When it comes to naming babies, most of us choose a..."name." You know, one of those strings of letters, pronounced like a word?
Before you laugh, try saying the names J.R. Ewing and H.P. Lovecraft aloud. Initials like those aren't pronounced like words. Rather, the letters' names form the sound. Those are the two main name modes, though you can mix them up for a hybrid like J. Paul Getty or today's new punctuation-based mashups like K-Den and J'Lah.
In this spectrum from word to initials, where would you place Jeb Bush? His name Jeb occupies a different kind of middle space, the same space that the word laser occupies between LED and lightbulb. Jeb is an acronym -- or if you like, an "acroname" -- for John Ellis Bush. It's initials, pronounced like a word.
That's a common story for men named Jeb, from Confederate General James Ewell Brown "Jeb" Stuart to soccer player John Eli "Jeb" Brovsky. Jeb is something of an orphaned nickname, without a natural parent name. (Nope, not Jebediah. That name isn't nearly as traditional as you may think.) Some families just go with Jeb as a full name, but the acroname option opens up new possibilities, for Jeb and beyond.
Plenty of parents fall in love with a nickname but don't like the formal options. Let's say you're drawn to Wes, but find Wesley and Weston a little stuffy. Wyatt Ethan Samuel, perhaps? Or maybe you want to name your daughter after Grandma Meg without using Margaret. Marlowe Emry Grace could do the trick.
Any short name could work as an acroname. 19th century writer Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Southworth had a string of hit novels under her initials, as E.D.E.N. Southworth. If you get lucky with letters, you might even use an acroname as a namesake for all four grandparents without actually calling your kid by any of their names: "Jerome Anita Stewart Eileen" = Jase. For extra flexibility you can include your surname initial or leave it off. It's one more potential pathway on the journey to the perfect name.
In the 1800s, girls' names had one very desirable feature—a cutey-pie nickname that often ended in -ie or -y, the sound we associate with friendliness and affection. A few Victorian-era short forms and nicknames are becoming popular once again, in the vein of Sadie and Millie, proving that there is nothing new under the sun. But American pioneers were not shy about putting a nickname on the birth certificate, whereas today we're concerned with giving our child options by using a longer name that works on an adult in more formal situations. (Parents in the UK don't have that concern right now either.)
Here are some Victorian nicknames that, in today's naming landscape, have nearly been left in a cloud of dust. They rate high on over-the-top darling, carving out a niche for parents who love everything boldly quaint.
Aggie: This pet name, often derived from Agatha and Agnes, gets extra points in Texas. Because Aggie is also a common word for fans and alumni of agricultural schools (most notably Texas A&M), Aggie may carry a certain amount of school spirit. Even though Agatha and Agnes are nowhere to be found on today's charts, they have a long history and a classic feel, and Aggie is a charming nickname that reminds us of Abby. Namipedia also shows Aggie as a nickname option for Augustina.
Birdie: Yes, you can "put a bird on it"when it comes to names, as many parents did in the 1800s, often without a formal given name. Birdie is the epitome of cheerful and carefree, and it would make a perfect name for a singer or musician. It did, infact, in the case of British singer-songwriter Birdy, who got her nickname when her parents saw how she opened her mouth "like a little bird."Birdie is a pet form for a variety of names, most commonly Bertha, but including Betty, Bernice, and Bernadine as well. Actress Busy Phillips named her daughter Birdie in a tribute to Lady Bird Johnson.
Clemmie: As the pet form of Clementine (or Clement, Clemence, and even Clemency), this is a distinct name with a bit of southern charm. We love its crisp beginning, similar to favorites like Clara and Chloe, but some may have a hard time with the "lemmie"portion of the name. Seeing as how Clement is a common surname, and this is a celebrity favorite, it's not out of the question for Clementines to rise in popularity, with the nickname Clemmie a sweet and natural short form.
Effie: Everyone knows Effie today as the elaborately fashionable and reluctant rebel from The Hunger Games series. The character's stylings made Effie Trinket one of the top Halloween costumes for those who like to go big in the makeup/hair/wardrobe department, giving us the unshakeable impression that Effie is no longer a name for shy types. The names Euphemia or Hephzibah are far from favored today, though Effie could be used as a pet form of Josephine or Stephanie.
