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.

Evie Evie 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.

Maddy Maddy 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.

Sam Sam 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.

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18 Responses to “Popular Names: Nicknames Gone Wild”

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Nook of Names Says:

September 27th, 2011 at 6:34 am

I agree. It seems to me that a lot of people choose names which shorten to these uber-popular nicknames precisely because they’re popular and they like them — but want their child to have a slightly more unusual “Sunday best” name.

Plus, many people, I find, seem quite anxious about choosing something a “bit different”; but if that “bit different” name shortens to a popular nickname, it acts kind of as a “safety-net” to encourage them to take the plunge!

i.heart.nerds Says:

September 27th, 2011 at 8:00 am

As the older sister of a 16 year old Maddy by way of Maddison I can say that listening to her lament the popularity of her nickname and full name has put me off most if these names. It’s hard to be an individual when there ate four other girls with your name.
The only one that I might like is Kate, but I prefer Cate short for Catherine or Cait short for Caitlin. I am not in love with the K.
What about Lucy? That name is everywhere in Chicago and each one seems to have a different long name Lucienne, Lucianne, Lucia, Lucille, Lucette and just plain Lucy.

Lola Says:

September 27th, 2011 at 9:13 am

I agree with I.heart.nerds about Lucy! I’m hearing it quite a bit more here near Boston than I expected. Almost makes me want to take Lucretia/Lucasta off my lists.

I’m happy to not see “Josie” here, I’m starting to hear that a lot more too. Not as much as Lucy but recently I saw Josie painted on a plate in some catalog (along with Kate, Ryan & Allie) and thought “Oh no!”

Ellie is the one I hear the most, easily. There’s one behind me (just Ellie),four doors down (Elizabeth, nn Ellie) and one around the corner (Ellie for Eliana). And that’s just my block! I hear “Ellie!” everywhere I go.
Makes me love Elspeth/Elsa/Elsie much, much more.

All in all, I find an uncommon full (Lucasta/Lucretia) and a common nickname (Lucy) a nice way to “stand out/fit in”. 😀

pam Says:

September 27th, 2011 at 9:17 am

Excellent points, everyone, and yes, Lucy is definitely a candidate for this list.

chelseamae Says:

September 27th, 2011 at 9:29 am

This is exactly why I can’t quite understand the obession with nicknames!! On top of that, I don’t see the appeal of calling your daughter Ellie if you chose a name as pretty as Eliose or Eliana.

kasmith101 Says:

September 27th, 2011 at 9:38 am

I feel the same way about Eli. I adore Elias, I love Eli, but Elijah is ruining my party with it’s popularity. So while Elias is at a respectable #146 and Eli is #65, Elijah is at #18 – making that a whole lot of Eli running around. Then if you consider the popularity of little Ellie on the girl’s side, which is different sounding, yet similar, then Elias seems unusable for me. He would be swimming in a sea of El- names.

klcalder2 Says:

September 27th, 2011 at 10:09 am

You know, I didn’t even think through the ramifications of naming my daughter Arabella back in 2009. Sigh. But I still love her name and that’s what matters most. She’s still Bella to most, although I love to call her by her full name.

My biggest problem with a lot of girl’s names is that the ones I love most have popular nicknames or are popular on their own. If I were to have another girl, I feel like a version of Lily or Rose would be all my husband and I would be able to agree upon. I would easily name a little girl something not on the top 1000, even, but my husband wants at least one of her names to be “normal”.

I think, in the end, I still adore Lily (Lillian in particular) in spite of it’s popularity. Would I still use it? Most likely. Lillian remains on my short list. It is sad that so many names seem ruined by their possible nicknames.

loristeve39 Says:

September 27th, 2011 at 10:45 am

What I have noticed so far is not that my names are uber popular but similar names are so people assume that is what I am saying. My daughter Evangeline is called Eva and people call her Ava and my daughter Emmerson is called Emme but everyone thinks we are saying Emma. I think our latest addition coming in Dec should not have that problem. We are naming her Electa and calling her Ellie.

loristeve39 Says:

September 27th, 2011 at 10:49 am

I don’t know if Ellie popularity hasn’t hit KS yet or what but I just don’t hear it here and I don’t know alot of El kids except mine. I have heard Emmerson a time or two but it still doesn’t seem overly popular. I will have to keep my ears open more and see what I hear on the playground.

OliviaSarah Says:

September 27th, 2011 at 11:41 am

Ellie, Evie, Maddy, Kate, Charlie, Alex, Lily, Jack and Sam are already super popular here in the UK. Actually, Ellie, Alex, Jack and Sam seem pretty dated to me.

I do also know a couple of little Addies (Madeleine and Adelaide), but never in 1 million years do I think Adelyn and Addison will become the norm here, unlike the US.

GoodHope Says:

September 27th, 2011 at 12:29 pm

This sort of makes me glad that I’m not a nickname person and that, when I do choose nicknames, they tend to be more unusual, like Sandy rather than Alex or Lexi for Alexandra, for example.

Another candidate for the list could be Edie. I know three aged preschool or younger. One is just Edie and the others are Edith and Eden, but called Edie exclusively.

danielle8933 Says:

September 27th, 2011 at 1:16 pm

What is the most common pronunciation of Evie? EE-vee or EH-vee?

pam Says:

September 27th, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Danielle, I think it goes both ways (though ee-vee MORE common), which is yet another reason it’s so popular!

anniebee Says:

September 27th, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Agreed w/ all. Good points. I really love the nn Vivi, but I feel like that one is going to get popular just because almost everyone seems to love it. I think Lola and Evie are getting this way too, though to a lesser extent.

Really good reminder to think of the popularity of a nn if you are worried about popularity with the formal name.

shealah28 Says:

February 17th, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Love Addie 🙂

Kyri Laina Says:

February 22nd, 2012 at 10:02 pm

I really love the names Evie, Jack, Charlie, and Kate on their own.

Lo Says:

April 2nd, 2012 at 6:47 am

I have a Katharine nn Kate/Katie and what cracks me up is that she was going to be a Grace but I decided there were too many Graces! I have begun calling her by the full name Katharine more and so far she has really taken to it (the rest of the family hasn’t really changed though.) She’s only 4 though so we’ll see what happens in school.

Lucy is at the top of my list for a next girl. It’s tied with Mary which would be much more distinctive I guess. Funny because my husband thinks Mary is a little boring.

Jiinxsay Says:

August 1st, 2012 at 2:22 am

ooooo! off topic, i just HAD to say to

Kyri Laina

i LOVELOVELOVE your name!!!

<3 used'ta be Jiinxsay/Jiinx, changing to

Whimsy Bohème <3 to all my Beloved

Nameberryers 🙂

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