That traditional favorite, Jack

Jan 27th 2009

Every January you see a raft of news stories chronicling the year in baby names.  This year, the favorite theme is parents "returning to traditional old favorites" like Jack, Ava and Olivia.  I've written before about the questionable antique status of Ava and Olivia (part 1, part 2), but it's hard to question Jack.  It's an old and storied English name.

But you do realize it's an old and storied nickname, right? Surprisingly, many people today have no idea that Jack was originally a pet form of John. In the lands where Jack now reigns supreme (#1 in England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, etc.), you'd be hard-pressed to call Jack a traditional given name at all.

The English Census from 150 years ago lists 363 entries under Jack. Chances are that many of those were actually christened John, but let's take the number at face value: 363 solid, traditional Jacks. And the number of Johns in that census? 1,257,079.  That's 3,463 given-name Johns per Jack. For perspective, in America today there are only 101 Jacobs born per...Elmer.

Modern British parents flock to given names like Alfie and Tilly, but in generations past the idea of using those names at christening time would have seemed downright inappropriate.  You can catch a glimpse of that perspective in a human-interest piece that appeared in the New York Times in 1876.  The article, entitled "Curious Christenings," was a collection of bizarre and humorous stories of christenings gone awry.  At least, they were bizarre and humorous by 1876 standards. (The tale of the white minister who named the black slave boy "Jane" doesn't exactly tickle us today.)  Here's the relevant excerpt:

As an example of the way in which parents will insist on curious names, a gentleman says that he was visiting a clergyman of the Church of England, and one evening as they sat together after dinner a summons came to the rector to go and christen the child of a gypsy couple that were encamped with their tribe in the parish. The gentlemen went with the clergyman to the camp, when, ascending a short flight of steps, they found themselves in the four-wheeled covered wagon that served the gypsies as a house. The babe, four or five days old, was presented, and the mother, already recovered from her confinement, stood up as one of the godparents.  The clergyman asked by what name he should call the child and she answered Jacky. "John?" said he, somewhat surprised. "No, Sir, Jacky," she replied. "But you surely don't want him christened Jacky. You mean John, do you not," said he. But the mother insisted on the name she had chosen, and the child was christened Jacky.

Jacky!  Oh, those wacky, wacky gypsies.

So "tradition" does't seem to support writing Jack on a birth certificate. Just as with Ava and Olivia, though, we're not wrong to call Jack a traditional, old-fashioned name.  It's certainly an old and familiar name, not a newly invented one.  More importantly, it's traditional in theme and intent, sounding like a link to generations past.  If those generations past would have insisted on a different name at the christening time, well, that's their problem.


January 27, 2009 12:12 PM

Another great post! IMHO, old-fashioned call names such as Jack & Molly are no less "traditional" than the old-fashioned birth names John & Mary.

Pretty please, Laura, could you give your eager fans here a small hint about when the second edition of your book will be making its appearance? Some of us might even be planning the births of our next children around it! ;)

By Jacob T (not verified)
January 27, 2009 12:29 PM

As a "Jacob" who often goes as "Jake", I've always been glad that my given name wasn't "Jake" and that I had something that feels more formal to me to fall back on at times when I feel more comfortable with "Jacob". A cousin of mine married a "Danny" who had no "Daniel" fall back on for the wedding.

By Abby (not verified)
January 27, 2009 12:32 PM

Into the 1960s, my Catholic grandparents feared that their parish priest would refuse to baptize a child without a valid saint's name. (My aunt Linda was almost Mary Linda at the baptismal font, but their priest wasn't a stickler.)

What really surprises me isn't using a nickname on the birth certificate, but using two different versions of the same name for two different children. I know brothers called Jack and Shawn, and I've heard of twins named Isabel and Elizabeth. I'm not sure if the parents don't know or just aren't fussed about the shared roots - or maybe if they actually find it appealing?

By J&H's mom (not verified)
January 27, 2009 12:38 PM

I really try not to make my posts all about me, but it's getting harder and harder!

When I've looked at the SSA stats they show lots of Jacks in this country way back to the 1900's.
Was it cheeky Americans who started the trend?

