Nicknames: Planned, spontaneous, or forbidden?


How much should you, can you control your child’s nickname?

Is a nickname something you plan when you choose the name — your William will be called Will and not Billy, for instance — and then insist the world fall into line?

Or do you wait to see whether a nickname arises naturally and how it evolves over time?

Do you start with a nickname — Nell, let’s say — and work backwards to choose a proper name — Penelope, Eleanor, Helen? — that supports it?

Or maybe you looked for a proper name that you hoped would be nickname-proof.

Inspired by this interesting discussion on nicknames over in the forums, how did you handle the issue with your child’s nickname and what’s your general take on the subject of nicknames?

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34 Responses to “Nicknames: Planned, spontaneous, or forbidden?”

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lindens Says:

February 12th, 2018 at 11:55 pm

Both of my children have pretty nickname proof names. Levi and Anya. Not that I mind nicknames. I think they are built in, fun alternatives. The parents have some say at the beginning, but I think it’s important to respect the child’s preference when they are old enough to voice it. I suppose Anya could be called Annie or Yaya. Their initials also lend to nicknames. They are LT (which I’ve used from time to time) and AJ.

bjoy Says:

February 13th, 2018 at 12:36 am

We intentionally chose formal first names for our kids that offer a unique nickname with a totally different feel, with the thought that depending on their personality and preference they can decide how to introduce themselves in any given situation. We like that they have options, and since we’re avid nicknamers anyway, we knew we had to incorporate diminutives into their names. Ultimately each of our kids has a formal name, official nickname, unofficial nicknames, and various pet names. Interestingly all of them tend to refer to themselves as their formal name, and their nicknames are used by those who pick up on them after spending time around us. I love that Aurora has a romantic, pretty name, but her nickname, Rory, is so friendly. Sebastian suits the classical pianist he may grow into, but Bash works great if he takes up snowboarding. And you can’t get much more stodgy than Conrad, but “Rad” suits our passionate, shaggy-haired little guy. Truett sounds preppy and buttoned up to me, but “True” is a laid back virtue name, maybe a little hippy. It’s fun to watch their names grow along with them, while watching them grow into their names at the same time 🙂

lesliemarion Says:

February 13th, 2018 at 12:45 am

I find this topic fascinating.

When I was a kid back in the 60’s and 70’s, almost everyone was given a formal name then nicknamed. Debbie and Missy and Suzie and Jimmy and Timmy and Joey. What I didn’t like was that so many of the kids stayed those nicknames permanently. A 55 year old Jimmy, I dunno…

Then when I taught (from the late 80’s to now), virtually every child had a formal name and no nicknames were permitted, not even affectionate shortenings (like how people who like me occasionally call me Les or I call them Mare or Sam). It still strikes me as controlling of the parents. Yes, they give birth to the kids but then the kids need to grow up and that might lead them to prefer Liza over Elizabeth. I get parental disappointment about that, but you don’t own your children.

I don’t know many babies and toddlers now, but it seems as though many parents today are choosing Kate over Katherine or Jim over James, etc. This is OK, I guess, but I still favor the middle road.

Name her Elizabeth or him Nathaniel (or whatever), thus giving them many options. And choose a middle name that differs enough from the first name so there are more options. I teach high school and at first it surprised me how many kids switch to their middle then or to some other variant of their first. Of course they also sometimes dot their i’s with hearts, so maybe the name changes will be as fleeting as that.

I love my name and wouldn’t change it, but it would be fun to have as many nn options as Catherine or Virginia or Araminta have.

CassieHenifin Says:

February 13th, 2018 at 1:34 am

I have a nickname name- Cassandra nn Cassie. I never minded. I also got called Cass by a select few, but would never have been introduced as such. My dad refuses to call me Cassie, whereas my mom picked Cassandra because of the Cassie potential. I write Cassandra and call myself Cassie… confusing everyone. Basically only my dad, my mom on occasion and my best friend (and her parents) call me Cassandra. Anyway, it’s acceptable. I like both.

