Pop quiz: nicknames

Nov 12th 2005

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)
Dolly: Dorothy
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)
Sally: Sarah


By Amy (not verified)
November 12, 2005 4:17 PM

I am struck by how much more imaginative nicknames used to be (or maybe, are in places other than North America). If you want to nickname someone here it seems like you take the first syllable of their name and (optionally) add -y.I need good nicknames for my girls, Delphine and Cordelia.

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 13, 2005 3:57 PM

Sorry, for those ones I only know about "Delia" (nice but not very creative), Delphine is hard unless you want to call her "Dizzy" or something. Beautiful names though, I'll be interested to see what other people suggest.

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 13, 2005 4:26 PM

i LOVE nicknames i would love to name my first daughter Ginny, just Ginny not Virginia...it would be interesting to see if the popularity of naming kids with a "given" nickname has gone up or down!Delphine could be nicknamed, Daphne, Daphna, or Daphie

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 14, 2005 1:08 AM

In my group we tend to pick a non-first syllable of a name and then add an /s/ sound to the end. So your daughters would be Feens and Deels.-Kristen

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 14, 2005 3:56 AM

How about Feeney as a nickname for Delphine?

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 14, 2005 3:57 AM

How about Feeney as a nickname for Delphine?

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 14, 2005 4:57 AM

What about Elfie for Deplhine? I think that's a really cute nickname. :) As for Cordelia, I agree with the person who said that Delia was a nice name. This is just my personal opinion, but every other Cordelia nickname I could think of just reminded me of cordial.

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 14, 2005 11:53 AM

We're thinking about naming our daughter Cordelia and calling her Lia.

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 14, 2005 3:13 PM

Two other nice ones for Cordelia: Cory, Cora. Delphine is harder. What about Della?

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 14, 2005 3:44 PM

I remember back in school when substitute teachers would call roll and automatically call me by the common nickname for my given name. It would bother me a little, and I would correct them, but it comes with the territory of having a lengthy name.What bothers me is people (and relatives) who name their children certain names that have many possible nicknames, like Elizabeth, and then command everyone to use only the full name. It's fine for family to remember, but I mean, come on! There are always people who will use nicknames regardless if you go by it or not. I'm sure every Elizabeth has heard 'Liz' more than once.

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 14, 2005 5:55 PM

My husband and I really love the name Cordelia and are planning to use it someday. I must say I am a little sad to hear it mentioned on the board. But a reason my husband and I liked the name was because of the nickname Cordy. She was a character on the WB show Angel that we really liked. But it is such a beautiful name.

By Val (not verified)
November 14, 2005 7:59 PM

This was an interesting entry- I've noticed how people don't necessarily know the traditional nicknames (or diminutives) any more. For example, when my sister Sarah was little, her elderly piano teacher used to call her Sally, which seemed really strange to us, but at least I knew that answer in your pop quiz! And my father, John, is always known as Jack, although I've come across some younger people now who think that's weird, and would only use Jack as a name in its own right. Personally, I would always give a child the full name and then they have more possibilities. For example, a Katie may be cute when she's three, but feel a bit silly at 50, whereas if she were originally named Katharine she would have more options.Certain nicknames also go out of style over the years. My husband's name is Robert and he likes to be called that. The other day a client of his called him Bob and he was horrified... I can get away with Rob (which I much prefer), but call him Bobby if I want to really make him mad!!By the way, thanks for such a cool website- names have been a passion of mine for many years and it's good to see some intelligent discussion!

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 14, 2005 10:21 PM

My name is Sara and in grade school an elderly teacher always insisted on calling me Sadie. My mother did not really like nicknames, but was an anglophile. My sisters and I are Wendy, Pamela, Sara and Amy. Pam is the only one who goes by a shortened version of her name and I am the only one my mother calls by full name. Sara Jane. My parents are Dick and Jan for Richard and Jeanette. Mom and Dad get nicknames - the kids do not.

By Psyche (not verified)
November 15, 2005 3:24 PM

I got almost all of them right, except for Jenny, lol... I don't see the point in making a nickname for Jane/Jean, though!Very interesting entry!

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 15, 2005 4:34 PM

For me it is the exact opposite. I insist on my nickname and I always get my full name>

By Sarah (not verified)
November 16, 2005 2:54 AM

My husband James is akin to Val;s husband Robert. He is horrified whenever anyone calls him Jim. And I must say, it doesn't suit him; he's definitely a James.As a pre-teen I discovered Sadie was a traditional nickname for Sarah, and tried to go by that, but it wouldn't stick. People didn't buy it as a nickname.

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 17, 2005 10:59 PM

Some of the girls named Minnie around the turn of the century out here in the frozen Midwest were first-born daughters of immigrants named after the state in which they were born, Minnesota.

