Nicknames for Girls: Charlie and Sam Go Pink

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):

ARTIE

BENNIE

BERTIE

BILLY

BOBBIE

BOBBY

CHARLIE

DONNIE

EDDIE

FRANKIE

FREDDIE

GEORGIE

JACKIE

JIMMIE

JOE

JOHNNIE

LENNIE

LONNIE

LOU

OLLIE

ROBBIE

SAMMIE

THEO

TOMMIE

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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35 Responses to “Nicknames for Girls: Charlie and Sam Go Pink”

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kjoebbb Says:

March 26th, 2010 at 12:48 am

My female cat’s name is Billie, but it’s after Billie Piper so I don’t know if it counts. My friend’s niece is Charleigh Jo. I love it! I love the idea of using traditionally boys names for girls.

TeacherMA Says:

March 26th, 2010 at 6:45 am

Wasn’t the main girl in Pretty in Pink a Samantha called Sam? I think the 80s movie helped launch this trend that we’re seeing. 😀

Buggins Says:

March 26th, 2010 at 7:00 am

I really, really strongly dislike this trend. 🙁 The pool of boy names is already so much smaller than that of girls, and we know that once a name has been feminized, it usually becomes “taken over” by the girls. There are so many lovely girl name choices; please leave the boy names alone! 🙂 Please?

Andrea Says:

March 26th, 2010 at 8:47 am

I think they can be cute, but the overall effect can depend on how attractive the child or the woman is. Sam or Charlie or even Lennie or Bernie looks cute on a pretty little girl wearing a tutu or like the kid in the photo in the oversized fire hat or an attractive woman than it does on a big, obese woman with a mustache she can never quite get rid of, bad hair and a loud voice. Most women with these names are not going to look like supermodels. I I looked like the latter woman I’d prefer to be named Jennifer or Ann or something else feminine but not overly frilly. I prefer the feminine but not over the top frilly name for that cute little girl in the photo too.

olivegreen Says:

March 26th, 2010 at 8:51 am

In general I agree with Buggins. However, I think that for the current generation, having a unisex name won’t be such a big deal. Even among people my age (early 30s) I know guys with names like Jordan, Jamie–even Kelly–who were never bothered by the fact that their name is often used for girls as well. But I do hope at least some names are left to the fellas!

JNE Says:

March 26th, 2010 at 8:56 am

I knew quite a few girls with boy nns that were born in the 70s – several Sams (Samantha), a Rocky (Roxanne), a Billie (Jean), a Bobbi (full name as given), and three Mels (Melanie) to name some off the top of my head.

It also brings to mind the TV show “Sisters” in the early 90s. I never watched it but my mother did and the girls were all given ‘boy’ nns – a Francesca was Frankie, an Alexandra was Alex, and so on.

In my mind calling a Charlotte Charlie or a Roberta Bobbi isn’t giving the girl a boy name or stealing it from the boys, it’s just using a valid nn for that girl name (that happens to also be a boy name). However, putting Charlie or Sam on the BC for a girl is a different story to me and less appealing – probably as much for the reason that I’m a fan of nns and therefore like to have more options than just one (which is what you limit yourself to with choosing one form as a given name). I’m not saying no one should do this, but I’d never do it!

In addition, when I meet girls called Charlie, Sam, Bobbi, etc, I always assume (wrongly or rightly) that they have a full name to go with it, so I’m guessing Charlie/Charles and Sam/Samuel are safely male. (The good thing is most of the boy nns that are used on girls are firmly established, classic boy names and aren’t about to be usurped!)

PDXLibrarian Says:

March 26th, 2010 at 9:33 am

I feel ambivalent about this trend. I knew a girl in grade school named Billie and she disliked her name and claimed that it meant her parents really wished she was a boy and that she could never be good enough for them because she was a girl. That made me sad. On the other hand, I don’t think the more mainstreamed nicknames, like Sam and Alex, have the same problem.

