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Billy and Bob are Back in the Playground

vintage nicknames

By Linda Rosenkrantz

The nickname-name trend is nothing new. Who among us hasn’t known a baby Max or Maggie or Sam or Ellie? Or even one of those with a whiff of vintage nostalgia, like Millie or Josie?

But lately there’s been a new twist on this phenomenon, especially seen in the celebrisphere. Several stars have resurrected some of the All-American Boy nicknames of the Depression Era, like Billy and Johnny and Tommy, and haven’t hesitated to plunk them right onto their babe’s birth certificate. In particular:

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nickname Millie

Thank you, Jimmy Fallon, for naming your new daughter Winnie Rose, and proving our point— which is that we’re into a whole new era of nickname names.  These are worlds away from midcentury short forms like Cindy and Mindy and Marci and Lori, but go further back in time to faded Victorian favorites. It’s a trend that started in the UK, where 10% of the current Top 100 girls’ names fit this description, and several of the boys— Alfie, Archie, Freddie, Ollie—rank high as well.  Here are some of the vintage girls’ nickname names, with their uniquely charming combo of sentiment and sass, which illustrate the trend.

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Freckle-Faced Names: Polly, Peggy & Penny

freckles3

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  The ‘B’ Elizabeth nicknames were superseded by the ‘L’ ones– Liz, Lizzie, Liza and Lisa– but maybe now might be the time for a switch back.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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