For my own children I only picked names with nicknames, or no nickname, that I can live with. For example, I do love Matthew or Joshua or Madeline, but Matt, Josh or Maddie aren’t my jam, and with those nicknames being ultra-popular I knew those names were out.
With my first we chose Elaina, with the idea of Lainey being her nickname but it never stuck. She is only called Elaina, or just Laina by her 2 year old sister. She has pet names, but nothing we would introduce her as.
Her sister is Aria. I really don’t feel like it has an obvious nickname and no one has suggested or said any nicknames for her thus far. Fine by me, I love her name as is.

I do love nickname names as stand alones… or the idea. I mean, Hattie, total heart eyes. But, somehow it just doesn’t feel comeplete to me for my own child.

We are expecting a 3rd baby in May, surprise gender, and I’m struggling with the name/nickname issue right now… Can I chose a name with a nickname even though the girls don’t have that..? How about a nickname name— Loving Indie for a 3rd girl… Finding something unique that we love just as much… naming babies is tough stuff!

northernlights Says:

February 13th, 2018 at 4:40 am

We are nickname people. Our daughter is Rosalie, known as Rosie by most people, and RoRo by those who know her best. We picked out Rosalie because we loved Rosie but wanted to give her the option of something more formal if the need arose. RoRo came about of its own accord, and it’s the name she most often uses when referring to herself or introducing herself to others (at the age of two, mind — I think it’s been the easiest name for her to say!)

We have been discussing future sibling names a lot lately, and almost always come back to the nickname. We LOVE Cora but would want a longer name, and I have finally convinced my husband that Coraline would be a good choice. Ellie is adorable but doesn’t sound complete to us, so Eloise would be a great option. Boy names stump us, though — can Atticus really be called Kit? Sullivan’s cute but Sully doesn’t have a great meaning. What if people insist on calling Theodore “Teddy” when we’d prefer Theo?

So, we do pick names with the intention of using a nickname most of the time — but we’re open to nicknames that form spontaneously too.

dizzy Says:

February 13th, 2018 at 8:03 am

Growing up as a name nerd, I was always drawn to formal names with carefully chosen nicknames. When my first daughter was born, we settled early on the first name, Margaret, but spent much of the pregnancy testing out nicknames. We settled on Mamie and announced both the name and the nickname on the day she was born. The nickname didn’t fit. We tried to make it sound normal for a couple of months before switching to Maggie and ultimately, usually just Margaret. We’ve been a lot less deliberate about nicknames since then: our daughter Anne usually goes by Annie and we call our baby Peter “Pete” a lot, but they weren’t as intentional.

JossieChris Says:

February 13th, 2018 at 8:18 am

I preplan nicknames and then love to watch them grow. My dd Dylan is Dilly, Dill, Dee Dee and Dilly Bear. We love to play on the Dilly dally and Dilly Dilly too. My dd Finley is Finnie, Fin, Fifi and Fifibelle. Now I like to call her simply Fee. For number 3 on the way we like nns so much we are thinking of just going straight to it Trixie, Pippi or Emmy…Trix, Pips, Em. But we will see what their friends call them in the future and what they prefer as they get older.

benjamelissa Says:

February 13th, 2018 at 8:20 am

My husband Benjamin, and I, (Melissa) grew up being called by our nicknames, and we both hated it. So, when we were choosing our boys names we wanted names that would not automatically be shortened. So our first is Jamin Taylor. We found Jamin in the Bible and thought it was cool, being the last 5 letters of Benjamin. Taylor is my maiden name. Most of the time he’s called Jamin, but he likes JT. When our second was due to arrive my husband was deep into genealogy, and his maternal grandmother comes from as line whose surname is Austin. So he chose Austin. And we wanted an unexpected middle so we chose Healey, Austin Healey. When he was little I called him “Aussie” some, but not now. They’re pretty much Jamin and Austin.

darabelle87 Says:

February 13th, 2018 at 9:12 am

We named our daughter Genevieve with the understanding that she would probably end up nicknamed by family and friends. We thought we would use Genna if we ended up shortening it, but we mostly call her by her full name, only occasionally shortening it to Vieve. Other family members have used Vieve, Vivi, Genna, Genny and Miss Gen. It’s possible she’ll end up being called something else by school friends when she gets to that point! For my husband and I though, she’s our Genevieve.

Aurora31 Says:

February 13th, 2018 at 9:26 am

Reading others’ comments, it sounds like some parents are successfully managing to plan and manage their children’s nicknames. @bjoy’s sibset is certainly impressive! In my personal experience though, nicknames happen spontaneously and can’t be forced.