Eppie: It's no wonder we haven't seen this name in a while, as it's another pet form of Euphemia or Hephzibah, both of which died out by the early 1900s. What makes matters worse is the resemblance to the EpiPen, a medical treatment for anaphylaxis, as well as possible confusion with Abby. But does this mean that Eppie is doomed? Not necessarily. She's a spirited, beloved little girl in the classic Silas Marner, and used in a Scottish ballad by the name of Eppie Morrie. Eppie may be bold but it's not without some charm. Other names that could lead to an Eppie are Elspeth, Eponine, Pepper, or September.
Florrie: Coming from the neglected classics Florence and Flora, Florrie is a beautiful pet form that still holds on to the the floral statement the original names make. It's similar in sound to Lori and Tori, making it a bit familiar but still altogether different. Those are just a few reasons we prefer Florrie over Flo and Flossie. That being said, Florrie has lots of potential to stand on its own.
Hattie: Hop across the pond, and you are much more likely to find girls with this adorable nickname. Most often short for Harriet and Henrietta, Hattie is right on trend with today's old-fashioned favorites like Addie and Maddie. In the 1800s, parents were wild about this once top-30 name, which was more fashionable than Harriet was as a given name. Today, Hattie may not be as popular as Harriet in the UK, but it's not doing too badly there, ranked at 284.
Lettie: This sweet Victorian-era name once came from the related names Laetitia, Letitia, and Lettice. But today, we're bringing it back as a nickname for a mix of vintage and literary favorites like Charlotte, Juliet, Scarlett, and Violet. You may not find Lettie in the top 1,000, but as a pet form for some quite popular choices, it's an under-the-radar hit.
Mamie: Primarily short for Mary or Margaret, Mamie became a star on its own in the late 1800s. Case in point: The most famous Mamie to date, First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, whose given name was Mamie Geneva. Today our favorite Mamie happens to be the talented actress Mamie (Mary) Gummer, daughter of Meryl Streep. And while Mamie may be a rare choice for a given name, we think this pet name has potential. You won't find this name in French-speaking countries, though, as it's a pet name for grandmother in French.
Minnie: In 1880, it was hard to beat the red-hot name Minnie, a top five choice that was uber-stylish. Fast forward a few decades and the famed icon Minnie Mouse (short for Minerva) made her mark on this name, a legacy that continued to thrive long after the sounds of her name became passé. Minnie has its roots in Wilhelmina, a classic choice featuring abundant nicknames. It's proof that parents of the past weren't afraid to think small when it comes to names. Today, the sound-alike abbreviation for miniature reminds us of skirts, golf, or technology. That's a fairly big barrier, and along with the countrified character Minnie Pearl, Minnie may always feel like a name of the past. That's great if you're into statement-making Victoriana. Not so great if you can't get past the Disney superstar, ipads, or flower-donned straw hats with a price tag dangling over the side.
Nettie: A darling of the 1880s, Nettie was much more popular as an independent given name than any of its relatives, including Annette, Henrietta, and Jeanette. This name may bring to mind two wildly different namesakes; Celie's sister in The Color Purple, and reality star of TLC's Gypsy Sisters, Nettie Stanley. Neither one is very iconic, making Nettie's only true distinction its pioneer-era charm.
Polly: An upbeat, fresh take on Molly, Polly is an old-fashioned choice that's once again found more success in the UK. It's not too big of a mystery as to why more Americans aren't on board with this sweet name. The sad truth is that it's just not long and formal enough. If that's holding you back, Polly is an independent name, but it could work as a pet form for Paulina and other feminine forms of Paul (or, there's always Apollonia). The name has loads of namesakes and associations, including a character in the Netflix dramedy Orange is the New Black.
Posy: If you're looking for a name that's darling, old-fashioned, and a little bit floral, look no further. Posy is a sugary sweet pet form of Josephine, and it's a word for a small bouquet as well. She's a Hunger Games character (Gale's sister), and the name Posie was used for a character in TV's Charmed. On a scale of one to adorable, this name is off the charts.
Tillie: We aren't exactly strangers with Tillie today, as it comes from a lovely pioneer-revival name, Matilda (it's also short for Ottilie). One clear difference, though, is that we expect Tillie to grow out of her pet name someday, and to put her full name down on that resumé. When it comes to Matilda, Mattie is often the nickname of choice, but Tillie is a fresh way to shorten it.
Want to drive the baby-naming public up the wall? Tell them you're naming your daughter Renesmee. Author Stephenie Meyer invented the name for the half-vampire child in her wildly popular Twilight series. In the story it's simply an homage to the child's two grandmothers, Renee and Esmé. To the traditional-minded, though, Renesmee has become a symbol of everything wrong with modern baby naming: It's not a "real name." The author just made it up, then parents followed in imitation of pop culture.
