Category: vintage nicknames
The British are known as much for their eccentricity as for their conventionality, two stereotypes evidenced in the names from the recent birth announcements in the London Telegraph.
Sometimes, the two images cross, with the same eccentric (to American ears, at least) names being used so often they begin to feel conventional. The first three months of 2014, for instance, seem to be rife with girls named Matilda and Ottilie and boys named every variation of Fred: Frederick and Wilfred and Alfred and Freddie.
But what we’re focusing on today are the truly eccentric names, the one-offs and the unusual choices that may prove fashion forward or may just be evidence of the infamous British wackiness. These eccentric new names fall into several different camps.
The first and largest might be thought of as the mainstream eccentric British names, such as:
Nickname-names still appear on birth certificates. In the U.S., such names as Ellie, Abby, and Charlie for girls; Jake, Jack, and Johnny for boys all rank high. In the U.K., nickname-names are even more fashionable, with Evie, Maisie, Millie, and Ellie in the Top 35 for girls, and Jack, Charlie, and Alfie in the boys’ Top 10.
But there are generations of nickname-names that have fallen off the Top 1000, yet sound cute and baby-ready today. The list here is drawn from names that were on the Social Security roster on their own in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but fell off by the early 1970s (the date of their last listing follows the name) and haven’t yet reappeared.
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.
It’s astonishing to think that Hattie – just Hattie, all by itself, not Harriet — was Number 27 in 1880, until you realize that many other short forms were among the top choices that year. Minnie was all the way up at Number 5, Annie was Number 11, Nellie, 18, and Bessie, 23. Other nicknames for girls in the Top 50 included Carrie, Jennie, Mattie, Jessie, and Fannie (and obviously, the ie ending was the popular one).