My daughter is Anna and I love the idea of occasionally calling her ‘Annie’ as a pet name. She is a spunky little girl, so I feel like Annie ought to suit her. Yet, a bit like @dizzy’s experience described above, it feels unnatural for me to call her this. Very recently, the nickname ‘Nana’ has sprung up spontaneously, because this is how Anna pronounces is her own name. Time will tell if this lasts.

I think that names take on a life of their own once they are being worn by an actual human being and that parents are kidding themselves if they imagine they can avoid a nickname they dislike. Sure you can “correct” people who call your son ‘Will” when you only want him to be ‘William”, but one day his friends at school nickname him, or William himself might decide he prefers “Will”.

thishollywoodgirl Says:

February 13th, 2018 at 10:06 am

When I was born, my parents purposely chose Haley because it couldn’t be shortened. I occasionally got “Hail” when I was little, but my mom usually corrected them with a “No, her name is Haley.” (This was before I had even started school).

It wasn’t until I reached high school that a couple of friends nicknamed me Hails/Hayls and it stuck. I occasionally got Allie or Lani from my MN too, but they didn’t stick.

Now I’m just Haley, lol the nicknames seemed to be a high school thing for me, and I’m not terribly bothered by it.

My sister however, has had a nickname since birth, and for the longest time, no one ever used her full name – she was always Mikki, never Mikayla.

Now at 19, she’s dropped Mikki, and goes by Mikayla or Mik (only my S/O, her best friend, our parents and close family call her that though). She never seemed to dislike the nickname, she just feels like she’s more of a “Mikayla”.

I could take or leave nicknames usually. Some of mine are nickname proof – Hunter, Carter, Karsyn, Quinn, etc. and others are full of nickname ideas – Lexington “Lexi”, Kensington “Kenzi”, Remington “Remi” etc.

KatlynLea Says:

February 13th, 2018 at 10:28 am

I am the proud owner of a reverse-engineered name! Jewish families name after deceased relatives, so my parents were working off of Kate rather than a full name because that’s what my gg-grandmother changed her name to when she came to this country. My mom will tell you she just didn’t know how to spell Katlyn, but my dad will tell you that he very specifically wanted me to be Katy with a Y and therefore took all of the I’s out of Katlyn. I was never called Katlyn at all (except on official forms) before I met my boyfriend, who will use it on occasion to get my attention because he knows it annoys me.

Eu Says:

February 13th, 2018 at 10:36 am

I’ve always loved nicknames, especially the ones that aren’t obvious and have a long history, like Polly for Mary. An Emily, I always wanted a proper nickname myself and did try to make Millie stick, but it wouldn’t.

My daughter has a word name in her father’s language, and her nickname is that same word in English (which is a name in the low hundreds in popularity). It was actually hard to make it stick at first: the two words are so entirely unrelated except by meaning that both her “real” name and her nickname felt a bit wrong to me for months, but by dint of insistence I am used to it now.

My next daughter will have a name without an obvious nickname. I wish it did have better nickname options, but it wasn’t such a big deal that I was going to lose my favourite name over it.

tfzolghadr Says:

February 13th, 2018 at 11:35 am

I chose a long name for Emiliana so she could have a plethora of nickname options. I chose Emu as her nickname before she was born, but it never stuck… Emi stuck, though. She introduces herself as Emi or Emiliana just depending on her mood.

Caspian’s a few months old and we’re still struggling for a nickname. DH likes Cas, Emi likes Cassy, and I like Ian. We’ll see which sticks.

luca0730 Says:

February 13th, 2018 at 12:41 pm

My favorite name in all the world has always been Josephine. As a child, it was a no-brainer that my daughter would be a Josephine, but as an adult, once that time drew near, my husband just wasn’t sold on it. For one, he didn’t want our daughter to have an androgynous name… and he said that eventually, Josephine would be inevitably shortened to Jo (which I for one LOVE)… the truth is, though, it’s the whole name, Josephine, that I love. And that’s what I would have wanted her called. I wasn’t too fond of Josie, although now that I have a niece named Josephine nn Josie – inspired by my love of the name nevertheless! lol – it’s grown on me. Our daughter is named Elin and our son Ty. I suppose – perhaps unintentionally – we went with names that couldn’t be shortened. And although the kids have pet names – Elin is often shortened to just E – they’re called by their names. One of my other favorite names is Annie, so I enjoyed looking up all the names that could be the formal name and shortened to Annie (Anna, Annelie, Annika, Annabeth, Anya… the list goes on). I like nicknames, if they’re the right fit!

