Clark Kent baby names: nickname as alter ego

Dec 17th 2009

"Meet my son, Thornton." It doesn't get more buttoned-down that that, does it? Thornton is old school, a dense WASPy surname linked with 19th-century-born writers Thornton Wilder and Thornton Burgess. Packing five heavy consonant sounds, Thornton doesn't sound particularly contemporary, let alone exciting.

But what about Thorn? There's a modern name with an edge, a soap opera favorite ready to scale cliffs or plot ruthless revenge.

With most names, a nickname just softens the full name or helps it loosen up and have fun. With a name like Thornton, it does more. It gives you two complete and distinct identities, like Clark Kent and Superman. The mild mannered shell peels back to reveal a dashing alter ego.

Not every name with a super-charged nickname can fit the bill. You can't get the same effect by, say, extending Thorn into Thornsyn or using it as a nickname for Thatcher. The long version (typically a surname) has to be traditional and familiar in its own right, and the nickname has to emerge from it with an ease approaching inevitability. And just as in the world of superheros, male examples dominate.

Here's my starter list of Clark Kent names. Can you think of more?



By Jenny also (not verified)
December 17, 2009 12:25 PM

Not my style!

By Joni
December 17, 2009 1:00 PM

Wow, I love those names!! Shoot, I may need to have a few more boys just so I can use Hawk and Thorn.

By knp (not verified)
December 17, 2009 1:02 PM

Hmm, this was really hard. But has given me something to procrastinate with...

I don't think these are good fits for the Clark Kent names, but...

Dashiell/Dash-- maybe the best of these

By Karen R (not verified)
December 17, 2009 1:09 PM

The obvious and common one is Maxwell --> Max...

Part of why I think it doesn't work as well for girls is that exotic or powerful names for girls typically have many syllables. They're full names, not nicknames. So the Clark Kent transition from mild-mannered to powerful and dramatic is the opposite...

Cassie --> Cassandra
Dee --> Deirdre
Stacy --> Anastasia
Carly --> Carleton


By Tintin LaChance (not verified)
December 17, 2009 1:17 PM

Ackerly / Horace / Wallace - Ace
Jethro - Jet

These're hard to come up with, man.

Personally, I find King pretty buttoned-up and prim sounding itself, but my primary association with it is the perfectly dour-looking King Westley from It Happened One Night. In comparison, Kingsley Shacklebolt from the Harry Potter books is pretty BAMF and sounds rather more current to me.

By Clara (not verified)
December 17, 2009 1:26 PM

I knew a boy named Fielding who went by Field - does that count?

By Jane, Mother of Five (not verified)
December 17, 2009 1:35 PM

Maybe Nicholas -- Cole.

By Erin Cecelia (not verified)
December 17, 2009 1:39 PM

I can imagine a boy choosing to go by Swan, particularly if he wanted to sound more daring or dashing than as Swanson. The others fit the bill very well. I couldn't come up with any myself but i see these as a good choice for parents who want something with spunk but are worried about how it will fare in a work environment or as the boy ages.

By Heather Orser (not verified)
December 17, 2009 1:39 PM

Some from my family

Bridget -> Bri
Sigrid -> Siri

By Erin Cecelia (not verified)
December 17, 2009 1:39 PM

oops that was supposed to be Can't imagine

By Rose (not verified)
December 17, 2009 1:43 PM

Maximillian - Max.

Obvious, yet classic.

By JayF (not verified)
December 17, 2009 1:49 PM

Well, how about


(one of my favorite romance novels uses Hawk as a shortening of Hawthorn(e))

Shakespeare/Spear! (that would be fun...)

I am obviously going with endings rather than beginnings...But I'll try a few of those

Northrup or Northway/North

By Alr (not verified)
December 17, 2009 2:04 PM


By C, C & B's Mom (not verified)
December 17, 2009 2:10 PM

Westley --> West
Weston --> West

By Marc (not verified)
December 17, 2009 2:19 PM

Actually, I know of a girl Marlin with the occasional nickname "Mars". And "Cat" for Catherine is a long-standing example.

