Billy and Bob are Back in the Playground

Billy and Bob are Back in the Playground

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:

BillyHelena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton named their son just plain Billy in 2003. And their daughter has the nickname-name Nell, carrying on the tradition in the Bonham Carter family of using variations of the name HelenHelena’s mother being Elena, her grandmother Hélène.

Just about all the well-known Billys, from Billy the Kid to Billy Graham to Billy Crystal, were born William, but Billy has a long history of being used on its own. It has always had a presence on the Social Security list, as high as Number 19 in 1935, and even now is Number 690,and in 100th place in Ireland.

BobIn 2009, Charlie Sheen fathered twin boys named Bob and Max. (He also has a daughter called Sam.) So what about Bob?

The palindromic Bob, one of several common old nicknames for Robert (along with the archaic Dob, Hob and Nob), dropped out of sight in 1983, after being in the Top 300 for most of the twentieth century, in the Top 100 from 1927 to 1940. Exception to the Robert Rule: Bob Hope was christened Leslie.

Frankie– There have been two girl starbabies given this boyish nickname name: Nikki Sixx and Donna D’Errico’s FrankieJean, and Drew Barrymore’s Frankie Barrymore. In addition, Amanda Peet’s Frances goes by Frankie.

An unforgettable literary bearer is the poignant 12-year-old Frankie Addams in Carson McCullers’ Member of the Wedding. Frankie has been surprisingly popular for girls over the years: there were 570 of them born in its top year, 1936.

HalHank Azaria gave his son another Henry nickname, similar to his own—though he himself was christened Henry. Hal, which is also a short form of Harold, hung on until 1975.

Hal has a venerable history as the name famously used by Shakespeare for the young future King Henry V; in contemporary pop culture, Hal was the typical Dad name in Malcolm in the Middle, played by future Walter White, Bryan Cranston.

HankKendra Wilkinson’s boy Hank comes by his name legitimately—he is Hank Baskett IV, the fourth in his family’s line—though, once again, his dad was born Henry.

There have been several superstar athletes known as Hank, including Hanks Aaron and Greenberg, both born Henry, but country singer Hank Williams was originally Hiram. After a long hiatus, Hank returned to the Top 1000 in 2010, and has been inching up ever since.

JoeSeveral celebs have picked this all-around universal good-guy nickname name for their boys over the formal Joseph, including Kate Winslet, Sting, Kevin Costner, and Stephen King.

When birth name records started being kept in 1880, Joe was the 23rd most popular name in the country, and Joseph was Number 7; today Joseph is Number 20, and Regular Joe has fallen to 556.

JohnnyAfter giving her first two children romantic Italian names Mattea and Lucia, Mira Sorvino went in an entirely different direction with her son’s name.

Johnny—another easygoing all-American midcentury classic diminutive, worn by tons of notables, from Cash to Carson to Depp. Melissa Etheridge has a daughter named Johnnie Rose, perhaps in tribute to her father John.

There are still more baby Johnnys born than you might think—1,313 in the last year counted.

JoshIt was a bit of a surprise when Belgian-born, raised-in-France basketball star Tony Parker named his son Josh, as that isn’t a short form heard so often on its own—though it did have its moment of semi-popularity in the seventies.

Joshes Groban, Duhamel, Hutcherson, Harnett and Gracin were all baby Joshuas, but Josh Brolin was always Josh.

SidWhen Jason Biggs and Jenny Mollen welcomed their son Sid earlier this year, Mollen was quoted as saying, “He’s not this sweet baby I thought [I’d have], so we decided on Sid, because Sid Caesar had just died and I liked Sid Vicious and he just felt like a little old man in a pinstriped suit named Sid, betting on the ponies.” Enough said.

TommyActress Michelle Monaghan picked another of the archetypal 20th century freckle-faced nickname names for her baby boy, one that’s far more popular in other English-speaking countries than in the US, perhaps influenced in her choice by her Aussie husband.

About the Author

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz is the co-founder of Nameberry, and co-author with Pamela Redmond of the ten baby naming books acknowledged to have revolutionized American baby naming. You can follow her personally at InstagramTwitter and Facebook. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed New York Review Books Classics novel Talk and a number of other books.