Named After Your Nickname?

Aug 3rd 2017

Nicknames are pet forms taken from given names…right? That's the way it's always worked, at least. But more and more, parents are turning that traditional relationship on its head. Today, thousands of babies are being named after their nicknames.

Here's how it works. You love the name Link, as in the YouTube stars Rhett & Link or the hero of the "Legend of Zelda" games. You love it, but you worry there's just not enough of it. Does it sound too much like a nickname? Shouldn't there be a longer full name to write on the birth certificate?

Lincoln is the obvious formal version, but hold on: the spelling doesn't match. Wouldn't the nickname for Lincoln be Linc? OK, then, how about "Linkin," like the band Linkin Park? Problem solved! Sure enough, last year 226 American boys received the name Linkin or another similar K spelling.

You see the phenomenon with every fashionable nickname and one-syllable name. Parents start by choosing a short name, plan to call their kids by it, but insist on a longer given name—and the spelling has to match. The popularity of Finn has made hits of Finnley and Finnegan, with Finnian, Finneas and Finnick rising fast. Tyberius is an alternative to Tiberius because of the nickname Ty. 5,000 boys every year are named Jaxson, which hews as closely as possible to the traditional Jackson while clarifying that the nickname should be Jax. Then there are the many girls named Abbygail, Maddyson, and Lilyan.

It's perfectly logical, and not even a new phenomenon. Going back generations, you can find a steady smattering of boys named Nickolas to emphasize the (ahem) Nick-name. Current style, though, is pushing the trend to new heights. Parents are more willing to be inventive with names than ever before, and less inclined to confer just a nickname than ever before.

If you simply love the name Finneas or Maddyson, then by all means choose it. But if you're only tweaking the spelling because the name you really love is the nickname, consider this: have you ever had any trouble coping with Nick being short for Nicholas? Or with John not being short for anything at all? Short names don't have to be perfect chips off an old, long block.

Which brings us back to Link. For the record, the Link of "Rhett & Link" is short for Lincoln, with a C. Link of "Legend of Zelda" got his name from the idea that he would be a link between the past and the future. Choosing a name you love is more important than having a nickname and formal name that line up just right.



August 3, 2017 11:12 AM

I'm not certain that Nickolas is an example of the modern phenomenon. Consider that 'h' and 'k' look a lot alike, both in type/print and (especially) in handwriting. Also consider that the usual Latin is Nicolaus, and the Greek is best transliterated as Nikolaos. Did Mikeael or Daveid ever make the charts? Those would be closer to the sorts of concoctions that modern parents come up with.

Does anyone have any idea where this notion came from that a nickname must be contained in its entirety in the full name? And whatever happened to diminutive suffixes, i.e. nicknames that are (gasp!) _longer_ than the "full" name?

And an anecdote that must be told here: young parents I know wanted to call their son Zander, so they named him Al3kz4and3r. (It's a highly, um, unusual spelling, so I'm obfuscating it as best I can.) The irony? He's turned out to be mostly called Alex.

August 3, 2017 4:46 PM

This is a facinating trend to coexist with the don't use the nickname, he's Matthew, not Matt, he's Benjamin not Ben trend.

August 3, 2017 9:09 PM

HNG - I note all the time how planned nicknames don't always feel right once they are no longer hypothetical. Like in that unfortunate cautionary tale, neither my daughter nor my sister goes by the nickname preselected while they were in utero -- but since their names were both spelled conventionally, it was never an issue. 

Megan - That is such an excellent point! Thinking about it, though, they seem to be the flip sides of the same issue. Today's parents want full control over their kids' names, whether it's insisting on no nickname or misspelling the name to ensure the "proper" nickname. Nicknames have largely lost their spontaneous and flexible nature and are often now carefully curated parts of the naming process. 

By ejh
August 4, 2017 8:19 AM

The diminutive suffix is still around. My daughter has a once-common one-syllable name, and goes by [name]ie pretty much everywhere. She also has a very traditional name for a middle name, which also has several traditional nicknames, so she has plenty of room to play around with her name just using her birth certificate, assuming she doesn't feel tied to spelling.

August 5, 2017 2:11 AM

This is the flip-side of the "I'm Allie, spelled Ali, because it's short for Alison" trend. I think of that one as the "Coc in the frig" mindset; I guess this version would be "Coke-a-Cola in the refridgerator".

August 5, 2017 12:54 PM

Nedibes, that's brilliant and absolutely hilarious!

They are two sides of the same coin, as Karyn pointed out, and I think she's right that it all comes down to a desire for control. People have always had this desire, but only in areas that are important to them. The spelling of nicknames didn't much matter back when we still mostly _spoke_ with one another. Chalk another trend down to the advent of social media and online (written but nearly instantaneous) communication in general...

August 5, 2017 4:03 PM

I got this from people with our daughter. We told family her name before she was born (Adelaide) and that we were planning on using the nickname Ada over Addie. I had a few people ask why we wouldn't spell it Adalaide...because that's not the way it's spelled ;) 

August 6, 2017 1:20 AM

SassySally, is your daughter's name pronounced "Ayda" (like Ada Lovelace) or "Addah"? 

This is an interesting trend. It does seem like an inverse of full-names-only trend. 

Laura, is there anything about names becoming more "bespoke" during uncertain times? I can't remember if you've written about this before. 

August 7, 2017 2:42 PM

People seem confused sometimes that I don't care how they spell my daughter's nickname. *I* spell it Milly because all my kids have 5 letter nicknames and that makes it easy for me. I've done it since she was born and I will continue until/unless she tells me she'd prefer a different (nick)name/spelling. She will probably have her kindergarten cubby labled Milly, if she is still going by her nickname then. But I know the traditional spelling is Millie and it would not be worth my time to try and force the world to conform to my non-standard preference for a name which is pronounced far more often then spelled. Her given name is in the top 20 so hopefully everyone can spell that if they want to send her correspondence and worry about her multiple nickname spellings or her teachers are offended by my spelling choice.

August 7, 2017 3:06 PM

Poang, we pronounce Ayda, like Ada Lovelace. We also use the nickname Laidey and some family members call her Addie, which doesn't bother me.

By Joni
August 8, 2017 4:06 PM

I work at an elementary school and every spring we have the same conversation: should "Billy" (hypotetical name) be in the year book as Billy or as his formal given name William, even though no one, including parents, ever call him William?  Should Micaias be Mickey, like everyone calls him? Or is it Mickie? or Micky? What if Micky doesn't have a preference on which spelling?  We had that happen only to find out that mom had a preference, but it wasn't any of the spellings we'd used or thought.

Its a small balancing act - figureing out how a child wants to be known and is known to their friends (EJ Or Erik? or Erik John?) vs what the parent has named the child and what they call their child.  

If you want your child to be called something other than their full first name, then just give them that name - be it Ned, Peg, Rome, Sid, Chewey, Nacho, Link or Liz.  


August 9, 2017 3:38 PM

Joni, while I understand where you're coming from (in my work, I often [jokingly] want to prohibit post-graduate students from getting married, because name changes are a pain in the neck), nicknames serve a purpose, and so do full names. If you give your child just the nickname, then they have no flexibility - no ability to use one form of their name for formal occasions, and a different one for informal situations. Chewey Smith is fine for a teen, but not so much for, say, a Supreme Court justice.

August 10, 2017 3:26 PM

I dunno, I tend to think if Salmon (Chase, relation of Philander) and Bushrod are fine for a Supreme Court Justice, so is Chewey. Plus names like Thurgood and Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus are not so boring either.