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 18, 2005 2:00 AM

Down here, it is still very common to name children the full formal name - often after another relative - and then go by a nickname. In fact, my husband and I were startled to learn that my sister actually put Molly Kate on her little girl's birth certificate instead of Mary Katherine. That also brings up something I haven't yet seen on this site (but might have missed) which is using a double name. It is very common here for girls and boys to be called by two names - and I don't mean Billy Bob - more like Mary Peyton, Ann Macon, Wade Wilson, or James Paul.

By Jan (not verified)
November 18, 2005 1:49 PM

It's true how we don't know the connections anymore. A gal from my school was named Lisa and I remember being very surprised when I learned her official name was really Elizabeth!

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 24, 2005 10:07 PM

We had two sons. I wanted to chose names that could not be messed with. Our firstborn was Mark, the second Gregory, which, shortened to Greg was still acceptable. I though no one could spoil their names. But their teachers did it - Markie and Greggie! I was furious!!!

By Kristin (not verified)
December 6, 2005 2:55 PM

Fascinating as always! In my genealogy research, a person will sometimes have three different names in three different decades. Hannah, Nannie, and Nancy, for example.

By Sarah (not verified)
December 9, 2005 6:45 PM

i hate having such a short name, there's nothing to shorten it to, my friends suggested 'saz' but i'm not sure about that.I think giving children longer names is better than shortening it for them then they can chose if they want a nickname.

By Anonymous (not verified)
January 5, 2006 3:32 PM

Adding ie to the end of a name to "make" it a nickname should be outlawed. My parents choose both my sisters name and mine, Sonia and Ingrid very carefully to avoid any goofy shortforms and still both of us were called Sonie and Inggie at one point or other. We both like our "legal" names and there is no need to shorten everything. You have to be carefull too to pick the right nickname when calling for example a Robert - it could be Rob, Bob, Bobby etc.Ingrid

By Anonymous (not verified)
January 6, 2006 4:35 PM

I am a Sally - who's given name is Sally (although I was aware that its origins were from Sara(h). Anyway, my mother said she felt it was a "nickname" that had come into its own right to be a stand alone name (1969). It was very rare for anybody to assume my name was Sarah. I am now pregnant with my second child and for a girl's name we are leaning toward Maggie, but are thinking we should use the official Margaret for the birth certificate even though we have no intention of ever calling a daughter by that name. It just seems that "Maggie" is still known to be derived from Margaret while very few people had realization of Sally's origins.

By Anonymous (not verified)
January 12, 2006 2:31 AM

I am a child of the 60's where every name was shortened.

By Anonymous (not verified)
January 12, 2006 2:38 AM

I am a child of the 60's where every name was shortened - Cathy (Catherine on birth certificate), and my brother Mike (Michael). I have never liked my name, and wish I could get everyone to call me Catherine, but have tried several times with no luck. Everyone just keeps using Cathy! I am not a big fan of names ending in the "ee" sound - sounds too cutsy and weak. Has anyone ever successfully changed their name in their 40's?!?Love the name Delia...

By Anonymous (not verified)
January 23, 2006 12:26 AM

As for Delphine and Cordelia, there's the obvious Delia, and maybe Deedee, or Cordy. Delphine is a little harder but maybe just Del, or Adelle... Fifi...actually that kind of works, Del and Delia....Deedee and Fifi...Beautiful names by the way

By Anonymous (not verified)
January 27, 2006 1:40 AM

It seems to me people are more rigid about nick names nowadays.Firstly, they seem to accept only nn which can easily be derived from the formal name (Sam for Samuel or Samantha etc.) If someone says that Daisy is a nn for Margaret or Jack a nn for John, they whine "how do you get Daisy out of Margaret/Jack out of John"?Secondly, why does everyone assume the purpose for a nn is only to shorten it? There are two other reasons for nn. a) Endearment. We call John Johnny and Rose Rosie, thus lengthening their short names. And Tommy is not shorter than Thomas. Lola is a nn for Lolita and Gretchen for Greta, not the other way around.b) To distinguish between people with the same names. Three Johns in the village, hence John, Johnnie and Jack. And we can assume that Elizabeth and Margaret were insanely popular, b/c of all the different nn they have.Thirdly, nick names are obviously not only used by family and close friends, but also with the surname. So parents have to consider how the nn sounds with the surname. Therefore they have to decide the nn beforehand, instead of letting it grow naturally.At the same time, people are sometimes (especially in the US, I think) so afraid of their child not getting a formal enough name (even though it is seldom used), that they think that Lily needs a "formal name" like Lilian/a and Lucy a "formal name" like Lucille or Lucinda. And Jack needs the formal name Jackson (they don't know that Jack was originally a nn for John, but have a feeling it is "short for" something, so it must be short for Jackson).

By Jinny (not verified)
April 29, 2006 12:29 AM

Nell is also short for my aunt's name: Petronella which was also a fairy tale that has fallen out of favor due to the weird name.

By Missy (not verified)
May 5, 2006 7:06 PM

I always thought Dolly was short for Dolores, but I can see the Dorothy connection, too.