Madeleine Says:

March 26th, 2010 at 10:35 am

I recently spoke with a mum who had a baby boy named Charlie, and she claimed that she ran into other Charlie’s every day, and they were all girls!

I don’t totally mind boys names on girls, people can use whatever they’d like, but I do mind when the spellings are changed up to “make it more feminine”. Like Charlee, for example. If you like Charlie, then by all means, use Charlie! But that’s just personal preference. 😉

monte & hannah’s mom Says:

March 26th, 2010 at 10:48 am

Not my style. I like full, feminine names for girls: Margaret, Charlotte, Wilhelmina, Geogiana, Francesca. I don’t mind nicknames, but I want a name that can be taken seriously and sound professional. I think Charlie is fine for a child, but might difficult to negotiate when beginning a professional career. Also, Charlie for me is the 70s perfume from Revlon, a Great Uncle who was lovely and one of my boy dog’s names.

I did have a Great Aunt Billie, but if I named a daughter after her, it would be Wilhelmina, not Billie. Wilhelmina is a strong name, but that’s more in line in what I would want for my child.

I agree with Madeleine about spelling; please don’t be yooneek.

I also agree with Buggins: do leave the boy’s names to the boys.

Linelei Says:

March 26th, 2010 at 11:34 am

I prefer using a girl’s name that has the potential for a boyish nickname. Like Charlotte or Francesca. That way, it is still a girl’s name and not stealing boy’s names, but the girl has the option to go by the boyish nickname if she prefers it when she’s older. You never know, that little Seraphina might turn out to be a total tomboy who hates her girly name. Hey, I just thought of this: a non-girly girl named Seraphina could go by Phin! 🙂

Stella Says:

March 26th, 2010 at 12:39 pm

One of my girl cousins is named Trevor. She’s a beautiful woman now, but I don’t think she ever enjoyed her name, especially as all her siblings had very girly names. Her daughter was named Cambria, nicknamed Cam (a nickname for Camerons as well). I agree that nicknames should occur naturally and not be forced at birth.

rbyndlrsn Says:

March 26th, 2010 at 1:08 pm

I have never seen the gender issue with the name “Lou”. I always thought that it was the legitimate nn for the name “Louise”. If I ever met a girl or woman who went by “Lou”, I would not think that she had a ‘boys’ name, I would just assume that her full name was “Louise”.

Personally, I don’t like unisex names for girls, I prefer them on the boys. My own name could be considered unisex, and although I like my name, I’ve always hated the fact that my only nn option was “Bobbie”. That IS too masculine for me and I refuse to use it, so I just don’t have a nn.

Karen Says:

March 26th, 2010 at 1:21 pm

When I was little, there was a girl on Sesame Street named Joey, and I loved it, probably one of my earliest memories of name-loving/coveting. Coincidentally, the boy who lived next door and played with me every day (actually I found out my mom babysat him!) was named Joey. I just L-O-V-E-D the idea of that name, and I still love that name for a boy or girl. My earliest favorite category of names was the feminized male names, e.g., Josephine, Henrietta, Bernadette, Patricia, even Geraldine or Ernestine. Very fancy and regal to me, rich and classy.

Also, when I was in school, my non-scientific observation was that if a girl wasn’t a Jennifer and a boy wasn’t a Michael, either one of them was probably a Chris: Christopher, Christian, Christine, or Christina. It didn’t seem to bother anyone of either gender they had a name shared by so many classmates of the opposite gender. 2 of my classmates in high school dated for a very long time, named Chris and Chris, and I was at a party where they were, and by the end, everyone at the party was being called Chris, and it was a laugh. I don’t know when having the same nicknames started to become a problem that bothered people, gender-wise.