We baptise infants in our faith, but it isn't quite the same as christening. Maybe that has something to with it?
Interestingly, a friend who is Catholic just had her daughter, Magdalyn Ann, baptised, and she was a little put out that the priest called her Maggie during the whole service. She is called Maggie, but my friend had thought the priest would use her "formal," name.

Laura-As long as we're on the subject, do you think Jack is going to continue to surge up the charts? It's pretty much #1 in the rest of the world, but it seems to be stalled in the thirties here in the states. Is it stuck behind all the n enders?
It's fine with me, of course!

Take care, all!

January 27, 2009 12:38 PM

Jack is one of those names that I will love no matter how popular it becomes!

UPDATE for you all: Little Myer Elliot was born on January 12th- weighing in at 8 lbs!

the meaning: "He illuminates the Lord"

I wanted to thank you all for your input & suggestions over the past few months-- you all are fabulous!! :)

January 27, 2009 1:14 PM

Awesome! I really love this post for a sense of how traditions change. And how even people who think they are sticking to tradition are not always. And there's nothing wrong with that! (Although it's good to know so as not to get down on others for NOT being traditional. Hrm... great connection to the last post actually...)

Abby: I don't think I would flinch at sibs named Jack and Shawn or Isabel and Elizabeth... they just *sound* so different. Well, I would maybe expect to see Jack and Sean more, as a more "classic" (classic-seeming, classic-style I guess I mean) pair. Also I might be surprised that Isabel seems more exotic(although I hate this word)/worldly/cosmopolitan than Elizabeth.

And regarding Christian names, when my husband told me he wanted to give our (as yet nonexistent) children Hawaiian names, I assumed they would be Hawaiian middle names, as this is what I see most commonly. He told me that that pattern (e.g. Robert K@wika) comes from needing to have a Christian name first in the eyes of the church. So, as sort of a way to buck that, to shift away from privileging church values over indigenous ones, I guess, the current plan is to give Hawaiian first names. I find this interesting in relation to the stories of christenings and baptisms.

January 27, 2009 1:15 PM

I plan to name my first son Jack - as a nickname for his formal name, which will be John. John is my father's and grandfather's name, and so I'd like to name a son after them. However, we have had problems with both my father and grandfather sharing the same name. The most notable was when my father's dr called his stepmother, thinking that she was his wife... there are two John Lastnames in the phone book! So calling him Jack might eliminate some confusion (or not, who knows?).

And I just like Jack better. But I would never name a child a nickname as an official name. You want Justice Suzanne Smith, not Justice Suzie Smith. Or CEO James Williams, not CEO Jamie Williams. What is cute on a child is not all that cute on a nameplate.

I think that John/Jack and Mary/Molly are harder than Daniel/Dan because the nickname isn't just right there in the beginning of the name. Who knows how we got Jack from John or Molly from Mary? How did Peggy come from Margaret? No idea.

By KathieB (not verified)
January 27, 2009 1:19 PM

My problem with nickname-as-given-name is what happens when that child grows up and pursues a career where a dignified persona is needed? Say little Tilly becomes a judge or a senator. I'd much rather see a child be named Matilda or John or Catherine in the first place, and nicknamed Tilly or Jack or Katie. At least then the namee has a choice. It's a shame to see children saddled with cutesy or juvenile names that may interfere with their being taken seriously as adults. Especially girls. We women have enough battles to wage...

January 27, 2009 1:19 PM

Congratulations, Emery Jo!

I've been reading "The Last of Her Kind" by Sigrid Nunez (now there's an interesting juxtaposition of names!) and although I'm only on page 40, I've already found two delightful NE-esque passages.

"George is my surname. My parents ... in a moment of regrettable cuteness, forgetting that I would not always be a wittle-bitty baby, but for most of my life a grown and (judging by other members of the family) probably not so diminutive woman, named me Georgette."

And later,
"I preferred the manual to the newfangled electric machine; a keyboard that offered a little resistance somehow just felt better to me ... not to mention those pleasing names--feminine: Olympia, Olivetti, Corona; and masculine: Underwood, Remington, Royal. Would not Olympia Underwood make a splendid name for a heroine?"

