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The Case for the Many-Nicknamed Name

Kathleen to Kati to Cakes

By Kathleen McIntosh

Looking at the Top 20 most popular names, it’s obvious that nickname-rich appellations are just as much in favor these days as those that are nickname free. Ask a parent who prefers the former, and they’ll almost inevitably tell you that people ask, “Why give your child a formal name if you’re going to call them something else?”

There are plenty of reasons to forego a formal name on the birth certificate or to use it in full daily, but I’ve never understood the mindset that a nickname automatically negates the formal name completely. Just as many families use pet names in conjunction with given names, I’m in favor of using nicknames and given names interchangeably.

My given name is Kathleen, but coming from a family of nicknamers, I got Kati, KatiKat, Kate, KK, Cake, Keeks, and a myriad of others (with and without some connection to my given name) throughout the years. For instance, my younger siblings, as toddlers, called me Giga, which then morphed into Gigs and Geese and Grease. I responded to them all. Even those monikers that I hated became somewhat endearing. (Likewise, my sister has been called Nuts by our brothers for ages. I feel bad for her, but she doesn’t seem to mind.)

While my family always rotated names (a habit I never found confusing, as some parents might be concerned about), my preference outside of home evolved from Kati to Kathleen in high school. It was a tough transition for my peers, because I’d gone by Kati exclusively until I asserted otherwise, but now my friends and acquaintances call me Kathleen without hesitation. Still, my family continues to cycle through the nicknames constantly, sometimes using several different names in a single day.

(Funny story: two of my brothers used their first and middle names interchangeably. The older decided at three which he wanted to go by. The younger still uses both but decided to only use the more ‘sophisticated-sounding’ one during the year that he had a crush on his third-grade teacher.)

I’ve always liked the versatility of interchangeable names. It wouldn’t feel strange to me if I spontaneously decided to call myself Lena via the latter half of my name. Though I don’t, I could see me very easily introducing myself to separate groups differently. And I could don varying identities depending on the circumstance while truly remaining the same person.

I plan to choose nickname-rich appellations for all of my own children with the hope that they too will find the flexibility liberating. I think it’ll take some pressure off finding the ‘perfect’ name, because there will be options. I’ll call them any number of variations and expect that they’ll form their own opinions on what suits them best and in which contexts. I’m sure the names will change as they age. When they do make those transitions, I expect it won’t be too difficult, since they’ll have spent their younger lives testing what does and doesn’t work for them.

I hope more parents feel free to do the same.

Have you had various nicknames throughout your life?

Kathleen McIntosh is a Houston-based freelance writer/editor and soon-to-be mother. In her spare time, she enjoys obsessing over names, books, mermaids, babies, music, and home improvement shows.

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23 Responses to “The Case for the Many-Nicknamed Name”

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lesliemarion Says:

August 27th, 2017 at 11:07 pm

Amen!

I have a pretty simple name (Leslie), one that might even seem non-nicknameable, but I’ve been called Les, Lester (the only one I drew the line at), Leslie Lulubelle, Lulu, Auntie Lulu, Grammie Lulu, Pret, and Bert.

Other than Lulu or Lulubelle, I don’t actually like the others in themselves, but as I mostly go by my real name and the other names came about as terms of affection, they don’t bother me.

If I were naming girls now, they’d probably be Geneva (Ginnie/Neva), Araminta (Aminta/Minta/Minty), Magdalen (Meg/Lena), etc. For boys, I’d consider Theomund (Ted/Ned/Ed), Davenport (Dave/Davey/Port), Robert (Rob/Bob/Robbie), etc.

I love full names and I love nicknames both. I noticed that when I began teaching about 30 years ago, kids still had nicknames, but that quite soon they stopped. It was only Katherine and Alexander, which was fine, not Kitty and Alec. I’m glad to see that some parents are loosening, though now it seems to have swung to Kitty and Alec being their given names.

