because it looks like [a rose]’ and ‘My wife said it looked like a lily’. Wilhelmina had a less dignified origin, being named for resemblance to a penis (willy).

‘Naming a stoma takes away stigma’

Others showed a humorous play on the idea of a stoma bag, including a Scottish ostomate going for Sporran (the pouch that goes with a kilt). Two others named their stomas after the designer handbag labels Gucci and Radley, making for a humorous contrast with their less-than-glamorous contents. Only one in 10  respondents said the name they chose was anything personal to them.

Two-thirds of stomas named after fictional characters were named after cartoon sloths

Reasons why

Humour was emphasised by many respondents as a reason for naming their stoma, as it ‘take[s] away stigma’, ‘helps us to look at the quite weird positives’ and ‘makes it less frightening somehow, less serious’. Comic names were good for emphasising ‘the lighter side of life’, ‘passing on positive stories’ and appealing to a ‘huge, dark, weird sense of humour’.

People said that personifying a stoma with a given name helped it ‘become more of a friend, a part of the family’, or even ‘part of me’. It has ‘a mind of its own’ and ‘can be praised or shouted at when we have accidents’, as ‘when she kicks off, everybody shouts “shut up Lily”’.

Though names are typically associated with other humans, people also name animals and inanimate objects to which they have an emotional connection, such as a pet dog or even a boat. Naming something both reflects the importance of the named thing and confers importance on it. Naming is also a way of changing or controlling something. As soon as someone labels a concept, they change how people perceive it, as words and names can evoke an image.

Talking in code

Many respondents chose a name to avoid using the words ‘stoma’ or ‘bag’, saying ‘I hate’ the word stoma, it ‘has negative connotations’ and I ‘found the word bag dirty, unsexy, unclean’. Respondents gave their stoma a name ‘to take the edge off it, just to call it something other than bag’, so ‘I can cope and talk about it better’. There was evidently a psychological coping mechanism at work, as ‘it’s easier to refer to’ and ‘it makes it easier to mention without using the word stoma, intimating illness and suffering’.

‘I can cope and talk about it better’

Multiple respondents referred specifically to a ‘code word’. Phrases like ‘going to see Terry!’, ‘need to sort Radley’ and ‘need to deal with Sidney’ are ambiguous enough for people not familiar with the codename that they ‘could [be perceived to] relate to human or animal’. A codename makes the stoma ‘easier to refer to’ and ‘easier to say rather than “my stoma”’, ‘because, if I call it by its name, no one knows I have one, unless I say’. This is especially useful when the stoma leaks or needs changing when people are out or at work.

Easing conversation

A codename is not only useful for keeping the stoma secret, it also makes ‘it easier for everyone to talk about and for the family to ask questions’; ‘Family and friends know when I [need to go] to the loo; I may be longer than usual, and [they] know the reason why’. When with ‘people who know it’s a stoma’, a codename still makes it ‘easier for everyone to talk openly’, especially about ‘having to leave the room or make an extended toilet stop’, as well as making it easier to ‘laugh with others at her behaviour in public’. It is worth remembering that names are not always used to maintain secrecy; they may also be used by ostomates who are ‘not embarrassed and can openly talk to friends or strangers about [their] stoma’.

Gender of stoma name

Male respondents

Female respondents

All respondents

Male name

7 (64%)

9 (41%)

16 (48%)

Female name

2 (18%)

7 (32%)

9 (27%)

Gender-neutral name

2 (18%)

6 (27%)

8 (24%)

All names




Reaching an audience

This suggests that ostomates who name their stomas do it for the benefit of others as well as themselves. All but one respondent (95%) reported sharing their name with their partner. Calling a stoma by a name is ‘less embarrassing for other people’ and ‘keeps it light and makes people smile’. Often, family members had the privilege of choosing the name, such as the person whose ‘daughter called it plaster, so the name stuck’, one whose ‘grandson named it’ and one whose ‘niece couldn’t say stoma; she called it a “toema”, [then] “Terry Toema”’.

‘I let my daughter name it, so she could accept it’

Only 10% of respondents said their partner chose the name, and names appear to be more often chosen by family members of younger generations. Perhaps this has something to do with children having less of a sense of social taboos. It is partly explained by respondents who wrote ‘I let my daughter name it […] so she could accept it’ and ‘as my daughter would accept it’. Similarly, another ostomate highlighted the codename’s ‘acceptability [for a] grandson, and later his brother, [as it] makes having a stoma seem more natural’. Children’s outbursts—’he just came out with it’—can be a spontaneous and humorous source of a name and can help build a bond between adult and child, such as ‘When our disabled grandson was able to talk, he christened me Diddy, a name that has stuck, and button seemed the most appropriate description’.

A number of female stoma names were based on flowers

Finding acceptance

As well as practical and social rationales, naming a stoma also has a psychological significance related to the process of acceptance; negative psychological symptoms are common after stoma formation. Three-quarters of respondents reported that it had helped them cope with the effects of surgery. Respondents said that a name ‘Helped make it part of me and [helped me] come to terms with it’. As ‘it takes time to adjust to life with a stoma, [with] so many different emotions before coming to acceptance, it was often named some time after it was formed, often when it began to be seen as ‘a change for the better’, perhaps ‘6 months after when I was feeling better and realised it saved my life’. Only one (5%) respondent reported expecting, before surgery, to ever give the stoma a name. One respondent wrote:

‘[I] named my stoma when I became happy with the situation; everything happened too quickly at the beginning for me to cope with. I was in shock at first, [my nurse] did mention that some people name their stoma—totally dismissed this at the time, but it must have rung a bell later; I remembered when I became more confident to give it a name.’

Jane CookLead Stoma Care Nurse Specialist (
Jackie HattonStoma Care Nurse Specialist
This article is based on one published in Gastrointestinal Nursing, vol. 16, no. 7

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