So here's how to tie this in to the theme of the post: Georgette goes by her nickname (and surname!), George, and prefers it that way. I also chuckled at the mention of the name Corona, given the conversation on the last post about naming children Drambuie and Tequila!

By Sparrow (not verified)
January 27, 2009 1:22 PM

On the Jack/Sean issue: If I'd been a boy, my father wanted to name me Ian Sean. Good thing (a) I was a girl and (b) my mother had more sense than to let dad name a kid John John.

My husband has an aunt Kathleen and two sisters, Karen and Katherine. I've declared that all Katherine-derivatives are banned from our baby name list. :)

January 27, 2009 1:41 PM

melanie: so you're saying you don't see Jack as a nn in the same way that you see Suzie as a nn right? Cuz you could have Justice Jack? (Or did I misunderstand...) But anyway yeah I think some nns are more "professional" (I guess?) than others, like Justice Dan would be okay I think. It's the childish ones the -y ones that are harder I think.

I would not blink at Ian Sean either. Darn, I'm going to get my NE card taken away!

By Aybee (not verified)
January 27, 2009 1:52 PM

I knew a Jack, who would be about 25 now-- and I'm pretty sure that was his given name. Guess his parents were ahead of the trend.

As for other nicknames bestowed as first names

I know girls named Jessy (2) and Beth; all in their mid-to-late 20s, who were frustrated by having their names elongated for formal affairs. (Most people would assume their names nicknames for Jessica and Elizabeth.)

I also know an infant named Charlie, not Charles.

By GirlRandolph (not verified)
January 27, 2009 2:11 PM

RE: melanie

Daniel/Dan - Dan and Daniel are actually two traditional different names. Both have come from the bible. They obviously share a root. And Dan can clearly work as a nn for Daniel. But Dan is a legitimate name on its own.

Aybee:"I also know an infant named Charlie, not Charles."

My SIL was going to name her (would be) son Charlie. Thank goodness it was a girl (Though the name they picked wasn't much better.) What's wrong with just calling him Charlie?

It's just as bad as parents who insist you call their little darling Gabriel or William or Jonathan ALL the time.

If you want your child to go by his full name, name him Todd or Sean or something like that.

By Aybee (not verified)
January 27, 2009 2:13 PM

I hear ya, but there is always the flip side of that, which Charlie's parents told me-- Why name him Charles if we're never going to call him that?

I guess different strokes for different folks. My parents have never called me by my full first name, even when I was in trouble. I am so glad they gave me a full name though-- I use it with everyone except people who have known me since childhood.

January 27, 2009 2:22 PM

I am also one who never understood how Jack was derived from John or Peg from Margaret. I have a long history of John's in my family. I vowed not to continue it. While I like Jack a bit, I think John is the plainest most boring name next to Mary! (JMHO) My gfather was Johnny, my dad Jim because his mn was James, my brother just John. I don't think anyone in my family would've even thought to call him Jack. Hmm, what would he have been like if he had been known as Jack? Poll: Does the person fit into the name given, or does the name make the person?

By Guest 130 (not verified)
January 27, 2009 2:37 PM

I am not sure where Jack stands on the charts in the USA officially, but down in the south, both as a nn name for John and as a name itself, Jack is by far, far and away, hands down, the most popular name for boys among my friends and associates. I do think if you could somehow survey the number of boys born in the south to educated women, Jack very well might be number one (or close to it); it certainly is among people I know (and not just in our city, in neighboring cities).

In my opinion, and regardless of what you are going to call the child, it is always best to go with the more formal name; it gives the child more options, and when people ask if it is short for (fill in the blank) and it isn't - well, to me, it just makes the parents seem uninformed (and uneducated). Unfair and perhaps a cruel, elitist assumption (and maybe not that common), and I know that is wrong, but I notice it and not in a positive way.

By Rjoy (not verified)
January 27, 2009 2:39 PM

Abby-Yes, it is peculiar to me also that siblings would have two different versions of the same name. My MIL in fact named her first two, only 11 months apart, Sean and Jonathan.

Though I am in the states I still consider Jack a nickname.

