Surprising Source Names that Transform 33 Familiar Nicknames

Feb 7th 2018

When it comes to fashion, nicknames and formal names don’t always go hand in hand. Take the nickname Molly. It has been a popular favorite since the 1970s—the same time period that Mary, the traditional source for Molly, has been in a historic slump.

The "Molly approach" is is the standard modern response when a nickname is hot and a formal name is not. You just cut out the middleman and take the nickname straight. That wasn't always such an obvious answer. In ages past it was a safe bet that any Nancy was officially Ann, and any Jack was christened John. But starting in the 20th Century, unwanted full names started getting the boot. Today, parents write names like Charlie (not Charles) and Millie (not Mildred) on thousands of birth certificates.

If Charlie or Millie is the name you really love, the nickname-only solution is a direct route to it. There is another option, though. You can attach the nickname to an unexpected formal name. Instead of a Mildred, your Millie could be a Romilly, or Camilla, or Milan.

Choosing an alternate source maintains the classic flexibility of a formal name/nickname pair. In fact, the more dramatic the full name, the more stylistic range the name pair represents. (Tim is simply “short for” Timothy, but a total change of pace from Timber.) The fresh-source approach can also be a solution for namesake dilemmas. Using grandpa’s nickname is a nice alternative to just hiding his unfashionable name in the middle name slot.

Below are 33 examples of familiar nicknames with their common sources, and potential fresh alternatives. I’ve tried to choose a representative range of styles in full names, from Beatrice to McAllister to Jedi. The goal is to illustrate how easily most nicknames catch onto new partners. After all, generations back Jenny was a pet form of Jane, not that unconventional Cornish name Jennifer.


Nickname                 Standard                   Surprise
Angie Angela Evangeline
Becca Rebecca Beckett
Billie Wilhelmina Abilene
Callie Caroline Calliope
Carly Carla/Caroline Scarlett
Evie Eva/Eve Genevieve
Jan Janet January
Letty Letitia Violetta
Lola Dolores Lorelei
Millie Mildred/Millicent Camille
Molly Mary Amalia
Nell Helen/Eleanor Cornelia
Nikki Nicole Veronica
Penny Penelope Aspen
Ricki Erica Beatrice
Sadie Sarah Mercedes
Tilly Matilda Ottilie
Winnie Winifred Winslow


Nickname                 Standard                   Surprise
Ben Benjamin Benaiah
Brad Bradley Braddock
Cal Calvin McAllister
Charlie Charles Carlisle
Coby Jacob Cobalt
Denny Dennis Denver
Don Donald Donatello
Ernie Ernest Copernicus
Ike Isaac Ichabod
Jed Jedidiah Jedi
Jerry Gerald/Jerome Jericho
Louie Louis Lucian
Nick Nicholas Dominick
Rick Richard Maverick
Tim Timothy Timber



February 7, 2018 4:09 PM

Love it...Nicknames to me are a sign of love and friendship. My family is big on them. I am not in the camp to insist my kid be addressed a certain way as long as it isn’t mean, of course. So when it came to naming three girls I thought of several nicknames for each (mn: El!sabeth, Genev!eve, Cather!ne). I think Beatrice and Amalia come out a tad unlikely to my ear than the rest and Copernicus was a stroke of genius. Well done! I had to read them middle column first then intended nickname then new. 

February 7, 2018 4:22 PM

All three of the Nell(ie)s I've known were named Cornelia, and the Nikki I knew in high school was Veronika, so those pairings are quite the opposite of surprising for me.

February 7, 2018 8:26 PM

Copernicus could also yield Nick or Nico.

February 10, 2018 1:18 AM

I love this! I’m always interested in different Name/nickname combinations. One name I really love is Penny, but I don’t love Penelope or Aspen. I wonder if there are any other longer/more formal names out there to get the nickname Penny? 

February 11, 2018 1:44 AM

Oh wow! I had to really think about this one for a while. Very creative! Milli”cent” I really like Millie as well, so maybe there’s something to work with there. Thanks for the suggestion! 

February 12, 2018 1:15 PM

@Zeker: Working at it from names that could make a relatively short jump to Penny: Caliope, Phillipa, Priscilla, etc.

Sometimes the thing with nicknames is they can play off last names and even if there’s an obvious one to a parent’s ear it might not suit or “stick” with use. Then I suppose we’d be talking about pet names. Likely more so for males? This was the case when I met my husband, everyone, even the clergyman would refer to him by a wholesome play on his last name. Only his immediate family called him his “intended” nickname, and nothing else, go figure.

February 13, 2018 1:24 AM

Thank you for the suggestions! Even though I seem to meet more and more people with a nickname as their given name, I still like the flexibility of giving a child a formal name. I like that with a name and nicknames they can have more options in the future. I’m sure if Penny is the name we really love, we could just go ahead and use it, but I wish there was a formal name I loved it as much as the nickname. Both of my other children have longer names and mostly go by their nicknames.