The Case for the Many-Nicknamed Name
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, Kati–Kat, 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?