By Knee Coal Peay (not verified)
January 27, 2009 2:42 PM

"If you want your child to go by his full name, name him Todd or Sean or something like that." "Why name him Charles if we're never going to call him that?"

It seems to me that giving the traditional "full" name allows greater future options from which the child can select a nickname. Charles could choose to go by Charles, Charlie, Chaz, or Chuck etc. Whereas a "just Charlie" would have fewer options. (And some name traditionalists will look askance at his parents' choice, and/or incorrectly insist that his name is actually Charles...)

I agree that if you want everyone to use the child's full name, it is wise to select a "nickname proof" name, versus a name like William or Andrew that has well-known, commonly-used nicknames, because people will inevitably use them.

For the longest time, I mistakenly thought the name John was a nickname for Jonathan! I also wouldn't have known that Sean, Jack, John, and Ian are all really the same name! Guess I should turn in my NE card now... Yes, Laura, when's the new book coming because I need all the help I can get!

By Caruso Confer (not verified)
January 27, 2009 2:43 PM

I find these career fears overblown. There are plenty of people who managed to rise in their chosen career arena using a nickname as their preferred name: we don't blink much at Katie Couric and Mike Wallace, for example. Or Johnny Carson. Or Meg Whitman. Or Bill Gates.

I think, in general, that people succeed best when they feel comfortable and confident. So if Molly makes you feel stylish and brave, being Molly will be your best choice for success, at any age. (Molly Ivins seemed to do fine with the name, anyway.)

Is it nice to have options? YES! I wish I had a more formal "real" name for some occasions. But I've never found that having a Katie/Molly/Maggie name was ever even a minor barrier in career situations.

By Guest (not verified)
January 27, 2009 2:56 PM

I’m also anxious to hear the release date of Laura’s book. I’m a librarian, and when I checked the status from our vendor the book has been changed from having a release date of April 7th to “product cancelled!”

By J&H's mom (not verified)
January 27, 2009 3:01 PM

I really do understand both sides of the issue. I'd never have named our Henry just Hank.

However, our Jack is a "just Jack," for several reasons, but mostly because, well-that's his name.
Not only does John not sound more formal to my ear; it just plain doesn't sound like him.

I'm biased, obviously, but I have no trouble imagining Jack on a President, or a judge, or any number of professions.
Surely it's more distinguished than Jaden et. al!
I also think it's increasingly unusual that people even know that Jack can be a nn, so I really don't think the argument about workplace prejudice holds much water (maybe if NE's were running the world).

But like I said, I'm biased.

January 27, 2009 3:05 PM

"Yes, it is peculiar to me also that siblings would have two different versions of the same name. My MIL in fact named her first two, only 11 months apart, Sean and Jonathan."

Sean and Jonathan are not at all the same name. Sean is ultimately derived from Yochanan, and Jonathan from Yonatan.

By JillH (not verified)
January 27, 2009 3:06 PM

Caruso: I completely agree with you on both points. I haven't seen any evidence that a nickname name held someone back in a career. That being said, my mom talks about how she almost named me Jillian instead of Jill, and I always wished she had, just because it would be fun to have the option.

For those that don't understand the Margaret/Peg, John/Jack relationship, here is an article that explained it to me. I can't vouch for its accuracy, but I assume the author knows what he's talking about.

By Guest (not verified)
January 27, 2009 3:10 PM

I'm with Caruso. If we start down this path of boxing in potential based on names, we may find ourselves sliding down a slippery slope. CEO Katie certainly doesn't make me stop and question any more than CEO Kaylee or CEO Brooklyn would - so do the Kaylees and Brooklyns of the world need more "professional" names to fall back on as well? It's a slippery slope.

By Rosemay (not verified)
January 27, 2009 3:17 PM

Caruso - I agree that nicknames-as-full-names need not be an impediment to people's careers. I recetly attended a mock trial contest with the kids from my school which was hosted by real advocates/judges; almost all of them went by their nicknames on the literature. As they were all older I assume they did have more formal full names, but chose not to use them even in the context of a career in the judiciary.

The more Tillies who become professionals the better!

