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Vintage Nicknames Refresh Classic Names

June 9, 2020 Sophie Kihm
Vintage Nicknames

Vintage nicknames are the perfect way to revive the style value of classic names.

After decades of being the top girl name, Mary is on the decline, while names like Richard and Edward are feeling a bit tired for boys. You’ll never be criticized for choosing one of these names, but they are safe and conventional choices.

Enter: the sparkling new nickname. Well, not exactly new. These nicknames are so old-fashioned that they’ve only recently begun to sound fresh again. Each livens up the traditional names it stems from — Mary is transformed when called Polly or Mamie, and Edward feels rejuvenated as Ned.

Here, 24 vintage nicknames that give new life to their classic full forms: 

Vintage Nicknames for Girls

Dot — Delightfully vintage Dot livens up Dorothy, which has only begun to shed its Golden Girl image in the past decade. Dolly, another Dorothy nickname, ranks in England’s Top 400.

Esti — Biblical Esther often goes without a nickname, but Esti is a sweet choice that fits in with other revivals such as Elsie and Evie. Esty, a spelling variation, was recently used for the protagonist on the Netflix series Unorthodox.

FrannyFrankie is losing its hipster edge, and now it’s Franny that has that so-old-it’s-new glow, as far as Frances nicknames are concerned. Even more under-the-radar is Francie, best known as the name of the main character in Betty Smith’s classic novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

GinnyGinny Weasley from Harry Potter was technically Ginevra, but historically most women called Ginny were born Virginia. Virginia has not made the comeback it deserves, perhaps due to its virginal qualities — a nickname such as Ginny would mitigate that.

JoanieJoan was a classic of the 20th century but has yet to reembraced in the way her sisters June and Jane have been. The nickname Joanie might sweeten the deal, as it feels fresh and at home among names like Sadie and Bonnie. Joanie also has enough weight to stand on its own — more so than Junie or Janie.

KittyKate and Katie will forever be classic nicknames for Katherine, but vintage and animalistic Kitty kicks it up a notch. And speaking of kicking, Kick is also a retro nickname for Katherine and similar names.

Mamie — Rarer than Maisie but with all the same charm, Mamie is one of our favorite nicknames for Margaret right now. It can also be used as a short form of Mary, as in Meryl Streep’s daughter Mary WillaMamie” Gummer.

Polly — Step aside, Molly — Polly is coming along as the next great nickname for Mary. The myriad of pop culture associations — from Pollyanna to Orange is the New Black — work in your favor here, as the name isn’t overly tied to a single reference. Polly is rising in Great Britain but was only given to 50 American girls in 2018.

SallySally began as a Sarah diminutive but eventually outranked its mother name in the 1930s. Recently it’s been associated with Sally Draper, played by Kiernan Shipka on Mad Men. Sally works as both a nickname and an independent name — it is the natural successor to Sadie, now a mainstream name that’s losing its vintage feel.

Sukie — Susie needs a minute to freshen up before a revival (although trust us, that day will come) — quirkier Sukie is the Susan nickname we need right now. Sukey, Suki, and Sookie are alternative spellings.

TessTheresa fell out of the Top 1000 in 2011, but short forms Tressa, Thea, and Tess give it new life. Tess stands just as well on her own, or even as the elaboration Tessie, which ranked in the Top 500 from 1885-1924.

Zibby — Nickname-rich Elizabeth has plenty of vintage nicknames that could have made this list, including Betty, Betsy, and Bess. But it’s unconventional Zibby, with its zesty Z initial, that serves to truly recreate Elizabeth. A contemporary fictional heroine is the protagonist from the 2012 movie Liberal Arts, played by Elizabeth Olsen. 

Vintage Nicknames for Boys

Albie — the softest and freshest nickname for classic Albert. Now that Archie is coming back, could Albie follow suit? It’s set to crack the Top 50 in the UK.

Billy — If you’re set on William but think Liam and Will are overplayed, we’d like to re-introduce you to Billy. Billy is a total classic, but out of the Bobby/Jimmy/Tommy cohort, perhaps the only one that’s ready to be resurrected. Celebrities who used the name in recent years include Jimmy Kimmel and John Stamos.

Chaz — Charlie is the nickname du jour these days — for boys and girls. But if the more formal Charles is going on the birth certificate, Chaz is a funkier short form worthy of consideration. Chas is an equally viable spelling, as seen in Wes Anderson’s film The Royal Tenenbaums.

FritzFreddie remains a great option for a Frederick nickname, but to us it’s the Germanic Fritz that feels the freshest. It never made it into the Top 350 as an independent name and dropped out of the Top 1000 in 1971. Fritz Pollard was the first Black football player to go to the Rose Bowl.

HalDon’t overlook Hal — this seemingly nondescript name will certainly rise in popularity, much like Max and Theo before it. Hal is traditionally a short form of Harold or Henry, but we also love it as-is, which Benedict Cumberbatch used for his son in 2017.

Hank — Hank is Hal’s saucier cousin, and likewise a nickname for Henry. It is undeniably cool, no doubt helped by its musical and athletic namesakes, including Hanks Williams, Aaron, and Greenberg.

Ike — Offbeat hipster favorite Ike could very well hit the mainstream this decade, and we would love to see it. Ike is originally a diminutive of Isaac but also works as a nickname for Isaiah. President Eisenhower’s given name was Dwight.

Kit — Handsome British actor Kit Harington may inspire Game of Thrones fans to see his vintage nickname, short for Christopher, in a modern light. Kit is on the ascent in England, where it broke the Top 200 in 2018.

LigeLige is so old-school, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of it. It’s a diminutive of Elijah, of which Eli has become the dominant nickname. But with its appealing sound and antique flair, Lige makes a worthy (and unexpected!) nickname for Top 10 commodity Elijah.

MoeMoe is the most neglected name on this list, given to fewer than five baby boys in 2018. Perhaps it’s the connection to The Three Stooges or The Simpsons, although as the associations fade, we expect Moe will feel fresher and fresher. Moe holds its own but can add some viridity when used as a nickname for not-quite-ready-for-revival picks such as Maurice, Morris, Moses, and for girls, Maureen.

NedEdward is at an all-time popularity low in the US, ranking at #169. It’s too classic to ever sound dated, but Edward could definitely use a fresh nickname to revive itself. Ed and Eddie aren’t quite up for the job, but Ned, which harkens back to the days of Nancy Drew, is the perfectly charming nickname that could serve to put Edward back on your list.

RichieTruly deserving of a second look, Richie could be the nickname to take Richard out of dad name territory. We’re certainly not going to see the comeback of Dick.

About the author

Sophie Kihm

Sophie Kihm has been writing for Nameberry since 2015. She has contributed stories on the top middle names of 2019, the top baby names in each state, and the hottest nickname names of 2018. Sophie is Nameberry’s resident Name Guru to the Stars, where she suggests names for celebrity babies. She also manages the Nameberry Instagram and Pinterest. You can follow her personally on Instagram or Pinterest, or contact her at sophie@nameberry.com. Sophie lives in Chicago.

View all of Sophie Kihm's articles

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