Name-calling is the act of insulting others with descriptions and word choices that have negative connotations. It is not, “Hello, Mr. Smith.” Or, “Hi, Freddy!” (A nickname)
In fact, when we talk about graduation ceremonies, where they read off every student’s names, we say that it’s the moment where they are “calling the names”, a phrase with a very different context than “name-calling.” A person calling off the names of a roster in class is someone reading a list. Name-calling, with hyphen, is specifically making insults, using physical descriptors or animal names to insult others.
“Name-calling”, with the hyphen, is a stand-in verb for “denigrating others.”
It’s euphemistic, because it signifies “insult-hurling”, rather than something innocuous or positive, like “calling people by their first names” or “calling him/her by his/her last name” or “giving everybody nicknames.”
I think it necessarily came to be a euphemism for “insulting others,” because calling someone ‘insulting’ or ‘malicious’, during the debate, is going to come across as an act of name-calling itself.
Example: Have you ever seen someone throw down some serious ethnic slurs, and then watch how they react when someone responds and calls them “racist”? (Labeling them with a noun. It doesn’t end pretty…)
The euphemisms “make the medicine go down.” It also is why it is much better to describe their actions with verbs, or to characterize their behavior than their dignity as a person. Rather than labeling, saying: “You’re stereotyping people”, or “you’re using unacceptable language” gets the message across. (another euphemism: Unacceptable language doesn’t mean “you forgot an apostrophe” or “please re-edit this sloppy paper to include better grammar”, it means “you just said words that are a deep insult and a fireable offense.”).
Unacceptable language is a phrase we use when we want to say, “they used the strongest words our language has got, and didn’t use them for good.” Roseanne and Samantha Bee’s tweets this week would qualify: so “unacceptable” were they that for their consequences, millions of dollars of tv show was cancelled, and advertisement money revoked. “The society did not accept them; their employers shunned them” is what we signify by that normally tepid, soft word like “unacceptable.”
That’s why we also rely on euphemisms, and verbs like “name-calling” in these situation, rather than nouns/adjectives which would feel like labels of someone’s permanent identity. The verb describes the behavior, without partaking in it ourselves in response, and doesn’t stoop (which means “drop down a level”) to the act of name-calling the person in return.