All undeniably true, yet that history itself is surprisingly traditional.
Writers have always made up names, and thank goodness. Our naming culture is much the richer for their inventions. Shakespeare in particular introduced many names we now consider classics, and centuries of writers have followed in his footsteps. Renesmee may or may not end up joining the name canon, but remember that the names below were all just as "made up" once upon a time.
[Note for sticklers: Each of the writers below is credited with using the name inventively -- as a coinage rather than a recycling of a familiar name -- and with introducing the name to the broader culture. Scattered previous examples of usage may exist, since name creativity isn't limited to writers.]
Wendy. Wendy looks like a nickname, and may have occasionally been used as one. But we know it today entirely via Peter Pan. Author J.M. Barrie named his Wendy after a childhood nickname "fwendy-wendy" ("friend").
Cedric. Sir Walter Scott created this name in 1820 for the father of Ivanhoe. He was probably thinking of the actual Saxon name Cerdic. Close enough.
Miranda. Shakespeare took his name-building seriously. The name of The Tempest's heroine tells you she's an object of admiration: Miranda is Latin for admirable, or "to be marvelled at."
Vanessa. If you want an 18th-century Renesmee, here's the name for you. Jonathan Swift wrote the poem "Cadenus and Vanessa" for a woman named Esther Vanhomrigh, and constructed the heroine's name out of bits of Vanhomrigh's first and last.
Coraline. Coraline is the title character of Neil Gaiman's creepy 2002 children's novel, which became a creepily beloved animated film. The name's origin was a simple mistake: Gaiman mistyped Caroline and like the result. Hundreds of girls now receive the name every year.
Evangeline. The poem Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's greatest popular success. If the heroine's name sounds like a saintly French classic, tip your cap to Longfellow.
Amanda. 17th-century writers took a page from Shakespeare's folios, building this name from the Latin for "lovable" on the model of the Bard's creation Miranda. Playwright Colley Cibber is usually given the credit.
Gloria. Gloria is the Latin for "glory," but it owes its life as a women's name to two popular writers of the late 19th century: George Bernard Shaw and E.D.E.N. Southworth. (That's short for Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte, thank you very much.)
Dorian. Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray was a reprobate with a hidden, damning portrait. He's one of literature's most fashionably named heels.
Clarinda. In Edmund Spenser's epic poem The Faerie Queene, Clarinda (also called Clarin) was the duplicitous maidservant to Radigund, Queen of the Amazons. But style talks: it was Clarinda, not Radigund, that caught on as a name.
Cora. James Fenimore Cooper introduced this name in The Last of the Mohicans. It's been speculated that he was inspired by the Ancient Greek Kore ("maiden"), which was a name for Persephone and thus boded ill for poor Cora.
Pamela. Elizabethan poet Sir Philip Sidney introduced this name, though he stressed the middle syllable. The name caught on more (and acquired a new stress pattern) after the 1740 publication of Samuel Richardson's novel Pamela. Even then, it was hardly conventional. Henry Fielding poked fun at Pamela in a novel of his own, writing "a very strange name, Pamela, or Pamela; some pronounced it one way, and some the other."
Fiona. This Scottish and English favorite was invented by 18th-century Scottish poet James Macpherson. The Irish name Fíona may look the same written down, but strangely enough it's completely unrelated.
Jessica. Jessica was the daughter of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice – apparently it was Shakespeare's idea of a typical Jewish name. Speculation is that he based it on Jesca, a spelling of the obscure biblical name Iscah/Yisca that's found in some Bibles of his time.
Lucinda. This romantic extension of Lucia first showed up in Spanish in the form of Don Quixote's Luscinda, then leapt to French as Lucinde thanks to a Molière play. But it was in the English spelling Lucinda that the name became immortal.
Ronia. Swedish Legend Astrid Lindgren, creator of Pippi Longstocking, had another great hit in the 1981 book Ronja Rövardotter ("Ronia the Robber's Daughter"). Ronja has become a modern classic in Northern Europe.
Imogen. Like Coraline, this name was born of a spelling error. The character Imogen in Shakespeare's Cymbeline is based on a legendary Queen Innogen. Shakespeare, or quite likely his printer, read the n's as an m, and a new classic name was born.