GirlyWhirly Says:

August 27th, 2017 at 11:16 pm

I LOVE names that have multiple nicknames.
Some of my favorites are:
Araminta- Ari, Mina, Minta, Minty Esmeralda- Esme, Essie, Merry/Mary, Mera
Eulalia- Lia, Lula, Lola, Lollie, Lala, Ula
Josephine- Sephie, Effy, Jo, Phina, Fifi
Rosemary- Romy, Rose, Rosie, Mary
Liliana- Lily, Lili, Ana, Liana, Lia
Magnolia- Maggie, Nol, Nola, Lia, Meg

Lorenzo- Enzo, Ren, Zo
Caspian- Cas, Cap, Ian
Alasdair- Ali, Dair, Ari
Theodore- Theo, Teddy, Thor
Nikolai- Kol, Niko/Nikos, Kai, Nik

SunKissedChild Says:

August 28th, 2017 at 6:20 am

I’m Australian, and nicknames tend to be a big thing here. I wouldn’t choose a name if it didn’t have nickname potential!
My name is Josephine; and throughout my life I have gotten Jo, JoJo (which i hated), Josie, and Phiney from family.
My husband is Robert, and he goes by Rob at work, and Robbie in his personal life.
Our son’s name is Walter, and he gets Walter Theodore (his full name), Walt, Wally, and Wally Bear.
Our next child will most likely either be:
Florence- Flossie, Ren, Flo or Posey
Or Edmund- Ned, Teddy or a first/middle nickname combo

Myosotis Says:

August 28th, 2017 at 6:56 am

From when I first got into names and was 100% against actually using nns, I’ve definitely had a change of heart. I still thinks it’s silly to put a name on the birth certificate that’s deliberately never going to be used, but I don’t mind using nns or pet names on occasion.

I think my mum does it well. She calls me a plethora of different nns and pet names, enough that she jokes that she doesn’t remember, my name, but also uses my full name a good deal too. I’ve decided to mainly go by a nn with friends and peers, partly to simplify things, but also because I think it suits me a little better, although I do love my full name and can’t imagine being called anything else. When I imagine/ daydream about having kids in my head, I usually end up naturally calling them certain nns too.

I like coming up with nns. It’s fun, and I enjoy seeing what other names I love I can get out of one name. Like girlywirly, I love Caspian, Nikolai, and Lorenzo for their nn options as well. Although it’s not 100% necessary, it’s an added bonus. I have Cas, Cap, and Kit (from one of Caspian’s middle names) as nns for Caspian, and all 3, as well as Caspian, actually honour characters. Kit, Kai, and Enzo are names I adore too, and I like that I could use them alongside names I love, especially as they ‘feel’ the same as the full names. I don’t have kids, but I do spend a lot of time imagining them, and with Nikolai (for example) I find myself ‘saying’ Niki and sometimes Kai. Niki isn’t one I considered much, until I came across a little Nikolai nn Niki, but it’s so cute and works so well. I like Niko, but it doesn’t come up as much and doesn’t wuite fit.

I also think nns should come naturally. I understand planning and exploring options, and having one or a few options that you’d most like to use. But my own, and again when I imagine my kids, arise naturally and aren’t forced. I sometimes see desperate searches for nns, and names being discounted because there aren’t many options, when I don’t think it really matters. I think it’s nice to have options and be creative, but they don’t have to be used. My mum doesn’t actually call me the nns which are most intuitive to my name, and didn’t plan any or even know what my name would be until I was born. They just happened over time. I think sometimes there’s too much emphasis on what can I use as a nn, instead of just enjoying the name for what it is, and waiting for them (if any) to come up naturally.

LLBaby22 Says:

August 28th, 2017 at 7:34 am

My name is Rebecca and one of the reasons I love my name is that I have so many nickname options to choose from! I’ve gone by Becca, Becks, Rebs, a brief period of Becky. I love Reba but never identified with it. Usually now I go by my full name, but I still love all my options. My kids have names with nickname potential too and I have loved seeing what nicknames fit them and they identify with.
My daughter is Lucille Beatrice. When we chose her name we figured we’d most likely call her Lucy Bea while she grew into Lucille. But Lucy never fit and we called her Lucille or just Bea as a baby. At a year and a half she started calling herself Lulu. 2 years later it’s still the name she identifies with most and introduces herself as. I’m anxious to see if it sticks or if her nickname morphs as she gets older. Celie is another cute option for her.
My son is Lennon Wallace. He’s 2 and seems to prefer Lennon at this point. My nephew calls him Lenny and we sometimes call him Lemon or Lemy. If he dislikes his name when he’s older he can also use the letters to make Leo or Leon.
We also use our kids middle names often so if they identify with those more than their first then they can go by those, or nicknames of those. So many options for them to chose from. It’s so fun!