Jenniferv23 Says:

February 13th, 2018 at 1:10 pm

I love a nickname! my husband usually makes fun of me because any time I suggest a baby name I follow it up with what the nickname would be. I love nicknames that aren’t expected and have a completely different feel from the full name, my sons name is Winston, we chose it for the meaning, Joy Stone. We call him Winston and Winn, when we announced his birth we made it clear what his nickname was along with spelling and that is what most people call him. When he grows up he can chose what to be called, I go by Jennifer in my professional life but Jenn for friends and family. To each their own but I don’t think I could pick a name that couldn’t be shortened I nicknames are just fun and can be a fun twist on the full name, its like getting two names for one!

Bassilly Says:

February 13th, 2018 at 2:55 pm

I love nicknames, especially when younger. But I like the idea of having a more solid name for when they grow up.

jessiemay Says:

February 13th, 2018 at 3:40 pm

I love a good nickname! It’s not a must-have, but I must admit I would be slightly put off if I loved a long name and it didn’t have a single nickname option that I liked. Especially living in Australia where people are obsessed with shortening names, I just know that if I gave my kid a long name I loved that it would end up being shortened to something once they were in childcare/school. But I can generally find a nickname somehow.

holly6174 Says:

February 13th, 2018 at 4:16 pm

I personally LOVE nicknames, and would definitely try and plan them. My name is Rachel and I have been trying to get “Ray” to sick my whole life and it just never has.

I really, really dislike the trend of naming kids just a nickname name (just Kate, not Catherine, for example) though, with a very small number of notable exceptions, mostly names like Sadie or Sally that the average person would likely never link back to Sarah.

ceryle Says:

February 13th, 2018 at 5:05 pm

I love the idea of nicknames developing organically. (I’m also in the name-them-what-you-want-to-call-them camp, so I don’t mind nicknames as formal names.)

Even though my name is fairly nickname-proof, I still have a long list of nicknames and pet names that have just happened and often evolved over time. Some of them are pretty far removed from my actual name! So I think it’s fun to see what feels natural, rather than planning for one in advance.

mellimoon Says:

February 13th, 2018 at 5:06 pm

Being Melanie and not being keen on Mel as a nickname, I was sure I wouldn’t give my children nicknames, unless they asked me to. My first is Sophia and I have never called her anything for short. My second is Elspeth and even though I do like Elsie, Ellie, Elle and Elsa, she has never been nicknamed. My third and last is Rafael and before he was born, I was sure I wouldn’t shorten his name and really didn’t like Rafe, Raf or Raffy, but I have started calling him Raffy sometimes and it’s actually really growing on me now.

abbieleigh Says:

February 13th, 2018 at 5:14 pm

I don’t have a nickname name, Abbie, not Abigail, but I enjoy my kids having nicknames. That way they can have options and formal and fun names. When I heard the inspiration for my daughters name, I heard the nickname before the name, and fell in love with both. Magnolia, Nolie for short. I thought Abbie and Maggie are too close so when we named our daughter it was knowing her nickname would be Nolie. When we were pregnant with our second my husband sold me on the boys name with the nickname that would go along with it. Lennox, Nox for short. I love having Nolie and Nox, but I equally love their formal names. I don’t like the name Len or Lenny for Lennox, but down the road when he is older he will have that choice for himself. Same for Magnolia, but she is already known by so many as Nolie I can’t see her ever being called Maggie. Trying to name baby on the way #3 is turning out to be a difficult task.