By Prairie Dawn (not verified)
January 27, 2009 3:55 PM

While I agree that names should not hinder a person's career/ success in life, I have to admit that I am turned off by girl names that are overly childish, for lack of a better word. Names like Kaylee and Kylie and Ellie. While nms, they are perfectly cute on a baby or toddler or school-aged child. But I always wonder how Kylie will feel about her name at age 35?
I generally go by a nn with a long /e/ sound with friends and family-- but I definitely perfer to use my given "formal" name professionally because it sounds so much more mature and, well, professional.
I also wonder how much difference there is between Kylie and the name Sylvie, which is on my short list for our next baby, due at the end of March. We could go with the formal name Sylvia, but I just don't care for Sylvia nearly as much. I take comfort knowing that Sylvie is a "legitimate" name with French roots and Kylie is, as far as I know, made up. Am I just lying to myself?

By Kai
January 27, 2009 4:21 PM

If our yet to be conceived child is a boy he will almost certainly be named Jonathan, nn and always called Jonty. For me the fact that it ends in a "ee" sound makes it sound too much like a nn, therefore, the use of Jonathan. Actually, for me that is it, a name ending in an "ee" sounds more like a nn than say Jack or even Kate.

Prairie Dawn - Kylie isn't a made up name, it in fact comes from the Aboriginal word for boomerang. It is reasonably common in Australia and also New Zealand, especially for girls around my age (30) and slightly older - the most famous being Kylie Minogue.

January 27, 2009 4:29 PM

In wonderig how Kylee will feel about her name when she is 35, you have to remember that she will have grown up with all the Kaylee's and Brooklynn's and Kylee's and will think nothing of it bc... it is her name and then name of her generation. To hear a Kylee in an offive setting today, feels a bit off. But isn't that bc we know them mostly as toddlers?

January 27, 2009 4:35 PM

JillH-I knew it was something like a language translation. That clears it up a bit and our own Cleveland Kent Evans is the author so I'm sure it is reliable.
RE: long E names and nicknames as given names:
I have a long E name. I used to hate it when I was younger. It didn't seem "classy" enough and I also didnt have any nickname options either. I've since learned to like it. Our ds was given a name that stand alone. Eric. No nn possibilites and short enough to sound great on its own. I very happy I made that choice. There is so far only 1 other in his grade.

Re similar/derivative names:
I see the names Sean/Ian/John etc as different. To me it would be like naming siblings Violet and Hyacinth or Lavender. They are all purple flowers/purple colors but they are all different shades. I certainly wouldn't be like George Foreman but I might use different shades of a name if I liked them both or had special connections to each.

By Prairie Dawn (not verified)
January 27, 2009 4:39 PM

My mistake. Thanks for the info. Maybe I shouldn't be so critical of all those parents naming their baby girls Kylie! Now that I know the name's roots, it seems much more legitimate in my mind.
Do you think it's safe to assume that most parents in the US who name their baby girls Kylie are ignorant of the names roots and only using it because it sounds cute/ sweet?

January 27, 2009 4:51 PM

Kai, I agree that Danny and Katie sound much more "nicknamey" than Dan and Kate. That said I would generally still expect Dan and Kate to be Daniel and Katherine...

I remember the first time I met a Jenny who was just Jenny and I was very surprised. I don't think there are too many Jennys who aren't Jennifers but isn't Jenna pretty high up on it's own? It's interesting. I'm called Jenny all the time but I like having Jennifer there and it's on my business cards, etc.

By Joni
January 27, 2009 4:55 PM

"Do you think it's safe to assume that most parents in the US who name their baby girls Kylie are ignorant of the names roots and only using it because it sounds cute/ sweet?" Heck yes! I really doubt many American parents would choose Kylie because of it's aboriginal roots. Unless they are champion boomerang-ers....

It seems to me that people LIKE to know a names meaning, but they don't choose a name STRICTLY for it's meaning. Rather, meaning would be further down the list.

For example, if I liked both Hulda and Mary equally and couldn't decide, I might use the meanings to choose between the two.

By Kai
January 27, 2009 4:56 PM

Prairie Dawn - I don't know. Kylie these days in NZ and perhaps Australia is one of those names that you don't really use because someone so famous has it as a name. Mind you Kylie (and she is known by her first name) is more famous in NZ, Australia and the UK than in the USA.

