by Linda Rosenkrantz
There’s an undeniable renaissance of vintage nickname names underway, particularly for girls, with Sadie, Josie, Elsie, Evie, and Millie all in the Top 400. But, folks, this ain’t nothing compared to the avalanche of nickname names found around the turn of the last century. In 1888, for example, Minnie was up at #8, and there were about 70 more nickname names in the girls’ Top 400.
There wasn’t just Bettie, there was also Ettie, Nettie, Hettie, Lettie and Mettie. And Millie was joined by Dillie, Rillie, Tillie and Willie, while Jessie had cousins named Essie, Lessie, Tessie and Tressie. Not to mention Lovie (#482) and Dovie (297).
Sometimes it’s even hard to figure out which formal names spawned these offspring.
Not all of them are ripe for revival, of course—looking at you, Hessia. So let’s pick out some of the forgotten nicknames that would make the most charming choices for a 21st century girl.
Birdie—Two celebs have already opted for this quirky nature nickname: Busy Philipps, who was inspired by First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, and actress Maura West. Birdie was the nickname of Betty Draper on Mad Men and is a character on Orange is the New Black. Now Number 346 on Nameberry, it was once a diminutive of Bertha or Bridget; Birdie was #151 in 1882.
Freddie—Since Frankie has already been attached to starbabies, can Freddie be far behind? Short for both Frederica and Winifred, Freddie was on the girls’ list until 1981 and could make a return, along with Teddy.
Georgie—The logical diminutive for Georgia, Georgina, et al, Georgie was a common girls’ name in the early 20th century, ranking in the 200 to 400s. Adam Rodriguez and Grace Gail named their daughter Georgie Daye, and there was a Georgie character on Gossip Girl.
Lenny—An all-purpose diminutive for Lenore and other Len names, including Lena, as in Lena Dunham, whose website was called Lenny Letter. Old-timers tended to spell it Lennie, hitting a high of 431 in 1904. Not to be confused with the pan-European nickname Leni, used by Heidi Klum for her daughter.
Lettie and Lottie—Two very common nickname names a century ago, Letty an offshoot of Letitia and Lottie of Charlotte. Lettie Mae Thornton is a character on True Blood and her name is now #812 on Nameberry; the equally charming Lottie is currently #85 in England, home of Princess Charlotte, and is the middle name of Isla Fisher and Sacha Baron Cohen’s daughter Elula.
Lula could easily join Lulu, Luna, Lila et al among the popular 21st century girls’ gang. It was a Top 50 name in the late 1880s and stayed in the Top 100 into the 20th century. Being chosen by celebs Liv Tyler and Bryan Adams could give it some new impetus. Both novelist Carson McCullers and the fictional Holly Golightly were born Lula.
Mamie –Both saucy and sweet, we think Mamie is a likely candidate to join Maisie and Sadie. Once tied to First Lady Eisenhower, we’re more like to think now of rising actress and Meryl Streep daughter Mamie Gummer (born Mary Willa). Mamie was in the Top 100 for several early 20th century years, was on the list through 1966. Short version Mame is another possibility.
Melia—A charming, honey-sweet undiscovered nickname name that has an strong identity of its own. A shortening of Amelia, it’s been heard in Greek myth, Dickens novels, Mozart operas and video games, and is currently popular in France and Germany.
Mitzi—Mitzi originated as a German diminutive of Maria, seeing some US midcentury popularity—it was #430 in 1955– largely influenced by the popularity of musical star Mitzi Gaynor. A similar possibility is Fritzi, an alternate diminutive for Frederica.
Tillie—With Millie up at #355, it’s just a short hop, skip and jump to her cousin Tillie, the more common vintage nickname for Matilda. The Tilly spelling is in the UK Top 100, while Tillie is 677 on NB, after being as high as 175 in the 1880s. Tillie Olsen is a feminist favorite writer.
Winnie—Winsome Winnie, nickname for Winifred and Edwina, is a sure-fire winner. It ranked on the popularity lists through the early fifties, and has many namesakes aside from Pooh—Winnie Mandela, Winnie Cooper on The Wonder Years, Winnie Foster in Tuck Everlasting. The Jimmy Fallons chose it for their daughter in 2013.