I agree with Anonymous above (Jan 26) that nicknames aren't "just" for shortening the longer formal name. I wish people paid more attention to traditional nicknames - so fascinating.

I'm one of those folks that got stuck with a nickname later in life, when I'd always been called by my full name (which my family still uses).

By jimbo (not verified)
June 6, 2006 2:32 PM

About those Delia comments. We named our daughter Delia. We liked the simplicity. Nevertheless, her classmates have found a nickname for the Deedee. I still call her Delia,

By Liz (not verified)
July 3, 2006 4:10 AM

How about Lydia for a nickname for Cordelia or possibly Dora? Delphine is more difficult but maybe Della or Lydia could work for this one too. I have the fortune of having three names, all of which have been messed with. I went by my middle names (Rose Ann) for the first years of my life. I was called Rose, Rosa, Rosie, Annie, Rosalita, to name a few. I moved when I was 12 and changed to my frist name (Elizabeth) because I despised Rose Ann, mostly because of the popularity of Roseanne Barr and her television show. It only took about 2 months to become Liz and now my family mostly calls me Lizzy. Luckily I've grown up and I like my middle names again. Names are very interesting and I've enjoyed the discussion above.

By del (not verified)
October 7, 2006 2:08 PM

My name is Delphine, and people often call me Del. It's easy to say and remember.

By my name is nydene (not verified)
November 10, 2006 4:53 AM

a hate my name being that i was named after a piece of crap

By Liz (not verified)
January 4, 2007 3:56 AM

We named our daughter Lucinda because we did want a more formal name than Lucy, which we planned to call her. I like being Elizabeth when need be. But after 4 years of Lucy, our daughter decided that Lucinda was a better name after all, and insists all her friends call her that. She's often Lu to us. I like the Shakespearean name Cordelia and the oracular Delphine. NIce associations. We have a Sophia as well as Lucinda, and people who get it say, "Ah, wisdom and light." I agree that you should give your child a choice in their name, give them something to grow into, or out of, or not.

By katy (not verified)
January 8, 2007 9:39 PM

I like Cordelia and Delphine. Delphy is a cute shortening, and Lia would be nice for Cordelia.

One of my favorites is Julianna, Ianna as the short version.

The trouble (as I see it) with giving nicknames as real names is that it leaves no room for self-expression. My name, Katharine, lets me be who I want.

I'm usually Katy, but family call me Kate, and in school some friends called me Kat, and my aunt of the same name is Kathy so there is no confusion between the generations.

That's why I've always liked the name Elizabeth if I have a daughter--also because a cursive z is so beautiful--because she could be Betsy, Liza, Betty, Lisa, Beth, Eliza, Lizzie etc....In Pride & Prejudice, Elizabeth is called many of these nickames by her family; they don't stick to one!
I used to think it was the prettiest name. It's too zizzy for me now. I still love all of the nicknames for it. now, if I have a girl I want something odd like Tamsin or Deliliah or Coraline.

Is Maud a nickname for something?

By Amy A (not verified)
January 21, 2007 3:59 PM

For Delphine and Cordelia, I love one of the suggestions above, 'Elfie'! That's so cute! And I thought of 'Cordie' too, like the Buffy character.

But I don't think you ought to stress about choosing a nickname; the whole idea of nicknames is that they come naturally. What comes most naturally to you when you shorten their names? What do other people call them? I don't think you need to decide on an oficial nickname; it kind of defeats the point!

Nicknames don't need to be beautiful, they just need to be said with affection. Something plain like 'Cordie' might stick easily, provided your daughter doesn't hate it, whereas in my opinion 'Delia' is a whole other name as well; people are christened Delia.
But of course I'm hardly going to tell you what you can nickname your child! I just advise whatever comes naturally; don't rush or force it.

By Amy A (not verified)
January 21, 2007 4:01 PM

To Katy above, no, Maud is not a nickname for anything. I think it's a very old name. It's actually really popular among young girls in France, but spelt 'Maude' - I was amazed at that. Mathilde is fashionable there too.

By Lis (not verified)
December 23, 2007 9:00 AM

My first name is Elisabeth but some people automatically call me Liz, Lizzy, or Lizzie. I feel like screeching sometimes that it's spelled with an S, not a Z. Also, I think it's sort of rude if you call somebody you barely know by a nickname if they don't give permission first.

Elizabeth is a pretty name, but I find it is a bit overused. I am glad my mother decided to name me Elisabeth instead of Rebecca though. I just don't think I could stand people calling me Becky, Becca, etc without asking.

I much prefer to go by Elisabeth because my mother never gave me a nickname; she thought calling me Lizzie would automatically turn me into the ax murderer Lizzie Borden. However, I used to call myself "Lizz." Now, I embrace the S. It's Lis.

By Jessica (not verified)
August 8, 2008 1:26 AM

Does anyone have any nicknames for Peyton or Emerald, because I can't think of any. My mom is having twins, and she wants some help thinking of nicknames, thanks!