Ask Angel

What’s in a Name?

Elayne Angel,
I read your articles and I always learn a lot from you. Now I’m so aggravated that I need to ask for help. I honestly don’t know how to deal with clients that think they know everything—especially the names for piercings.
It was hard enough to bite my tongue when customers asked how much our gauges cost. I can’t believe that I have almost gotten used to that! But this is even crazier.
People are asking for dragon bites, rhino bites (nostril piercings?) spider bites, angel bites and kisses, dolphin kisses, panda kisses, etc. And don’t get me started on the girls who ask for click piercings! Or an Eskimo, or a suicide piercing, and any other possible stupid piercing name out there. When I ask them where that is, I’ve had people call ME stupid and walk out saying I’m not really a professional piercer if I don’t know where it goes! They are mixing up daith, rook, and tragus piercings—and asking for the ones that cure migraines or help with weight loss, and calling a conch with a ring an orbital. ARRRR! They are driving me crazy!!!
What is the best way to deal with this? Thank you, W.

Dear W.,

I understand your pain; this can be a very frustrating situation. As a “words person” and the author of a book and a monthly magazine column about piercing, I feel such semantic transgressions profoundly.

Piercing terminology has undergone numerous changes throughout the course of my career. I must even take credit—or blame—for several of the piercing names in general use: lorum and fourchette, among them. Whether we like it or not, some terms stick around, and others come and go.

It may be helpful to be aware that change is a defining characteristic of a living language. According to the Linguistics Society: “Language is always changing, evolving, and adapting to the needs of its users.”(i) They also point out that many of the transformations in lexicon begin with young adults. That group constitutes a significant percentage of the clientele in most piercing businesses. The linguists caution our harsh judgement: “The fact that language is always changing doesn’t mean it’s getting worse; it’s just becoming different.” (Yeah, I’m not sure I believe that either.)

Try to bear in mind that these irksome shoppers are simply requesting piercings they admired on someone, or saw on social media/online. They’re innocently asking for them using the vocabulary that was provided. Simply put: it isn’t their fault. Unless they personally made up the name, we shouldn’t blame or berate them, even if it makes us cringe.

We all experienced the painful defeat of our valiant battle to correct everyone misusing the word “gauges.” Somehow, the term managed to gain widespread usage for plugs and eyelets, however erroneous and distasteful this seems to us. Despite our best efforts, all we did was unintentionally alienate the very people who pay our bills. Still, we lived through the Gauges Fiasco; surely we can persevere in the face of some ridiculous bites and kisses.

I’ve got bad news: we won’t win this fight either, take my…word. And, ultimately, (I can’t believe I’m saying this) it doesn’t really matter. What’s most important is that we end up with satisfied customers who are wearing jewelry in the spots they want pierced. It is fine to say, “Ah, we call that placement a ‘such-and-such piercing’ around here. No problem; I’d be happy to do that for you!”

One of the ways I handle the situation when faced with a request for an ambiguously named piercing is to (quietly take a slow, deep breath and) kindly say, “Since I began working in this industry in the 1980s, I’ve found that piercing terms vary over time and by geographic location. So, to make sure we’re on the same page, could you please show me a photo, or point to the exact spot on your body?” That way, I already made it evident that I am an experienced piercer, and I listed some external factors that affect the nomenclature.

A complaint I frequently hear from clients is that they’ve been subjected to condescending attitudes from other piercers. I’ve noticed that piercing names are among the areas that bring out the worst of this behavior—including outright hostility. Many of us are heavily ornamented or modified, and this alone can be intimidating to newbies and the unpierced, even when we’re super nice! Therefore, I believe we need to work extra hard to be welcoming, inclusive, non-judgmental, and patient. They have absolutely no idea why we’d be annoyed with them for coming in and…asking to get pierced!

Many aspects of our job require stamina and fortitude, and this is an area for which we need to exhibit the patience of a saint. I know it is a lot to ask. But dig deep, because I genuinely believe this is part of what it means to be a “good piercer.” Modern behavioral science indicates that the way we react is determined largely by our view of the events, not the events themselves. Books(ii) and articles(iii), (iv) on adjusting our attitudes offer insights and techniques that might be helpful. If you can’t manage to be civil, then it is time to take a break.

There is a more critical area in which usage of non-standard terms could really matter: on our paperwork. To avoid misunderstandings—and litigation—it has been my policy to always write in the name or description of a readily identifiable body part on the release form. I also include enough detail so that I can tell specifically what was pierced. If slang or jargon is used exclusively, (however common among piercing professionals) there is potential for confusion.

This applies even when we refer to a piercing by its correct anatomical designation, for example, fourchette, tragus, and lingual frenulum. If a term is not universally known, don’t use it as the only identifier. Have sufficient space so you can write in as much detail as necessary for optimal clarification.


  • Ear cartilage (“daith”) Or “helix” or “conch,” etc.
  • Upper lip center (“philtrum”)
  • Genitals (“vertical clitoral hood: VCH”) Or “perineum: guiche,” etc.


Requirements and legalities for release forms vary by region. It is definitely worth the expense to have a local attorney review yours. Many lawyers will decline to bring a suit if there is a well-written, properly executed release, so they have the potential to avert legal action.

In the unhappy event that you do end up in court, the release form will be a strong defense—unless there are issues with it. You need to be certain that the document accurately reflects the location of the piercing in a clear and straightforward manner.

Language evolves whether we like it or not. We don’t have to adopt the alternate labels our customers use; unfortunately, we can’t prevent them from being uttered either. You may have noticed that clients are often unreceptive to being corrected, and (unsurprisingly) take offense at being scolded. So, instead of expending time and energy bickering, let’s focus on the job, which is to provide a safe and effective service. Therefore, though challenging, please resist the temptation to make them feel as foolish as they sound to you. Instead, I’m urging an approach of understanding, tolerance, and kindness.