There are some boy-ish nicknames for girls I just don’t like for girls, but mostly I’m ok with it. I think Charlie and Frankie in particular are, well, I’m cool if others do it, but I find myself avoiding listing names like Frances or Charlotte because I just don’t like the nicknames for a girl. I like others, like Phyl, Alex, Joey, Johnnie, or Bobbie, etc., on a case by case. It is that some nicknames are cuter for a girl than the formal name, or I don’t like the nickname, but think the formal name is great, so it’s hard to find that balance. But what are you going to do? A lot of names are feminized versions of male names, or the most obvious nickname is. There used to be nothing wrong with this!

leah1686 Says:

March 26th, 2010 at 1:21 pm

I typically don’t like unisex names on girls either, but I really like the name Stevie for a girl. It would be fun to use the name on a daughter, but I don’t think my husband would ever go for it. Any “traditional” female names that could be shorten to Stevie as a nn??

linda Says:

March 26th, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Stephanie!

Azure Says:

March 26th, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Stevia? It’s a plant used as a natural sweetener. (I actually grow it.)

Eva Says:

March 26th, 2010 at 2:22 pm

This trend disgusts me. I hope no one ever uses it ever. ever.

Annika Says:

March 26th, 2010 at 4:09 pm

I also feel ambigious about this trend. As a nickname I think they are perfectly fine but I’d never use one of them as a given name. Like a Frances that is called Frankie: all right. A girl on the other hand that is just named Lou: not so much.

Toni Says:

March 26th, 2010 at 7:08 pm

As a Toni, I’m not a fan at all! I have always wished that my parents had given me a “real” name. As a kid I was teased about having a “boy’s name” and when my hair was cut short at about 10, I had people (adults) ask me if I was a boy or girl. I cringe every single time I hear about a new baby girl getting saddled with a masculine name because I know what she’s in for. Don’t do it, people!

Majotaur Says:

March 27th, 2010 at 1:22 am

I see opinions like Buggins’ a lot, but I think the era of names becoming unusable for boys once they start to be used by girls might be drawing to a close. Boys’ names like Evan and Ryan are no longer really unusual to hear on girls, even if they’re not super-common, and they still remain quite popular for boys. I’ve heard hardly any prospective parents of boys express concern that if they name their son Charles, he might get confused with all the little Charlottes called Charlie out there. And of course there’s Alex, which might be the most purely unisex name there is–it no longer holds *any* associations for one gender or the other to me! I think people are starting to get a lot more comfortable with the idea that names can be unisex, without thinking any longer that once it crosses from one side to the other, it becomes unusable for its former gender. If more names are crossing over, it doesn’t mean that the boys’ pool is shrinking–just that the girls’ pool is expanding.

sarah Says:

March 27th, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Don’t forget in the book The Railway Children the main girls were known as Bobbie (Roberta) and Phyl (Phyllis), shows that trend has been going on a long time.

Dearest Says:

March 28th, 2010 at 7:32 am

Where’s Timmy/Tim on this list? It’s always sounded very feminine to me 🙂

I don’t like this trend, but I do like girly girls’ names with boyish nicknames like Timea to get Tim/Timmy, Antonia to get Toni (although I prefer Annie), Francesca to Frankie, Jacqueline to get Jackie, Louisa nn Lou and so on 🙂 I think that’s actually a good thing so that your little girl has the option of toning down her feminine name should she want to… 🙂

Abby Says:

March 28th, 2010 at 8:37 am

Miley Cyrus plays a Veronica nicknamed Ronnie in her new movie.

I’m with JNE – I tend to assume (or is it hope?) that Bobbie, Charlie and Toni have a name like Roberta, Charlotte and Antonia on their birth certificates.

Elena Says:

March 28th, 2010 at 10:35 am

I don’t mind boys names for girls and I think that a girly name with a boyish nn is adorable,

I love Louisa nn Lou, Veronica nn Ronnie and my favourite, Lavinia nn Vinnie

love this blog!

-Elena 🙂

Lindsey Says:

March 30th, 2010 at 1:07 am

I have much hatred for unisex or flat-out boy names on girls, but for some reason I love boyish nicknames on girls–as long as the kid’s real name is the girl version I’m all for it.

