The hottest nicknames of today sound like yesterday. Even as the familiar, everyday nicknames that parents grew up with disappear, a new set of quirky-cute throwbacks is rising. A newborn boy today is more likely to receive the given name Gus than Mike, Dave, or Tom. For girls, Sadie is more popular than Kate, Kim or Jessie…or, for that matter, Katherine, Kimberly or Jessica.
Looking for more new-old ideas? The options are surprisingly plentiful. The early 20th Century was a nickname extravaganza, especially for girls. The trick is that for every old-time name with the revival appeal of Sadie, there are a slew of less promising prospects like Fronie and Mossie.
To hit the bullseye a nickname should be old-fashioned, but not bound too tightly to a formal name that's still stuck in the past, like Gertie and Myrtie. It should be cute, but not quite as cute as Lolly or Pinkie. It can be boyish, but not so distinctly male as Louie and Eddie. It should be a little quirky and surprising, but not as surprising as Leafy and Mintie.
I've identified 29 likely prospects below. All remain uncommon today, with only Hattie and Millie ranking among the top 1,000 given names for American girls.
For parents who wish to use these names purely as nicknames, I've listed their traditional formal sources. You can choose from among them for a full throwback package, or pair the old-fashioned nickname with a more contemporary formal name. For instance, a young Winnie today may formally be Winter or Winslow rather than Winifred, and a young Effie is likely to be…well, just about anything rather than Euphemia.
THE QUIRKY-CUTE ANTIQUE NICKNAMES
(with their traditional formal sources)
Billie: Wilhelmina; also Belinda, Sybil
Birdie: Bertha, Bridget, Beatrice, Elizabeth
Bizzy: Elizabeth, Beatrice
Dillie: Delilah; also Cordelia, Dahlia, Daffodil, Bedelia, Odelia
Dovie: Dove, Deborah; often just an affectionate nickname not linked to the given name
Essie: Esther, Estelle, Estella
Etty: Henrietta, Loretta, Annette, Marietta
Georgie: Georgia, Georgina, Georgiana, Georgette
Goldie: Golda; also often given in reference to blond hair
Hattie: Harriet; occasionally Henrietta
Hettie: Henrietta, Hester; occasionally Mehetabel
Letty: Letitia, Lettice, Violetta
Libby: Elizabeth; also Isabel, Olivia
Lottie: Charlotte; occasionally Lieselotte, Carlotta
Mellie: Millicent, Carmela, Melanie
Millie: Mildred, Millicent; occasionally Camilla, Camille, Emily
Minnie: Wilhelmina, Minerva; also Jessamine, Araminta, Arminda, Dominica
Nellie: Helen, Eleanor, Ellen
Polly: Mary; also Pauline, Paulina
Sudie: Susanna, Susan and related names
Sukey: Susanna, Susan and related names
Tessie: Theresa and related names
Tibby: Tabitha; occasionally Elizabeth
Tilly: Matilda; occasionally Ottilie, Clotilde
Trixie: Beatrix, Beatrice; occasionally Patricia
Vinnie: Lavinia, Vincenza; occasionally Lovina, Lavina, Davina
Winnie: Winifred; occasionally Winona, Edwina, Gwendolen, Rowena
Looking through the annals of ancient history, today’s explorers can find inspiration for art, literature… and names. Some classical choices are ripe for today’s trends, balancing historical substance and modern style.
These fourteen names for boys take insight from the records of Ancient Rome, decorating emperors, philosophers, and everyone in between. If you’re looking for a name with both strength and smarts, you’re sure to find a handsome option here.Image via Wikimedia Commons
Cicero. Bright and bold Cicero has an appeal on multiple levels, from its association with the master of Latin prose to its modern melody and O-ending. From a Roman surname meaning “chickpea,” this choice has an intelligent and unexpected sort of flair.
Albus. Today’s audiences may link this lovely name to Albus Dumbledore of Harry Potter fame, but Albus originated as an ancient surname. It has a nature connection as well - “Albus” is a type of rosemary plant - giving this geek-chic name more real-world substance.
Rufus. A stylish standard in the United Kingdom for centuries, sweet Rufus has its roots in the Latin language. Namesakes abound throughout history, from musicians to politicians, and it’s no wonder - Rufus has a dashing sensibility all its own.
Vitus. A Roman praenomen meaning “lively,” Vitus is spirited and handsome to boot. The Christian Saint Vitus is the patron saint of actors and dancers, making this choice a subtle way to honor an artistic loved one. Dapper Vitus has only been recorded by the SSA twice in history, in 1929 and in 2010 - it’s sure to feel fresh for years to come.
Caius. With short favorites Kai and Cai rising up the charts, why not choose a longer choice that has a more sophisticated vibe? Caius is an elegant Roman variant of Gaius, used in Shakespeare’s work and adorning a college at Cambridge. Friendly yet noble, Caius is sure to appeal to many tastes.
Junius. A celebrated family in Ancient Rome bore the name Junius, and this charming choice endured as a first name through the early 20th century. It’s a novel alternative to Julius or Jude, with the cute and boyish nickname Juni (of Spy Kids fame).