By Guest (not verified)
December 17, 2009 2:34 PM

Edgar -Edge

December 17, 2009 2:42 PM

Hrm... does it have to be buttoned-up vs. soap opera/dramatic? Could the alter-egos be different?

How would this work for girls, for instance. For example, I knew a Marlene who went by Mars; I think that's similar: two very different connotations. Also Lourdes/Lori. Although that may have been like an Americanized alter-ego. Hrm... now that I think about it, children of immigrants have been doing this for years!

By LL (not verified)
December 17, 2009 2:44 PM

I actually met a little Thornton two days ago and my first thought was, "What do they use for a nickname?" Like Laura, I would have guessed Thorn. But it turns out he's not a Thorn, he's a Thor! I found it surprising and pretty cute on an 18-month-old.

December 17, 2009 2:47 PM

For girls I could see Kerrington -- Ker or Kerry
Sheridan -- Sher, Sherri, or Dani

By philyre (not verified)
December 17, 2009 3:00 PM

Wow, I love Thornton --> Thor even more! That is seriously the best ever alter-ego nickname!

Otherwise, I can contribute Rupert --> Rip, which I think is even more buttoned up to start with, but perhaps a less intuitive shortening.

By D. (not verified)
December 17, 2009 3:17 PM

Danielle/Dani -- we chose that name specifically for that reason (12 years ago), to give our daughter a traditionally feminine name but a flashy (and tomboyish) nickname if she wanted one. She's turned out to cheerily self-identify as both names, too.

By Swan (not verified)
December 17, 2009 3:21 PM

I love old school surnames as nicknames, it reminds me of all the old british school boy adventure stories I read as a kid where they all call each other by nicknames based on their surnames

Cleaver - Cleave lol
Watson - Wats
Hutchinson - Hutch (that's from the movie Fanboys)
Mitchell - Mitch
Griffin - Griff
Sullivan - Sulli
Tucker - Tuck
Ashford - Ash
Bennett - Ben/Benny
Porter - Port
Fitzwilliam - Fitz
Langley - Lang
Chetwood - Chet
Greville - Grey
Slyfield - Sly
Braunstone - Braun/Brawn
Colby - Cole

By Swan (not verified)
December 17, 2009 3:23 PM

I thought of one more.

Beresfield - Bear

By Birgitte (not verified)
December 17, 2009 3:28 PM

I agree. So Not My Style.
I grit my teeth when someone has a last name for a first name. Or even eats breakfast for dinner.

AAAAHHH!!! That's not how it's supposed to be!

LOL! My Captcha words are Eckhardt last. I agree with that.

By Lynn M (not verified)
December 17, 2009 4:25 PM

A friend of mine due with a girl next month is having a hard time coming up with a first name for her baby and I thought I'd ask here for suggestions.

The middle name will be Dorothy. They would like a more modern sounding name to balance Dorothy, but want something that will age well.
- Popularity is not a concern
- They want to avoid repeating sounds (as in similar to Dorothy)
- They would prefer a shorter name

So far they've come up with Reagan, Payton, Adria and Anya but aren't sure about any of them. Does anyone have any suggestions for names that go well with Dorothy in the middle?

By Jody not logged in (not verified)
December 17, 2009 4:33 PM

Actually when I picked Elliott James for my baby (born last month now - how time flies) I did have in the back of my mind the nickname EJ or even run that into "Edge" if it suited! Not my style really, but it's the kid who needs to have options to suit him as he grows regardless of what I think LOL.

By Kara (not verified)
December 17, 2009 4:37 PM

How about Beatrix--Trixie and Margaret--Daisy?

By hyz
December 17, 2009 4:45 PM

Birgitte, lol at your Captcha comment--pretty funny. I actually really do like Thornton, though!

I'm sure I could come up with some more of these if I had a few minutes--I'm going to think on it!