Hayden_Taylor Says:

August 28th, 2017 at 7:48 am

We are a family of nicknamer’s too. 🙂 I go by a nickname that’s further nicknamed (Remy, Remalem, Remsicle, Rem-Dog, Remalemanem, Remsy, Remadilemma, etc). And, of course, my kids are further nicknamed too. Archer, Archibald, Archie, Archie Bear, A1, Buddy, etc) and my youngest has less but he’s still little (Atlas, Atty, Al, A2, Gus Gus, Atty Finch, Pinchy Finch, etc).

jame1881 Says:

August 28th, 2017 at 7:49 am

I agree with @myosotis that nicknames should come naturally. Name them what you’d like to call them – short, long, or otherwise – and that will be morphed into something you can’t imagine right now. (For example, my sister Lucy is called Luch by some people because of a typo on a school form one time.) Might as well stick with what you like so at least you’ll be justified in calling them that.

nora.rosenberg Says:

August 28th, 2017 at 8:39 am

I do not completely agree with this article.

I am not a member of a family of nicknamers, but I am pretty used to nicknames. We do use nicknames but it is not a priority when naming. Our nicknames are not cute-y or childish {like Lulu, Mimi etc}. Of course, I would never put a nickname on the birth certificate, nor would I select a nickname and then search for formal names that lead to this nickname,nor select a full name which gives many nickname options. As people have already mentioned, nicknames should come naturally. And creative people can nickname even names with no obvious nicknames, if they really want to have a nickname.

As far as interchangeable nicknames are concerned, I would never do it. It would sound like I am a different person. People have called me with different nicknames and I feel that it’s not myself. I introduce myself the same to anyone, not with different nicknames according to the case.

stephaniebrooke Says:

August 28th, 2017 at 8:59 am

I hated having such a long name as a child (the story goes when I was learning to write my name I asked my mom if we could change it to something shorter, she suggested Mud) but it never really occurred to me to go by Steph. I actually really dislike it, and correct most people (outside of a few friends and family members) when they call me anything other than Stephanie. I had the usual assortment of childhood nicknames (Stephy, Step-on-me, Roo, Roo-bug, Miss Brooke, Snuffy) but none ever stuck or were used outside of family or classmates. I’m pretty okay with it though.

As for future children with nicknames, there are a LOT of nicknames I do not like, and will absolutely correct people if they use (i.e I love the name Andrew, hate the nickname Andy, would prefer Drew if anything) while they are young, but as they get older, I get it. An ex was formally named William, but from the time he was born, his parents called him Bill. Corrected anyone who called him Billy, Willy, etc. He tried to go by Will for a little while in high school, but it didn’t stick.

holloway Says:

August 28th, 2017 at 9:01 am

I agree completely with this I don’t think it was ever an intentional thing in my family but our nicknames all sort of revolved iver time into more and more nicknames
My name is Julianne I go by
Juli
Juli-boolie
Juli-boo
Ju-boo
Boo-boo
The boo
Boo
Ju
Jujie
Ujie
Eugene
And Moose
My siblings have similarly long lists so do mi cousins except one who we determined early on was Nique and it pretty much stuck. To me nicknames sort of develop naturally and transform over time the name I introduce myself with is Juli but my mother will refer to me in public as Boo and people still know who she’s talking about and my brother talks about moose and people know that’s me. Occasionally I get “you’re a bit small to be called moose” but I just shrug and laugh it off Eugene is usually where I really need to explain for people. I’ve never understood why people dislike nicknames my name is Julianne and I like my name, I like the story behind it I like that it contains Anne and yes I still use it. I wouldn’t want Juli to be my full name I detest it as a full name I think it’s fine as a nickname but as a full name ugh I’m glad my parents gave me a longer name. Nicknames are like a special connection between you and your family or later you and your friends of all the things my family called me they. Ever called me Jules I was never Jules until I got to college. my college friends call me Jules, that’s a special thing just for us just for my team and because I’ve had so many names I took to that name pretty easily.

