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Nicknames: Where do you stand?

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Today’s Question of the Week is about where you stand on nicknames and nickname names.

There is a sliding scale of attitudes when it comes to nicknames: some people pick a name specifically to get to its pet form, others choose a name because it can’t be readily nicknamed, sometimes putting the nn right on the birth certificate. Where you you stand?

*I deliberately picked a name that would be hard to nickname.

*I prefer to call my child by his full name and encourage others to do so, difficult as it sometimes is.

*I chose a name to get to its nickname.

*I usually call my child by a short/pet form, one that I had determined at the same time I picked the name.

*I usually call my child by a nickname, which has evolved over time.

*My child has more than one nickname, used by different people.

*I gave my child a nickname name.

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World Premiere of 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban'

Novelist Joanne Lessner guest blogs about the family nicknaming tradition that can turn any upstanding name into something much more ridiculous.

My family loves words. We make them up, we pun incessantly, and we number several lyricists among us. We’re really rather annoying. But possibly the most vexing trait we exhibit, at least to those on the receiving end, is the generations-long tradition of an older sibling blighting a younger one with a ridiculous and, to the uninitiated, mystifying nickname.

We are nothing if not consistent in our weirdness. Our nicknames are all preceded by the definite article. For example, long before there was Rupert, there was my mother, nicknamed The Grint by her older brother. How, you may reasonably ask, did my Uncle John get The Grint from Helen? Apparently, she grinned a lot, and my uncle, misunderstanding the word, started calling her The Grinter, which he then shortened. My mother hated it, but as Helen was the 24th most popular name for girls born in 1941, my grandmother found it useful for getting her attention in a crowded store.

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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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