What about:
Colton/Coulter --> Colt?
Edgerton/Edgeley --> Edge?
Oakley --> Oak

By knp (not verified)
December 17, 2009 4:44 PM

oooh, Margaret--Daisy is a good example of a nn that gives a completely different feel. (Maybe its not a 'superhero' name, but totally different from Margaret!) go Kara!

I also like the West and North names... North could be such a cool name!

December 17, 2009 4:47 PM

I immediately thought of:

Everett - Rhett
Ambrose - Bro
Garrett - Rhett
Llewellyn - Lew/Lou
Rafferty - Raff
Sinclair - Sync/Sinc
Riordan - Rio/Reo
Rawdon - Raw
Reuben - Ben/Roo
Raphael - Raff

I actually like a lot of these! I also love breakfast for dinner, and we have that a lot in our house, maybe I'm a rule breaker :)

By Amy3 (nli) (not verified)
December 17, 2009 4:59 PM

@Lynn M, I put Reagan, Payton, Adria, and Anya into Nymbler to see what it would come up with for your friends. For short, non-repetitive sounds with Dorothy, and modern in mind, here are some ideas:

Ava, Mila, Cara, Olivia, Emma, Camilla (too long?), Kiera, Paige, Harper, Taryn

By Joanna (not verified)
December 17, 2009 5:11 PM

My cousin (male, 3 years old) is Stirling. They call him Sting. I think that fits the theme!

By Annabel (not verified)
December 17, 2009 5:16 PM

I like Kara's girl examples!

Traditional nicknames for classic names that seem out of left field to modern namers(ex. daisy for margaret) seem to be great "Clark Kent names". I also think pulling a nn out of the middle/end of a name makes it especially Clark Kent-ish (Trixie for Beatrix).

A few more girl examples, where the nn seems much sassier than the original name:
Dorothy-- Dot
Sarah-- Sadie
Martha-- Dolly
Virginia-- Ginger
Millicent-- Millie
Roxanne-- Roxy
Edith-- Edie
Mary--Polly or Mamie
Barbara-- Babs
Elizabeth-- Bess
Frances-- Fanny
Susanna-- Sukey
Gertrude-- Trudie

Fun Post!!

By Guest (not verified)
December 17, 2009 5:31 PM

I immediately thought of Dexter, nn Dex.

By Kristin W. (not verified)
December 17, 2009 5:38 PM

Sting as a nickname for Stirling is so cute! All these are a bit more dramatic than I could pull off, but still kinda neato for the right family.

December 17, 2009 6:45 PM

These are all so cute! I like a lot of these on other people, but wouldn't name a kid them (except some of the girls' ones).

@ Annabel: I've never heard Dolly for Martha, where did that come from?

Today in my English class, we started talking about names. I think you can all imagine how happy I was at this. We had to say where our names were from and if we knew, why we were named that. One kid has brothers named Andrew and Andre, I held my peace on that, but that bothers me because they're the same name, just in different languages. Another kid's (full) name meant Advancing Thunder in Chinese! How cool? That would be cool, a name in a different language and a nn from that in English, like if we called him Thunder. Names will factor into our English project for this marking period, and when I found that out, I was so happy.

As to nns from lns. My cousin with my ln (Wh33l3r) was called Hot-Wheels for a while. That's totally different from her given name of Margaret!

By Guest (not verified)
December 17, 2009 7:23 PM

Macklin, a family surname, was used as a given name many times and mostly nicknamed Mack with a "k", but a few shortened it to Mac.

December 17, 2009 7:52 PM

I love this post!

Dashiell, nn Dash, is another obvious one as mentioned above.

By Mirnada (not verified)
December 17, 2009 8:00 PM

Lynn M

Hmmm, a modern first name to go with Dorothy?

Dorothy conjures up the 30's-50's to me, so what about a more modern/popular name that's originally from that

Stella Dorothy

How many syllables does the last name have? Dorothy is a longer name and ending in makes it a little tougher rythmically, I think.

I like Olivia Dorothy as well, though.