ARhythmofNames Says:

August 28th, 2017 at 9:27 am

I have to say I love both simple and short names, but ones that are long and have fun nicknames are more my style.
All names I have picked out have at least 2 NNs that could be formed, although I have had trouble finding ones for Astrid that I like (So far I like Atty and Tris best, but Atty is too close to another NN of a name chosen for a different daughter, so I have been trying to think of some NNs)

mill1020 Says:

August 28th, 2017 at 9:46 am

Love this.

Liz Kent Says:

August 28th, 2017 at 9:59 am

When will it be the invent a baby name competition?

Lo Says:

August 28th, 2017 at 10:54 am

I desperately wanted a nickname as a child but could never get one to stick. My husband was the first and only one to come up with a short form for Laura – Lo. My maiden name started with Co— so it quickly became Loco. 😉

When it came to naming our own children I initially avoided names with obvious nicknames – Paul, Clare, Mark. Then we named Katharine after my mom and the nicknaming floodgates poured open. She uses her given name plus a variety of names at home (Kat, Kitty, Kitten) and school (Kate) and even Katie with a few older relatives. The children born after her mostly use their full name plus one nickname – James (Jay), Andrew (Honey Bear…he’s still only 3 and Drew just hasn’t fit him at all), and Gabriel (Gabe).

I’ve toyed with using Elizabeth (if we ever had another girl) but I honestly don’t trust us to not call her by all 50 nicknames.

Gulligapandan Says:

August 28th, 2017 at 11:18 am

I feel you (sort of), my name is Amanda and I’ve gone by Am, Manda, Man, Mandy, Mandizz, Ammie, Panda and a bunch not related to my name (Salt, Satan, Saltan) and so forth.
It’s annoying from time to time but honestly I love it! For a child I’ll probably have a name that’s easy to nickname because I love giving people nicknames (My friend Johannes goes by Jojo for example) and I just think it’s a lot of fun.

saoirse123 Says:

August 28th, 2017 at 12:33 pm

Beyond the point of having a name that naturally gets shortened or varied, I think nicknames are a way of showing affection. Most of my family actually likes to lengthen the name to create the nickname, which is more of a pet-name, really. No one would ever introduce another family member by the cutesy and silly names we use amongst ourselves because that’s not what they’re for.

I think what I’m trying to say is, whether the name is short and “nickname proof” or long with an even longer history of nicknames, it’s nice to be able to play with your own name and those of your loved ones. So pick Jimmy for the birth certificate because you’re never planning on using James, or insist everyone use Elizabeth in full. Play with the actual person’s name, or don’t. I just find that having room another name, and anything goes really, is endearing.

Heck, I still get called Max from time to time. It has nothing to do with my real name, it just came about one day and had something to do with being annoying to the max. It makes no sense to anyone outside the immediate family, and no one picked my real name thinking “We will nickname her Max”. I know no one calls me that while thinking I’m annoying anymore, and I don’t associate it with that either. It feels more like a secret code for “I’ve known you all your life”.

But then again, I know people who find this sort of outside-the-box naming very strange, and possibly insulting. To those who feel this way: I am so sorry, and you are missing out on the chance of a lifetime to be called Monkey, derived from Monkey Butt.

NaomiNY Says:

August 28th, 2017 at 3:32 pm

My family sometimes calls me Nomi.

Some names I like have nicknames as well.

Girl names:
Johannah- Joey, Jojo, Josie, Anna, Annie
Beatrice- Tris, Bee, Bebe, Trixie
Eleanor/Eleanora- Ella, Ellie, Lainey, Nora, Nori
Rebekah- Rivka, Ree, Beka, Becky, Beck(s)
Sarah- Sally, Sadie
Michaela- Mika
Josephine- Josie, Jojo, Joey
Tabitha- Tabby
Adelaide- Addy, Della, Adele
Abigail- Abbey
Ophelia- Lia
Dorothy- Dori
Chesna- Chessy
Sybil- Sibby
Theodosia- Thea, Theo
Lucasa- Lulu, Cassie
Euphemia- Euphie
Katherine- Kate, Rina

