Two Chummy Names: Buddy and Sonny

Two Chummy Names: Buddy and Sonny

By Anna Otto, WaltzingMoreThanMatilda

Generic nicknames for boys is a baby name trend that some parents detest, and others are eager to embrace. But how much use and history do some of these names have? Here’s a close look at two.


Buddy is a slang word meaning “friend, companion.” It may be an affectionate alteration of the word brother, but there is an eighteenth century English and Welsh dialect word butty, meaning “work-mate,” which was used by coal miners. This goes back to the sixteenth century term booty fellow, given to a partner that you share your booty or plunder with; thanks to pirate movies, we know that booty has nothing to do with boots or buttocks, but means “gains, rewards,” often with connotations of being ill-gotten. Interestingly, we still sometimes jokingly introduce a friend as our partner in crime.

The word buddy is still very much in current use, with schoolchildren urged to use the buddy system, joggers pounding the pavement with their running buddy, smokers giving up tobacco with their quit buddy, gamers adding people to their buddy list, people going out to have fun with their drinking buddies, and hitting the hay with their bed buddies.

Buddy has been used as a personal name since at least the eighteenth century, and seems to have historically been much more popular in America. It isn’t always possible to tell from historic records whether Buddy was the person’s name, or a common-law nickname, but in at least several cases, it was the name they were christened with.

Famous people named Buddy nearly always have it as a nickname, such as American rock and roll pioneer CharlesBuddyHolly, or Australian AFL star LanceBuddyFranklin. Fictional Buddys include Buddy Hobbes, the man who thought he was one of Santa’s elves in the Christmas comedy Elf, and Buddy Love, Jerry Lewis‘s arrogant alter ego in The Nutty Professor.

Buddy has been chosen as a baby name by two TV chefs – Bartolo “Buddy” Valastro from American reality TV show Cake Boss has a son named Buddy after his father (and his own nickname), and British chef Jamie Oliver welcomed his son Buddy Bear Maurice in 2010. Buddy Oliver still manages to make the occasional “crazy celebrity baby name list,” although his sisters Poppy Honey Rosie, Daisy Boo Pamela and Petal Blossom Rainbow are usually thrown in as a package deal.

In the United States, Buddy peaked at #202 in the 1930s and left the charts in 1989; last year just 21 boys were named Buddy – the same number as those called Trigger. Buddy was #356 in England/Wales in 2013; the numbers began climbing the same year Buddy Oliver was born, although it seems to have slackened off slightly. Buddy has never charted in Australia, but I do see it in birth notices fairly often, influenced by Buddy Franklin

Sonny is even more straightforward as a slang term than Buddy, as it is a casual or affectionate way to address a young boy, from the word son. As a baby name, you could see Sonny as meaning “my son”, or even another form of Junior.

Sonny has been used as a boy’s name since at least the seventeenth century, and as with Buddy, it isn’t always possible to know whether it was the person’s given name or their nickname, but does seem to have been the name they were christened with in many cases.

Sonny is a popular nickname amongst musicians, such as jazz legend TheodoreSonnyRollins, PaulSonny” Sandoval from Christian metal band P.O.D., and Flower Child era pop singer SalvatoreSonnyBono, who was half of Sonny & Cher. Sonny is the real name of blues guitarist Sonny Landreth, and DJ Sonny Moore, who performs under the stage name Skrillex. Even in fiction, Sonny has a musical heritage, because James Baldwin’s story Sonny’s Blues centres on a young jazz musician.

Sonny has been chosen as a baby name by Sophie Ellis-Bextor from English rock band The Feeling, and by Noel Gallagher, from Britpop band Oasis. American actor Jason Lee also has a little boy named Sonny. Australian comedian Hamish Blake welcomed his son Sonny Donald last year, and the baby has already become a cute Instagram sensation, a possible encouragement to the growth of the name Sonny.

In the United States, Sonny has been solidly Top 1000 since the 1920s, and peaked at #428 in the 1970s (perhaps under the influence of Sonny Bono, because of the popular Sonny & Cher variety shows). Currently Sonny is #842 in the US, and relatively stable. In England/Wales, Sonny became a Top 100 name last year, debuting at #90. In Australia, Sonny seems to be in the 100s, and could well be travelling towards the Top 100.

These are two cute, friendly, upbeat, boyish nicknamey names that have gained celebrity support and are very much in line with British trends. Some may see the names as a little too snuggly and huggable, but I think they could also seem cool, or even a bit bad boy.

Are Buddy and Sonny names you could ever put on the birth certificate, or are they “just nicknames”?

This is an abridged version of an article published at Anna‘s name blog, Waltzing More Than Matilda. Waltzing More Than Matilda looks at names from an Australian perspective, and Australian history and culture through its names.

About the Author

Anna Otto