Myosotis Says:

February 14th, 2018 at 5:21 am

I used to be adamant about not using nns and only using the full name that’s on the birth certificate. I never really understood why you would chose a name that won’t even get used. But I’m not as harsh on nns now. I still think the name on the birth certificate should actually be used, otherwise what’s the point, and I’m open to quite a lot of nn names as full names. I definitely dislike choosing a full name that may be less liked just to get to a specific nn. But I completely understand the appeal of having more of your favourite names as options to call a child. For me there are some names I love, but they’re popular enough that I wouldn’t use them, so it’s great if they work as nns instead. I also think nns should come somewhat spontaneously. I like coming up with nns for my favourite names, and I’d love to use them, but only if they arose naturally. I wouldn’t want to force a nn if it didn’t actually suit the child, even if I loved the name.

Personally I really enjoy having a nn; it feels more ‘me’ than my full name, although I love that too. It’d be nice for my kids to have options too, however nns aren’t a must for me. They’d most likely already have 2 middles to play with as well. My parents (especially my mum) call me lots of different nns and pet names, but they still use my full name a good deal as well. Many of the ones my mum calls me aren’t particularly intuitive either, so I’m very open to more out there nns that are a big stretch. I think there can be a good balance between full name vs. nn, but it’s difficult to predict until there’s actually someone to name.

lookingahead Says:

February 14th, 2018 at 2:25 pm

We have named all of our kids with the intent of them having nicknames. I grew up with nicknames and monikers bestowed upon me related to my name, my interests, and even had one grandparent nickname me to spite another grandparent. I loved having my nicknames and that each of them has a special place in my life and associated with specific people. I wanted that for my kids. Especially because my husband doesn’t have a name that nicknames-out well. It is Shawn. And my brother-in-law (whom we do not get along with) named his son after my husband (against our will) and the name doesn’t allow my nephew to have his own identity. There is constant confusion about who is being talked about in the family, or whose mail is whose, and gift giving at the holidays is a nightmare. I want our kids to have nicknames because I associate nicknames with love and connection and my hubby wants our kids to have nicknames because he feels like he never really had his own unique identity and now feels like what did exist of his identity has been taken in part. We’re very pro-nickname in our house.

nora.rosenberg Says:

February 14th, 2018 at 3:51 pm

I am neutral towards nicknames. I don’t think they’re so important that would influence the name choice. Where I’m from everyone is called the way they introduce themselves. Nobody will call one Ollie if he introduces himself as Oliver, for instance. So we don’t have the fear of being called something we don’t like.

I am not a fan of forced nicknames either. It would not be guaranteed that a future daughter would prefer Thea over Theodora for example. What if she chooses the “disliked” Dora or her full name? The nickname the parent have carefully chosen may not appeal to the child.

I myself go by a nickname of my middle name. I don’t have a formal name for work/academics etc and an informal one for family and friends. It sounds like being “two-faced”. Everyone knows me by the same name. It just came off naturally, without anyone forcing it or me desperately trying to find a nickname.

My opinion is that a nickname is not a “must” and it can’t be chosen beforehand. We’re giving birth to people we know nothing for. I personally gave this person the choice to pick the name she wants to go with

ARead Says:

February 14th, 2018 at 4:53 pm

Really interesting to see how many other parents are in the same boat as me! I gave all my girls long names, each with tons of nickname potential. We called Adelaide “Laidy” until she was a few months old, and it just didn’t stick. Evelina was supposed to go by “Lina”, like her namesake, but that didn’t stick, either. My favorite nickname for Seraphine is Sadie, but, like her sisters, Seraphine still goes by her full name. I do love the fact that all 3 girls have options. If Adelaide gets to high school and decides she wants to be “Della,” then she can be. If Evelina’s friends decide to call her “Evie” in eight years, they’ve got the option. If Seraphine gets older and feels more like a “Fina” or a “Seri,” she can go by that. But I’m beginning to think that, at least at home, they may always go by their full names.

beynotce Says:

February 14th, 2018 at 5:00 pm

Theoretically, my partner and I both prefer longer names with planned nicknames–or even a few possibilities to choose from. We like the versatility that nicknames allow. However, I find that when we’re actually kicking around names, we go this direction primarily for girls. For boys, we tend to like medium-length names that don’t lend themselves nearly as easily to nicknames with long-term usage potential (such as Atticus or Xavier). In any case, though, once our kids are named, it’ll be up to them to decide how they prefer to be called. We’d never use a name we didn’t love just to get to a nickname, nor nix a name just because there’s no natural short form–to us, the formal name is the one we’re choosing, and any possible nicknames are just points in a name’s favor.