I would assume that US parents aren't aware of its Australian roots or its star heritage!

By Kai
January 27, 2009 5:08 PM

I was also going to say that I know twins named James and Hamish.

Actually, now there is a name that doesn't lend itself to a nn - Hamish.

By J (not verified)
January 27, 2009 5:10 PM

My dad and his sister (15 months apart) are Patrice and Patricia, yet my grandmother (their mother) objected when my parents named my brother Christopher, as it was too close to her other daughter's name, Christine. So two siblings are okay, but not an aunt and a nephew? Interesting...

@GirlRandolph-My Eleanor is NOT Ellie, and I am insistent on that with everyone. It sounds silly with our last name, and we have an Ally and and Elle in the extended family, making Ellie too confusing. I don't think naming her something more "nickname proof" is necessarily the answer though; I just think people should ask before reverting to a nickname automatically!

By Guest (not verified)
January 27, 2009 5:13 PM

I have a friend who is named:
Danny Mike [LastName]

He is now a successful professional and hates his name. Obviously it has been shortened to Dan, but he still gripes about it.

My husband and his brother are named:
Monty and Marty
Marty is often called Martin, even by his mom.

My husband refuses to give our children names that are too matchy (not that I would want to), and they have to be the full form of the name, not a shortened version.

January 27, 2009 5:15 PM

Kai-Kylie Minogue WAS very well known in the states when her music was popular (in the late 80's early 90's if memory serves me). I cannot of course speak for the nation but I would bet that some of the children born about 10 yrs ago were specifically named for her. I believe she took the "cutesy factor" a bit out of the name. As in mom/dad thinks name is pretty and mentions it to spouse. Spouse says its TOO cute and could only be used on baby/toddler. Mom/Dad says "What about Kylie Minogue"? and so another Kylie is born.

By Kai
January 27, 2009 5:30 PM

Kylie - I presumed that she gained some degree of popularity in the USA, but I presumed that it wasn't to the extent that she was popular in Australia, NZ and to the mania in the UK, where she is still popular today and can sell out concerts many time over. Her star hasn't really faded that much.

I can see though how her popularity in the 80s and early 90s is influencing parents now.

By Prairie Dawn (not verified)
January 27, 2009 5:28 PM

Kylie may be one of those names where maybe the nn is more "professional/ mature" sounding than the name. Ky instead of Kylie? ;)

By Tessa (not verified)
January 27, 2009 5:45 PM

I always cringe when a parent-to-be or new parent announces that their son is Jack, but THEY know full well it's just a nickname... so they've given him the "proper" full name: Jackson!

January 27, 2009 5:58 PM

Jack may not originally be a nn for Jackson, but Jackson is an old ln (Andrew Jackson, anyone?) So combine the surname-as-first and Jack as the obvious nn and it doesn't seem too surprising...

By J&H's mom (not verified)
January 27, 2009 6:52 PM

To further bolster my standing as a hypocrite, I find it totally annoying when Jacksons are called Jack.

I do think that not all ee ending names are created equal.
I don't find names like Lindsay, Sally, or Kelly particularly childish, but there is, indeed, something sort of terminally perky about Kylie, Kaylie, Keeley et. al

BTW, I am now humming the Loccomotion (sp), so thanks very much for that!

PrarieDawn-FWIW, I think Sylvie would be just fine on its own, and I think it's adorable as well.

Oh, and isn't Ham the obvious nn for Hamish?

By Melissa C (not verified)
January 27, 2009 6:52 PM

Personally I love the name Jack, and I don't think of it as a nickname at all.. although I know that it is one. I think it has a strong solid name sound and doesn't have that cutesy sound. For a boy my husband really wants us to name him Jackson.. and nick name him Jack... we love Jack but it sounds awful with a hard C one syallable last name.

I also agree that Kylie, Kaylee, Maddie, Ellie, Gracie's won't have such strange office names in twenty years if anything that will be the norm. Remember that Jennifer, Jessica, Melissa and Tiffany used to be really overly flowery.. and people would have probably said strange office names 20-30 years ago. Or Judge Tiffany...
I don't think most names hold people back in careers at all unless they are offensive... little Adolph Hitler may have a problem.

