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Popular Names: Nicknames Gone Wild

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How do you tell when popular names get too popular?

If a name is in the Top 10, it might be easy, but what if they’re further down the list….and how far is far enough? Judging popular names gets even more difficult when they’re short forms, maybe not so popular at all on their own.

Just how ubiquitous is Lily?, an expectant mom asked recently on our forums. Lily as itself is Number 17 on the official popularity list; up there, for sure, but there are only a third as many Lilys as there are girls who get the number one Isabella. So is Lily really one of those names you’re going to hear coming and going?

Sadly, the answer may be yes, and here’s why.

Lily, along with a handful of other nickname names, is not only popular on its own, but it’s used as a short form for several other popular names: Lillian, Liliana, and so on. The result: Many more Lilys than you might guess.

This phenomenon can be applied to names with many spelling variations: Leila or Michaela or Mackenzie in their rainbow of flavors. But today’s focus is on nicknames gone wild. Sure, these are adorable, but they all come with a warning label: rampant popularity ahead.

AddieAddie is sweet and old-fashioned and even fresh-feeling, a followup to the now-overused Abby. But Addie is coming up fast thanks to a host of newly-popular mother names, from the trendy Addison to cool classics Adeline and Adelaide, often chosen specifically because they come with cute short form Addie.

AlexAlex may be the unisex nickname name of the decade, not only a Top 100 name on its own for boys for a short form for boys’ Number 6 Alexander along with a huge contingent of popular girls’ names: Alexis, Alexa, Alexandra et al.

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Nicknames Q & A

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I love the name Samantha, but i don’t want my daughter to be called Sam, or worse, Sammy. How can I keep people from turning my child’s proper name into a nickname?

Over the past few decades, there’s been a trend toward calling children by their full names rather than the short forms that have been traditionally attached to them. There are far more baby Elizabeths, for instance than there are baby Beths or Bettys or Betsys, just as Jameses outnumber Jims and Jimmys in nurseries across America. But be warned that this stand for children’s dignity can easily be thwarted, despite your determination to stick with the undiluted original. If and when your 8-year-old Samantha gets a phone call from a friend asking for Sammy, you’re not really going to say, ”I’m sorry. There’s no one here by that name.”

Are there some names that are nickname-proof?

Some parents try to dodge the problem by choosing a name that–on paper at least–appears to be nickname proof, perhaps a one-syllable name, such as Cale, Sean or Beau. The problem is, a pet form can still be made just by adding a syllable–with results that may be even worse (just ask Caley, Seanie or Beauzie). A two or three syllable name can suffer from the same problem in reverse, as Helena becomes Hell and Fatima becomes Fat.

Some parents try to nickname-proof by choosing a name that’s ALREADY a nickname. But many find themselves choosing Zak or Abby or Jake only to find themselves with a Zakky or an Ab or a Jakey. Conversely, those same parents might find their children’s informal names buttoning themselves up into Zachary or Abigail or Jacob.

If nicknames are inevitable, can I at least choose the one I want, so that William doesn’t automatically become Bill?

If you aren’t against nicknames per se, but just don’t like the idea of your William becoming an old-hat-sounding Bill or Willie, you might want to look a bit father afield for a more original short form. Back when 57% of the female population of England was named either Mary, Anne or Elizabeth, for instance, people had to come up with ways to distinguish one Mary from another–at times even within the same family. So there’s a whole host of lost nicknames to be rediscovered, including Tetty and Tibby for Elizabeth, Wilkie for William, and Posey for Josephine.

The only rule about nicknames is that, no matter how hard you try to control them, they tend to have a life of their own. So, do the very best you can, spend nine months determining the most perfect name for your child, then sit back and relax. Because in the end, the only name you get to pick is the one that goes on the birth certificate.

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