Popular Names: Nicknames Gone Wild

Popular Names: Nicknames Gone Wild

How do you tell when popular names get too popular?

If a name is in the Top 10, it might be easy, but what if they’re further down the list….and how far is far enough? Judging popular names gets even more difficult when they’re short forms, maybe not so popular at all on their own.

Just how ubiquitous is Lily?, an expectant mom asked recently on our forums. Lily as itself is Number 17 on the official popularity list; up there, for sure, but there are only a third as many Lilys as there are girls who get the number one Isabella. So is Lily really one of those names you’re going to hear coming and going?

Sadly, the answer may be yes, and here’s why.

Lily, along with a handful of other nickname names, is not only popular on its own, but it’s used as a short form for several other popular names: Lillian, Liliana, and so on. The result: Many more Lilys than you might guess.

This phenomenon can be applied to names with many spelling variations: Leila or Michaela or Mackenzie in their rainbow of flavors. But today’s focus is on nicknames gone wild. Sure, these are adorable, but they all come with a warning label: rampant popularity ahead.

AddieAddie is sweet and old-fashioned and even fresh-feeling, a followup to the now-overused Abby. But Addie is coming up fast thanks to a host of newly-popular mother names, from the trendy Addison to cool classics Adeline and Adelaide, often chosen specifically because they come with cute short form Addie.

AlexAlex may be the unisex nickname name of the decade, not only a Top 100 name on its own for boys for a short form for boys’ Number 6 Alexander along with a huge contingent of popular girls’ names: Alexis, Alexa, Alexandra et al.

Bella – A brief generation ago, Bella was still a grandma name, its most famous bearer hat-wearing feminist politician Bella Abzug. Now, thanks to Twilight’s Bella Swann along with independently popular long forms, Bella is everywhere. Isabella is number one, of course, but Arabella is rising fast and Belle and Bella are also used on their own.

CharlieCharlie is most classically a short form of Charles, and it’s still popular that way, but Charlie is also used more often these days as a nickname for Nameberry’s Number 1 girls’ name Charlotte and all by itself, for both boys and girls.

Ellie – We love Ellie but so do thousands of other parents, short for Ella, now number 13, along with Eleanor, Eloise, Eliana – any El name, really.

Emmy – With Emily and Emma both in the Number 1 spot for several years and both still hanging on in the Top 10, is it any wonder there are so many Emmys? Even though parents are moving to substitute long forms like Emmeline and Emilia, they still often end up at Emmy.

EvieEvie is a Top 10 name in England right now and though only Number 705 here, it’s short for so many much-more-popular names, such as Eve and Eva and Evelyn, that it almost feels as if it’s in the Top 10.

JackJack is an attractive classic, not really a nickname anymore since it’s used nearly as often as John on its own. Except a lot of those boys named John are called Jack along with all the Jacksons called Jack. When you realize that Jackson is Number 25, John Number 26, and Jack Number 44 – about 31,500 boys got those three names in 2010, a third more than received the Number 1 Jacob – you’ll see why there are so many Jacks.

Lily – Is there a name or image lovelier than Lily? Thousands of parents don’t think so, but with nearly 8000 girls named Lily, another 7000 named Lillian, plus several hundred with each of several other variations of the name, you end up with a field full of Lilys.

Kate – This may be the year of Kate, thanks to the newly-married Duchess. And it’s a name that’s hard to fault, classic and strong, feminine and friendly, yet as the favored short form of both Katherine and Katelynn for an entire generation now, Kate has become as common as Jennifer.

MaddyMaddy first took off in the 1980s, when many of today’s parents themselves were born. But it’s still rising as a short form of both Madison and Madeleine in its many popular variations, and so pandemic.

SamSam may be the only unisex nickname vying with Alex for the top spot. Why? Sams of both sexes plus Samuel and Samantha – both usually called Sam and both in the Top 25.

The ultimate message here? If you’re going to call your child Ellie or Evie, it doesn’t matter that you choose a more unusual long form like Eliana or Evanthe. Ending up with a hugely popular nickname will override the distinctiveness of the long form – though giving your child two names, one unusual and one popular, may be exactly what you want.

About the Author

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond is the cocreator and CEO of Nameberry and Baby Name DNA. The coauthor of ten groundbreaking books on names, Redmond is an internationally-recognized baby name expert, quoted and published widely in such media outlets as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Today Show, CNN, and the BBC. She has written about baby names for The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, and People.

Redmond is also a New York Times bestselling novelist whose books include Younger, the basis for the hit television show, and its sequel, Older. She has three new books in the works.