By Qwen (nli) (not verified)
December 17, 2009 8:39 PM

@Anne with an E – Thanks for sharing your nursery ideas (last post). I love them and I added the Etsy seller to my favorite list. (I have a lit/word them going on in my TV room) :)

@knp – If unborn baby turns out to be a boy we plan on naming him Lincoln and calling him Link. People in my generation love it (Oh my gosh, from Zelda?!) But my parents aren’t too keen.

@Lynn M – I want to echo Amy3/Nymbler’s suggestion of Ava, it was the first one that popped into my head. After a little more thought I’d like to add: Jade, Shea, Alexa and Cadence. That’s a toughie though, I found it a lot easier to come up with matches if Dorothy was first… Dorothy Lane, Dorothy Olivia, Dorothy Ingrid, etc…

By martha b. (not verified)
December 17, 2009 9:42 PM

AN interesting post! It makes me htink of my baby boy's name - Archer/Arch.

December 17, 2009 10:00 PM

First off these names are SOOO NMS! I do like Dexter/Dex though. I also immediately thought of our frequent poster Eo whose child is named Benjamin and goes by Banks. Those are two different styles I think, but totally cute. From what I remember he pulls it off well too!

For Lynn M-I think Dorothy deserves a short succint FN probably ending in a consonant sound to go with it. You could always do my gma's Vera Dorothy? I also thought of:
Jayne Dorothy (my aunt's name)
Sarah Dorothy
Julia Dorothy
Brynn Dorothy
Grace Dorothy
Shannon Dorothy (though reminds me of Shannen Dougherty)
Hayden Dorothy
Janna Dorothy
Charlotte Dorothy
Megan Dorothy
I will also second Shea and Cadence.

By S (not verified)
December 17, 2009 11:04 PM

@ Lynn M

Anya is my favorite of your friend's choices. Reagan and Payton are so different from Dorothy they seem to clash rather than make it sound fresh to my ears.

I'll second Stella - it doesn't feel 'wrong' with Dorothy but has a younger vibe.

How about:
Tessa Dorothy
Marin Dorothy
Lila Dorothy
Claire Dorothy

By moll (not verified)
December 17, 2009 11:27 PM

Generally, not my style, but I'll add in my great-grandpa's name (which I would love to use some day): Basil, went by Baz.

For Dorothy, I like the flow of first names that have two syllables, accent on first: for "modern", think Mia/Maya Dorothy, Leila/Lila Dorothy, Jasmine Dorothy, Autumn Dorothy, Hayden Dorothy, Kedall Dorothy, Piper Dorothy, Jayda Dorothy.
or otherwise: three syllables, accent on second: Zariah Dorothy, Gianna Dorothy, Liliana Dorothy

OK, they're not all modern, but I'm trying (using top 1000 2008)! Actually my last name sounds a lot like Dorothy so I'm kind of going off the flow of that

By Elaine (not verified)
December 18, 2009 12:01 AM

I'm another who can't stand surnames for first names but I do like the "flashier" nickname for a classic, formal first name. I'd like to think we accomplished that with our son's name:

Alexander (goes by Xander)

By Elaine (not verified)
December 18, 2009 12:06 AM

On the Dorothy thing... I really don't like Dorothy as a middle name. It just doesn't seem to flow well with anything else. Would you consider Dorothea? Or even Theodora?

December 18, 2009 12:19 AM

In the Joss Whedon show Angel there was a character who was named
Winnifred and went by Fred. Formal old lady name with a snappy fresh-for-a-girl nickname.

By Guest (not verified)
December 18, 2009 12:39 AM

I was thinking about these type of names the other day and came up with Ireneus -> Neo.

By J2Eng (not verified)
December 18, 2009 1:20 AM

Lynn M, I think moll is on to something. It might be easier to imagine Dorothy as a last name when picking out the first since it's so hard to find a combo that flows. Someone mentioned it earlier and I agree - short concise first names would sound best preceding Dorothy.

By J2Eng (not verified)
December 18, 2009 1:25 AM

PJ, was the Angel charachter's name pronounced like Frid or Fred? I just cannot imagine Fred sounding stylish on a woman. I'd actually prefer Wyn or Winnie as a nn.