Pop quiz: nicknames
Two girls in my daughter's class share the same name, so the teachers use their last initials to distinguish them. That's hardly a news flash, I know. It's the same in classes across the country. But a bit ironic in this case because of the name: Elizabeth.
Once upon a time, England was so thick with Elizabeths that elaborate means were needed to tell them all apart. As a result, the name boasts an unparalleled collection of nicknames. Bess, Beth, Betsy, Betty, Eliza, Elsie, Libby, Lise, Liz, Lizbeth...there's an Elizabeth to fit any mood. Yet in this nickname-averse age, we stick with the full version and resort to last initials.
The traditional nicknames aren't all dying out, though. You'll still meet many a young Eliza or Lizbeth, but chances are it's her full given name. A Tessa, similarly, is unlikely to be Theresa nowadays, and a Jack is seldom John. In fact, we've gotten so comfortable with many nicknames that they've become untethered from their origins. It's been going on for generations--just look at the thousands of Minnies of the 1800s, worlds removed from staid Wilhelmina. (And Minnie's friend Mickey was probably never called Michael.) So a little quiz for you: what full name was the traditional source of...
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Answers (you didn't peek ahead, did you?)
Buffy: Elizabeth, naturally
Colin: Nicholas (also adopted as a form of the Gaelic Cailean)
Jenny: Jane or Jean (long before Jennifer)
Maisie: Margaret (via the Scottish Mairead)
Nancy: Anne (and earlier, Annis/Agnes)
Nell: Helen or Eleanor
Polly: Mary (via Molly)