My partner feels especially strongly opposed to giving our kids “nickname” names. She has one, and has been asked all her life if her “real” name is Abigail. She usually replies that no, she doesn’t have a real name. So she’s adamant that her children will have a “real” name. She also wants multiple middles, so our kids will have lots of options!

flamingo Says:

February 14th, 2018 at 8:04 pm

Our oldest is double-barreled, and pretty much just goes by both. Once and a while we shorten the second name, or call her by the initials of the two, but generally she’s known as her full-on name.

Another daughter is purely her proper name. When she was a baby, and even until she was 2, somehow she was called something COMPLETELY different by our close family and friends. Affectionate pet name, having nothing to do with her actual name. I really don’t know how it happened, but it felt so natural. It’s a few years out now, and once in a while we still call her that.

Our third is also double-barreled, and the first of the two names has become a shortened version of itself. Imagine ‘Charlie-Wyatt” or something like that.

We never went in with official nicknames or anything – we name for the actual name rather than it’s nicknaming possibilities.
It all works for us 🙂

Alyssa10 Says:

February 14th, 2018 at 10:24 pm

We named our daughter Catherine and expected her to just be called Catherine. Her childcare teachers fell in love with her, though and created their own pet names. I overheard one call her Cat and another called her Kitty Cat. We said it was fine since she knew her real name. We even tried Cat out at home. We preferred Kate, but she isn’t really a Kate yet. Definitely not a Katie. Believe it or not, she thinks it’s hilarious when we call her Cathy! She’s a strong personality with a versatile name. She’s going to give herself the nickname and make others call her by it. I have no worries. For now, she’s just my beautiful Catherine.

elizabethpoppy Says:

February 17th, 2018 at 2:57 pm

My parents named me Elizabeth partially for the multitude of nicknames it offers – however, I am only called Elizabeth (occasionally ‘E’ or something relating to my middle name) at home, and my friends only ever call me by my last name, as there were two Elizabeths in my class and it stuck! Now even friends who didn’t know me in my earlier years of school have picked up using my surname, and in fact I respond to it faster than I do my first name. Just goes to show, you really can never know how a nickname will turn out.

Phoebe_Rebecca Says:

February 17th, 2018 at 4:28 pm

I have three kids. 8 y.o, Jessica, 3 y.o, Samuel and 8 month-old, India.

Me and my husband had always planned to stop after Samuel but then India came along (India is very significant for both of us although it’s not as classic as Jessica or Samuel.

We’ve always called Jessica, Jess, JJ, Jessie, Kiki etc and Samuel was Sam/Sammy but we struggled finding a nn for India but Dia just came naturally for us. Though Jess calls her Star as she was convinced that’s what her name would be.

jessisteven18 Says:

February 18th, 2018 at 11:33 am

My ‘in trouble name’ as my dad puts it is Jessica yet, they’ve called me Jess pretty much since I was born. I’m only ever called Jessica by my grandparents (they don’t like nicknames), friends who are teasing me, teachers who barely know me and when my mum & dad shout at me. All the names that I would use I like because I like the nicknames that go with them. I’d also rather my kids named be shortened rather than lengthened. My brothers both have 3 letter names. They also have nicknames two words long which goes to show they’ll always get a nickname

jasmenm Says:

February 19th, 2018 at 12:07 am

My mom was positive no one would ever shorten my name (ha!). I quickly became Jas to most and Jassy to people who liked to push my buttons. My husband Jakob is mostly Jake. My daughter Louella is always shortened – Lulu, Lou, and Louie mostly.

Nicknames are very important to consider!!

Penguinkin Says:

February 19th, 2018 at 10:55 am

Hubby and I have names that don’t really lend to nicknames (Daryl and Kirsten) and were always called our full names or pet names. It took years to decide our children’s nsmes but we found we were drawn to names that didn’t have intuitive nicknames or shortened versions. We prefer more unusual names so we especially disliked an unusual name that would blend in when shortened- eg Benedict becoming Ben or Evangeline becoming Evie.
Our sons are Sawyer and Hartley- outside the top 1000 in the UK and both have 2 honour middles. Number 3 will have a similarly unusual and unlikely to nn name. However we love the silliness of a pet name and it will never replace their given name.

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