Brits love diminutives. We use them, often automatically, to shorten names in a familiar way, and they have been essential for centuries as a way of distinguishing individuals with the same name. We love them so much, many of them have now been elevated into full-name status, and happily litter the Top 100.
The most common are two-syllable, ie/y-endings we know and love well; Isabelles are Izzy, Olivers are Ollie, Katherines are Katies and Fredericks are Freddies. But more and more, parents are looking to a more brisk and quirky style of diminutive. Edwards are often Ned, rather than Eddy; several Henrys are Hal, and Christophers are the striking Kit rather than Chris.
With this niche trend in mind, here is a rundown of some one-syllable diminutives that have become overlooked since they were developed in the Middle Ages. Several of them, perhaps surprisingly, were unisex.
In the 16th century Bess was a popular nickname for Elizabeth. You could almost say that it was the diminutive for the name, as the most famous bearer, Elizabeth I, was known fondly as “Good Queen Bess“. It began to lose favour in the 18th century, but was revived as Bessie in the 19th. In some instances, Bess was also used as a diminutive for Beatrice.
Nickname names have become increasingly popular and fashionable for children of both sexes over the past handful of years, in both the U.S. and the U.K. They’re evidence of a new informality along with a rebellion against putting a formal name on the birth certificate just because you’re supposed to.
Popular nicknames names for boys in the U.S. include the following, all in the Top 350:
Most baby namers have strong feelings about nicknames–pro or con– liking them on their own, liking them as short/pet forms, or wanting to avoid them altogether.
The question of the week is: Where do you stand on nicknames?
- Would you put a nickname name like Gracie or Charlie on your child’s birth certificate??
- Would you choose a name as a path to a nickname you like?
- Would you avoid a name because you don’t like its obvious nickname?
- Would you insist (or try to) on your child always being called by his full name?
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.