Category: vintage nicknames

vintage nicknames

By Pamela Redmond Satran

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.

Whether you choose to use Bea or Mamie, Clem or Zeb as full names or as diminutives for Beatrice or Marietta, Clement or Zebediah, any of these nickname-names would make charming choices.

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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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Vintage Nicknames for Girls

We love Hattie, the name Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott chose for their new baby girl.Hattie is one of the vintage nicknames for girls enjoying a new turn in the sun these days, on the path paved by such big sisters as Annie and Maggie.

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).

We see the full-fledged revival of this trend today, with Hattie a prime example of one of the vintage nicknames for girls that feel stylish, adorable, ready for a whole new generation of babies.

While choices like Ellie, Josie, and Sadie are already rising through the charts, what follows are our favorites of the next wave of cool vintage nicknames for girls.

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I don’t you know if you’ve noticed a growing trendlet—at least among celebrities—for what we might call generic-boy-nickname-names.  In other words, these aren’t specific short forms like Charlie or Archie, but ol- timey macho boy tags like Buddy and Buster.

In the recent past, we’ve seen Noel Gallagher’s Sonny, a choice shared by British singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor—as well as Adam Sandler’s daughter Sunny; Jamie Oliver’s Buddy Bear Maurice; Michele Hicks and Jonny Lee Miller’s Buster Timothy; the three Aces of Natalie Appleton, Tom Dumont, and Jennie Finch and Casey Daigle; the two Dukes of Diane Keaton and Justine Bateman; and the Junior of Peter Andre and Katie Price.

We can’t help wondering if this is yet another offshoot of the midcentury Mad Men phenomenon, bringing us back to the days of Father Knows Best’s Bud (birth name James Anderson, Jr.) and J. D. Salinger’s Buddy Glass (real name Webb Gallagher Glass), and Marlon Brando, who was known to friends and family as Bud.  In those days, though, Sonny or Buster were not usually put on the birth certificate, and over time those pet names began to be relegated to pets.

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How many names does it take to make a trend?

Well, with the number of nicknames for girls —both starbabies and civilians— coming from the boys’ camp these days, it’s starting to feel like a trend.  Call out Charlie or Sam in a playground and no telling what gender child will come running.  And if you look in the celebrity section you might also see a Johnnie, a Billie, a Lou or a Frances-called-Frankie dressed in pink.

Each of these nicknames for girls has a slightly different back story.  Sam is a recent arrival, legitimizing the short form that so many Samanthas are called (anyone remember that ill-fated 80s sitcom My Sister Sam?)—but recent enough that it has never appeared on the Social Security list.  Charlie, on the other hand, has been on the girls’ list on and off for over a century, first from 1880 to 1951, after which it dropped off until 2005, when it reappeared.  Billie has been in the Top 1000 for all but one year since 1886, reaching a high point in the 1930s, when it was in the Top 100.

So though boyish nicknames for girls feels like a new trend, it has happened before.  In the unisex-oriented 60s and 70s–and even earlier– there was a fad for changing the last letter of a boyish nickname from y to i or ie, so that at that time nursery school lists were populated with girls named Andie, Randi, Ronni, Ricki, Micki, Shelli and Kelli.

But you have to go even further back to see the full flowering of this particular naming pattern.  In 1930, there were enough girls with the following male nickname names to land them on the most popular list (of course some were pet forms of girls’ names as well):

























WILLIE (in the top 100, accounting for over 3,000 girls–maybe because Wilma, Willla, and Wilhelmina were all on the list as well that year)

Think any of them is ready for a comeback?  What do you think of boys’ nicknames for girls in general?  Too flimsy?  Too confusing?

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