As a sort of side note, I used to feel sorry for boys whose names had been ‘taken over’ by girls, but I’ve met boy Lesleys, Kellys, and Lindseys who had much less trouble with their names than girl Bobbies, Lees, and Tonis that I’ve known. The girls-with-boyish-given-names that I’ve known have almost universally hated their names; the boys have been fine with theirs.

Madi Says:

March 30th, 2010 at 10:27 pm

I quite like Charlie, mostly because I know one – but that’s her whole first name. I’m not a fan of the others, at least, not yet.

Enica Says:

May 7th, 2010 at 9:23 pm

My daughter’s first name is Charlee and I absolutely love it! I definitely didn’t want my daughter in a class full of Sarah’s, Olivia’s, Sophia’s or Emma’s!!! Besides, her name truly reflects her personality.

Enica Says:

May 7th, 2010 at 9:25 pm

Also, one of my daughter’s playmates name is Charlie. People love it when they find out they have the same name, but different spellings.

Sunshinetina Says:

May 24th, 2010 at 4:33 pm

I’m okay with people shortening their childs name if they so chose (I personally am opposed to this). So a girl Sam for Samantha, Charlie for Charlotte and Bobbie for Roberta are okay by me. If you are just givng your child that as a name, well that bothers me.

Andee Says:

October 21st, 2010 at 3:48 pm

I agree with Lindsey. I don’t care much for boys being named Kelly or Lesley, but I always loved having a “boy’s” name myself. My birth certificate of course says Andrea, so I’ve always had that to fall back on… and my parent’s pediatrician was forward thinking back in 1976, telling them a “girl” spelling would help with confusion. I am a professional now and never went back to Andrea. Andee just fit me too well over the years – from being a bit of a tomboy who loved sports, to a boy crazy pre-teen who had a unique “boys” name – I always felt empowered by it. So go ahead, empower your little girls! My little girl is due in Feb on my younger brother Charlie’s birthday. So, we are thinking of naming her Charlie, short for Charlotte and if we do, I hope she likes her name as much as I always liked mine. I never felt a boy was any more capable at anything and that could be in part due to the unisex name my parents gave me!

moxielove Says:

October 23rd, 2010 at 2:50 am

I don’t like nicknames for proper names period. And therefore I hate this trend. Sam on a boy is (or in my opinion SHOULD BE) short for Samuel, Charlie is short for Charles, and if I met a girl called Charlie, it better be short for Charlene, or Charlotte etc. Sam on a girl should be short for Samantha.

Nicknames on the birth certificate limits a child’s options. Period. I don’t really care which gender it is.

katielea Says:

December 13th, 2010 at 1:02 pm

I think it’s sexist to say the girls are stealing the boys names because it implies that once something becomes feminine it is no longer good enough for a boy.

Samantha Says:

May 18th, 2011 at 10:34 pm

I think having a nickname as a full name would be rather annoying. I go as Sam to almost everyone – I generally reserve Samantha for the people whom I don’t see myself getting along with. My brother does the same thing with Andrew/Andy. My sister Molly was never able to do that and has always said she wished that she’d had options.

Personally, I always liked that my nickname was kind of masculine because all my friends ended up being guys, so I blended a bit better. It’s nice to have two options.

tfzolghadr Says:

July 7th, 2013 at 11:33 am

To each their own… but if you name your child Sam or Charlie, also teach them that it is not anyone else’s fault if they ask for an id to prove their identity, call them a ‘handsome boy’, as for Mr. _____ on the phone, assign them a locker in the boys’ room, etc. After all, you (not the rest of society) chose a potentially confusing name…

Janna Says:

July 26th, 2013 at 9:44 am

What katielea said. I mean, my favourite boys’ name is Avery. Will he run into girl Averys? Yes. But if I teach him that girls are magical, and worthy of respect, and just as good as he is, and that there’s nothing wrong with different genders sharing things like activities or names, it won’t ever bother him.

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