Boy names:
Thaddeus- Tad, Ted, Teddy
Joseph- Joey, Joe, Djoser
Samuel- Sam, Sammy
Kenneth- Ken, Kenny
Zacchaeus- Zack
Casimir- Cas
William- Will, Liam, Billy, Willy
Phineas- Finn, Finny
Michael- Mike, Mikey
John- Jack, Johnny
Dashiell- Dash
Benedict- Benny
Arthur- Artie, Ari
Nathaniel- Nate, Nathan
Matthew- Matt, Matty
Tobias- Toby
Josiah- Joey, Joe, Cy
Malachi- Kai
Lochlan- Locke
Henry- Harry, Hank
Ishmael- Ish
Alfred- Alfie, Al, Fred, Freddie
Charles- Charlie, Chuck, Chuckie
Hezekiah- Kai, Zeke
Ezekiel- Zeke
Thomas- Tom, Tommy
Eliezer- Eli

ceryle Says:

August 28th, 2017 at 5:11 pm

Nicknames are common in my family, and many are unrelated or only tangentially related to the names in question. I think the best nicknames come about organically like that.

So I personally wouldn’t give a child a long, formal name just to get to the nickname. I like the name Josie, for instance, so that’s what I’d put on the birth certificate, not Josephine; however, it’d be totally fine if I ended up calling her Jo!

LoveBugsMama Says:

August 28th, 2017 at 6:02 pm

My mom is of the group that if you intend to call them by that name; that’s the name that should be on the birth certificate. I’m of the other group. I love long names with fun nicknames. I’ve wondered if it’s because she’s only ever gone by her nickname and finds it annoying that she has to deal with her given name whereas I have no nickname so I only see the advantages.

lesliemarion Says:

August 29th, 2017 at 12:02 am

To me, there is a difference between a nickname that is used in public and a pet name. While a number of folks call be Les, a simple name shortener, only my nearest and dearest call me Lulu, Pret, or Bert. And they don’t even call me that – it’s more how they address me in birthday cards and emails.

Sometimes I wish I were named Elizabeth so I could go by a different name for every mood like the little girl, Elizabeth, in Anne of Windy Poplars. My choices would be Bess, Bessie, Libby, Liberty, Elspeth, Betsan, Bet, Betsy, Liza, and Bethany. A fun way to express one’s different selves.

LibbyLou72 Says:

August 30th, 2017 at 3:25 pm

The name on my birth certificate is Elizabeth, but every time someone calls me that it sounds foreign. My mom wanted to name me just Libby, but my dad wanted the more formal name with Libby as the nickname. My whole life I have only even been called Libby. Even when I was in trouble as a kid, never once did my parents use Elizabeth.

I still vividly remember in kindergarten when we were learning to write our names and my teacher had me practice writing Elizabeth, I had a break down. I remember telling the teacher through my tears “that’s not my name!” And that memory still sticks with me 20+ years later!

So I have to say that I don’t agree with this article. If you intended to only ever use one name with a child and never call them by something else, then that’ should be their given name!

Jfchapman Says:

August 31st, 2017 at 3:51 pm

Yes! Yes! Yes!

My husband thinks its so weird that I insist on names that have nicknaming possibilities. My name is Jessica, so I have rotated through Jessi, Jess, Jers, and so on. My sister, Danielle/Dani/Dan. You get it.

I am so adamant about having nickname names for my children because there are formal and more sophisticated names I love, but I always try to see if I can picture ooing and ahing over a tiny newborn saying it. Long, adulty sounding names seem weird to call babies IMO lol. It’s silly but true!
Then my kids will have an option to choose which they prefer, especially as they grow up. I always think how each name will sound on a kid or someone professional like, a lawyer lol.

Every name on our baby name list can be broken down into AT LEAST 2 names.
Power to the nicknames!

CsprsSassyHrly Says:

September 2nd, 2017 at 8:38 am

I grew up with a not nickname friendly name, Irene. I got called Winnie (pronounced wee-knee). These days, Winnie has transformed into Ween, but that’s pretty much the only nickname I’ve ever had.

I adore names that rich with possible nicknames. I saw someone mentioned Elizabeth, that’s one of my favorites. The one that tops them all on my list though is Margaret. Mae, M (or Em, however you may spell it), Greta, Gretchen, Maisie, Maggie, Marjie. My favorite, and probably the one I’d mostly use should I give this name to my daughter, Mars; it’s unexpected, but still understandable, tough, but cute. That nickname is probably the reason Margaret tops my list. But giving Mars to a baby girl as the given name, that’s something I can’t see myself doing.

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