By RikkiCarey (not verified)
January 27, 2009 6:54 PM

I want to know... why does everyone assume that every adult known by a "real name" doesn't have a so-called "nick-name" on their birth certificate. I'm pretty sure that "nick-name" by definition is just "different" (not necessarily shorter) version of any given name. SO, if the given name is Jamie... nn could easily be James. Charlie could easily be nn'd Charles, or Chuck, or Chaz. How does having Charlie on his birth certificate limit anything?
Oh and there is no such thing as a nn-proof name. JMHO. Someone above mentioned "Eric" as being nn-proof.... I know 2 Eric's that go by Ric and Rick. I'm a I get rhymes but rarely a nn. When I do get called something Heather-esk it is Heath. My actual nn has nothing to do with my real name... other than Heather is impossible for French people to pronounce so I needed a name my teachers/friends in Switzerland could handle for the year I lived there... so I used my name from Boy Scouts... Rikki Tikki Tavy (nn Rikki)btw I was baptized when I was there. So I guess as far as the church is concerned my "real" name is "Rikki"

By Altissima (not verified)
January 27, 2009 7:09 PM

I've often wondered the same of a family of 4 girls I know: Karen and Katrina (variants of Katherine), and Kirsten and Kristina (variants of Christina)! And then the added confusion of all sharing the same initial.

By Knee Coal Peay (not verified)
January 27, 2009 7:48 PM

"Why does everyone assume that every adult known by a "real name" doesn't have a so-called "nick-name" on their birth certificate?"

Because 99% of the time, it simply does not go that way in the real world. Sure, a boy called James could have "Jamie" on his birth certificate - nothing is stopping anyone from doing that. We all know that's definitely not the usual practice.

"I don't think naming her something more "nickname proof" is necessarily the answer though; I just think people should ask before reverting to a nickname automatically!"

I'm of the belief that you have to assume most people aren't very bright. That way, when you find out they are actually very bright, you'll be pleasantly surprised. See, a fair amount of well-meaning people who meet a cute little Eleanor might try to call her, oh heck I don't know... maybe, Ellie?? Despite your gentle reminders that "she goes by Eleanor" this simple concept is inevitably going to be lost on some people who aren't as good a listener as you are. So here's my point: if you are a parent who would be sent into an apopolectic fit should someone have the gall to use a nickname for your dear child, then use a little bit of foreseeable common sense and either 1) get used to it, or 2) think twice before you select a name that is not nickname proof. (And yes, there are some wonderful, nickname-proof names out there - see Laura's book for some great examples.)

January 27, 2009 7:51 PM

For NEs into place names, there's an amusing article about British place names in today's NYT.

Don't read if you are of a delicate disposition.

January 27, 2009 8:03 PM

Thanks for all the interest in the 2nd edition! I've checked with the publisher, and they tell me they expect it to hit bookstores on July 14th. I'll have more info on the new edition as the release approaches.

January 27, 2009 8:08 PM

May not be the usual practise to put Jamie on a birth certificate in the US, but it certainly is here in the UK. Maybe it's because we're so much less religious here - as the practise of christening babies has fallen out of favour,perhaps so has the formal christening name?

By Patricia/Nana (not verified)
January 27, 2009 9:02 PM

Laura, this is just the kind of post I love: name history, an anecdote from the past and some interesting stats. I'm wondering where you found the English census records from 150 years ago -- and the 1876 New York Times article.

As for the nickname Jack, it seems so different from John (like Molly and Polly seem from Mary) that even though I'm generally in favor of using standard given names, I would probably forgo that if I wanted to call a boy Jack. I had an uncle born in 1930 who was always called Jack. Years later my mother couldn't remember if her brother-in-law's given name was John or Jack, having heard a story about his mother intending one form of the name as his legal name, but his dad putting the other on the birth certificate.

(BTW, I'm the same poster as Patricia, but this website tells me that name is taken by another poster -- it's me! -- but won't let me log in under that name using the password I've used before, nor will it send me the promised email so I can change my password. Someone suggested that I never logout: I didn't but somehow got logged out anyway. ???)