Fabius. Though it sounds like dramatic Fabio or Fabian, Fabius adorned a tough general in the third century BC - an excellent namesake for a strong little one! The name comes from /faba/, meaning “bean,” which adds a fabulous idiosyncrasy to strapping Fabius.
Quintus. This unexpected choice was a popular praenomen in the Roman era, often bestowed upon the fifth child (or a child born in the fifth month). But Quintus can be more versatile than just a “number name” - it’s a cool and quirky option that is similar to modern Quinn and Quentin, and it’s been used in the US sporadically since 1917.
Augustus. The most popular name on this list, Augustus ranks at #457 in the US top 1000, and for a few good reasons: it has the powerful meaning of “magnificent,” it fits in with the trend for title names like King or Messiah, and it has an extensive historical record that helps it feel usable. Plus, the nickname choices for Augustus are superb, with Gus, Gusto, and Augie among the possibilities.
Marius. Beloved across Europe, Marius has never achieved such prominence in the US, making it perfect for those who want something accessible yet uncommon. Marius Pontmercy is the name of a heroic character in /Les Miserables/, and the /prenom/ could make an attractive honorific for a familial Maria or Marilyn.
Seneca. Both a Roman cognomen and the name of a Native American tribe, Seneca is a refined multicultural choice. While this antique name is historically male, it’s now given to boys and girls almost equally - 33 girls and 29 boys in 2016. Serene and unique, Seneca is bound to soar - especially since it features prominently in the /Hunger Games/ series.
Tiberius. Derived from the Tiber River in Italy, Tiberius is a powerfully masculine choice - it was worn by one of Rome’s greatest generals and emperors. Tiberius is connected with both the Star Trek and Harry Potter universes, giving the robust name a fun pop culture spin.
Marcellus. Polished and pleasant, Marcellus is a lively diminutive that sprung from classic Marcus. It’s been rising rapidly in popularity since 2013, and may soon break into the top 1000! With so many namesakes - religious, athletic, political - Marcellus is a name that surely inspires greatness.
Cassius. Ranking at #602 for boys, Cassius is an energetic name with historical significance: Cassius Clay (now known as Muhammad Ali) was named for his father, who was in turn named for a nineteenth-century abolitionist. It can be pronounced as either “Cash-us” or “Cass-ee-us,” and the name exudes confidence and courage.
Names are comedy gold. Using a personal name instead of a generic pronoun can instantly make a joke more evocative, more relatable, more specific and, paradoxically, more universal.
In a drive-by medium like one-liners or Twitter, adding so much texture with a single word is priceless. Comedians know it, too. See how the name works in a bit like this:
*Wife blows me a kiss from across the room*
*I pretend to catch it*
*I walk over to the window and toss it outside*
"Grow up Karen"
— GoaT FacE (@EndhooS) May 19, 2014
It just wouldn't be the same without the "Karen," would it? How about this one:
*shakes wife awake*
Karen. Karen! Don't make any sudden moves...he's back again. pic.twitter.com/4Xb5jPfXPL
— Lazer Cat (@Laser_Cat) August 20, 2014
He died doing what he loved: his wife of 40 years, Karen.
— pat tobin (@tastefactory) May 12, 2016
Starting to get the picture? Yes, Karen is the name of choice to make a generic woman sound comically specific. And if Karen is the queen of Twitter comedy, Linda and Susan are her royal court:
[sifting through mail]
baby shower invitation? Haha, um no thanks, Linda. I have a regular size shower that I can use whenever I want
— Marin (@marinhubka) August 29, 2015
yes, we are a highly diverse company. susan in accounts is a goth
— Deirdre (@figgled) August 1, 2016
Whenever the Internet needs to summon up a quick wife, colleague, secretary or mom, it turns to Karen, Linda and Susan. Those three names have a lot in common. Weighing in at five letters and two syllables, they're simple and no-nonsense. Just as important, look at their historical popularity curve:
All three were top-10 names of the 1950s. That sturdy, throwback familiarity is what makes them work as everywomen. You might think of them as the grownup counterparts of the "Mid-Century Normative Child," the little Sally or Timmy who we still trot out to represent a typical child, even though today's typical American child is named Paisley or Alejandro.
Notably, there's no male counterpart to the reigning comic everywomen. On the occasions when a comedian does use a male name for effect, it's not a mid-century everyman but something more specific. Somehow, Mike or Tom just isn't funny. Todd or Kyle, though, is funny.
This gender divide makes Karen, Linda and Susan heirs to a timeworn comic trope. They're the name equivalents of the long-suffering mom in every sitcom and comic strip. Which is to say, the comic foil: the eternal straight woman rolling her eyes at the goofy man and smart-aleck kids.
That stereotypical role can rankle, because -- let's be clear -- real moms are hella funny. (Nobody better try coming to my house and making me the comic foil, thank you very much.) And yet, I'm never sorry to see Karen & co. pop up in my Twitter feed. The names are the key. They do more than amp up the humor. Even the generic, archaic secretary of a "Susan, hold all my calls" joke is a little bit more human than the nameless secretary of a cartoon panel, thanks to the magic of names.