Nickname in the News: Hal

August 5, 2019 Linda Rosenkrantz

by Linda Rosenkrantz

Nickname name news! First Daughter and TV personality Jenna Bush Hager and her husband Henry have just announced the name of their third child and first son: Henry Harold Hager—to be known as Hal.  An extremely convenient nickname, actually, since Hal has long been used for both Henry and Harold.

So let’s take a closer look at Henry and Harold’s more nonchalant, independent offshoot—the suddenly cool and stylish again Hal.

Hal has sterling Shakespearean cred via Prince Hal, the fictional character created by the Bard, based on Henry, Prince of Wales, later King Henry V who first appears in Henry IV, Part 1 as an irresponsible fun-loving youth. In the plays, he’s the only Henry referred to as Hal–and Falstaff voices it 40 times!

There’s no doubt that Prince Hal was an inspiration for the name of Benedict Cumberatch’s second son, Hal Auden Cumberbatch. A Shakespearean actor himself, the name is also an indirect honorific for his close friend Tom Hiddleston, who played Prince Hal in a  movie they starred in together.

Another starbaby Hal is the son of Hank Azaria. Since the Simpson’s voice actor was birth-named Henry, he found a way of naming his boy after himself while avoiding the dated Junior.

The name Hal had his greatest run of popularity in midcentury America, in the 1940s and 50s (reaching a high of #305 in 1956) but fell off the list completely in 1975. Virtually every well-known Hal of the period—from Hal Linden to Hal Prince—was born Harold. Now, though it hasn’t reappeared on the list yet, Hal is already #433 on Nameberry—a sure sign of its potential.

It’s not surprising then that Hal would become seen as a Grandpa/sitcom Dad name. Just think Bryan Cranston’s typical Hal Wilkerson in Malcolm in the Middle. At the other extreme is the character Hal Yorke in the comedy-drama series Being Human, an English vampire with two contrasting identities—one good, one evil– which he switches between every few decades. And in the comix world, Hal Jordan is the non-superhero name of the Green Lantern, while Hal Cooper exists both in the Archie Comics universe and on the CW show Riverdale.

But back to Jenna’s HalHarold was the name of her paternal grandfather—Laura Bush’s dad, known as ‘Pa’—a name she had decided to use months before. With her two daughters, she has succeed in combining family ties with an eye on present trends.  Her elder daughter is Poppy Louise, Poppy being both the loving nickname of her grandfather, George Herbert Walker Bush and an appealing flower name ranking 592 nationally and 103 on Nameberry. Second daughter is officially Margaret Laura but is known by the trendy Mila—way up at #14 on the US popularity list.

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What do you think of Hal as a nickname for Henry or Harold–or on its own? Do you prefer Harry or Hank? Let us know!

Linda Rosenkrantz is a co-founder of Nameberry, and co-author with Pam Satran of the ten baby naming books acknowledged to have revolutionized American baby naming. In addition to contributing stories on trends and celebrity naming, she guides the editorial content and manages the Nameberry Twitter and Facebook accounts. 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.