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Category: 1950s names

Old School Nicknames

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Vintage names have been cool for a while now, but old school nicknames are just starting to come into their own.

The Brits have led the way on the revival of the retro nickname, with their fashionable little Alfies and Evies, Freddys and Teddys — though Teddy just might be a girl.

Especially fresh on this side of the pond are the old school nicknames for boys: We’ve long loved Ned and Joe and Hank, but we are newly fond of such choices as Ray and Hal, Walt and Monty.

For girls, names that are just beginning to awake from a long slumber sound especially fetching: Dottie, Betty, Lou.

Using one of these new old nicknames for your child can be a way to give a fresh spin to a classic name, to distinguish a little girl from her namesake grandma, or to set your Henry apart from the five others on the block.

Here, a roundup of classic and vintage names and their old school nicknames.

girls

Adelaide or AdelineAddie

Beatrice or BeatrixBea or Trixie

CharlotteLottie

Dorothea or DorothyDory or Dottie

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One of my favorite poems, for reasons that will soon be obvious, is called “Mourning the Dying American Female Names,” by Hunt Hawkins.  You can read the whole poem here, but I’ll give you a few choice lines:

Many names are almost gone: Gertrude, Myrtle,

Agnes, Bernice, Hortense, Edna, Doris, and Hilda,

They were wide women, cotton-clothed, early rising.

You had to move your mouth to say their names,

and they meant strength, speak, battle, and victory.

While many of the names Hawkins mourns do indeed seem to be dying, a few he goes on to mention  — Ada, Florence, and Edith– are stirring back to life.

But then there are the new names headed toward obscurity, my own among them.

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Freckle-Faced Names: Polly, Peggy & Penny

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There’s a certain species of girls’ names that we’ve referred to in our books as freckle-faced, pigtailed and button-nosed: they’re the kind of character names inhabited by Shirley Temple as a curly-haired moppet, and Judy Garland as a wide-eyed, innocent teen, as well as starring in dozens of old popular songs. Basically nickname names that have long stood on their own, none can be found any longer in the current Top 1000 — though one of them ranked as high as Number 31 in the 1930’s.

They’ve been gone a long time, but they still project a lot of spunk, and so, with the revival of nickname names in general we’re wondering if any of these could get their youthful mojo back. 

We’re talking about:

Betsy

Gone since 1995; Highest rating: Number 228 in 1959

Associations: Betsy Ross, Betsy Wetsy doll, Sweet Betsy from Pike, Betsey Johnson

Betsy originated as a combination of other classic pet forms of ElizabethBetty, Beth and Bessie, and makes appearances in two Dickens novels—Pickwick Papers and David Copperfield.  The ‘B’ Elizabeth nicknames were superseded by the ‘L’ ones– Liz, Lizzie, Liza and Lisa– but maybe now might be the time for a switch back.

Patsy

Gone since 1975; Highest rating:  52 in 1936 and 1941

Associations: Patsy (born Virginia) Cline, Patsy (born Patricia) Kensit, numerous Italian and Irish restaurants and bars

Patsy was replaced as a Patricia nickname first by Pat, then Patty, then Tricia/Tricia, then Trish. Probably the least likely candidate for a comeback.

Peggy

Gone since 1989; Highest rating:  31 in 1937

Associations: Peggy Lee, Peggy Sue Got Married, Peggy (born Margaret) Olson on Mad Men

Peggy, a pet form of Margaret, is the one that’s climbed the highest of all these names. Perky and pure, Peggy was the perfect date for the prom—in 1953.  In later decades it’s been traded in for Maggie.    

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fatherknows best

I don’t you know if you’ve noticed a growing trendlet—at least among celebrities—for what we might call generic-boy-nickname-names.  In other words, these aren’t specific short forms like Charlie or Archie, but ol- timey macho boy tags like Buddy and Buster.

In the recent past, we’ve seen Noel Gallagher’s Sonny, a choice shared by British singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor—as well as Adam Sandler’s daughter Sunny; Jamie Oliver’s Buddy Bear Maurice; Michele Hicks and Jonny Lee Miller’s Buster Timothy; the three Aces of Natalie Appleton, Tom Dumont, and Jennie Finch and Casey Daigle; the two Dukes of Diane Keaton and Justine Bateman; and the Junior of Peter Andre and Katie Price.

We can’t help wondering if this is yet another offshoot of the midcentury Mad Men phenomenon, bringing us back to the days of Father Knows Best’s Bud (birth name James Anderson, Jr.) and J. D. Salinger’s Buddy Glass (real name Webb Gallagher Glass), and Marlon Brando, who was known to friends and family as Bud.  In those days, though, Sonny or Buster were not usually put on the birth certificate, and over time those pet names began to be relegated to pets.

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Film Noir Names

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The shadowy world of film noir, those stark black-and-white, often low-budget films with single-word titles—Possessed, Pursued, Trapped, Tension, Decoy, Detour, Breakdown, Blackmail—produced in Hollywood from roughly the early 1940s to the late 1950s, were populated with smoldering femmes fatale, hard-boiled detectives, corrupt cops, cynicism, intrigue and suspense

A lot of the female characters had a distinctive style of forgotten two-syllable names like Veda, Velma, Verna, Meta, Mida and Nita, while the tough guys who weren’t named Nick or Tony or Barney were occasionally given some wildly eccentric monikers.

Here, from both classics of the genre like The Maltese Falcon to barely remembered B-movies, some of the more interesting examples:

GIRLS

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