The 30 Most Flexible Baby Names

Mar 26th 2015


In the past generation, parents have seized control of baby names. Sure, they've always been in charge of the name on the birth certificate, but now they want more. They want to send their kids off into the world knowing that every teacher, every friend will call them by the exact names that the parents prefer.

It wasn't always this way. Once upon a time, friends and even strangers could casually call a boy named Daniel "Danny" and nobody would think a thing of it. Today, every young Daniel I know goes exclusively by his full name, by his parents' choice.

There's nothing wrong with steering your child away from a nickname you dislike. You chose a name with care and love, so it's natural to ask people to use that name. Yet there are virtues to the wide-open nickname approach, too.

Nicknaming lets kids adjust a name to fit different stages of their lives, or different social situations: Danny to Grandma, Danno to buddies, Daniel at a job interview. An openness to nicknames also puts control of the name in the hands of the person who bears it. That can help offset the fundamental dilemma of baby naming, that we're choosing a name for someone we've never met, not knowing what kind of person they'll grow up to be.

What if you want the gift of a name to be the gift of flexibility? Ironically, it's the most traditional baby names that offer the greatest options for creative personalization. Nicknames for English standards like Mary, Ann and Margaret proliferated back when those names accounted for half of all girls in a typical village. Longer classics like Alexander and Anastasia lend themselves to many options as well.

The names on this list may not seem like creative choices in themselves, but they'll give your children the flexibility to creatively name -- and rename -- themselves.

Names with lots of nickname options:

GIRLS

Alexandra: Alex, Allie, Andra, Lexi, Sandra, Sandy, Sasha, Shura, Xan, Xandra

Anastasia: Ana, Annie, Nastya, Stacy, Stasya, Tasia

Annabelle: Ann, Anna, Annie, Bella, Belle, Ella, Nan, Nell

Charlotte: Charlie, Carly, Lola, Lotta, Lottie, Tottie

Christina: Chris, Chrissy, Christa, Christie, Ina, Kika, Stina, Tina

Eleanor: Ella, Elle, Ellie, Nell, Nellie, Nora

Elizabeth: Bess, Bessie, Beth, Bethan, Betsy, Bette, Betty, Buffy, Eliza, Ella, Ellie, Elsa, Elsie, Libby, Liddy, Lili, Lisa, Lise, Lisette, Liz, Liza, Lizbeth, Lizzie

Evangeline: Angie, Eva, Evie, Gilly, Lina, Vangie

Genevieve: Evie, Gen/Jen, Genie, Genna, Genny, Ginette, Ginny, Viv, Vivi

Katherine: Kat, Kate, Kathy, Katy, Katya, Kay, Kit, Kitty

Margaret: Daisy, Greta, Gretchen, Madge, Maggie, Maisie, Mamie, Margie, May, Meg, Megan, Meta, Peg, Peggy

Mary: Mae, Mamie, May, Mimi, Mitzi, Molly, Polly

Natalia: Nat, Natasha, Talia, Tally, Tasha

Sarah: Sadie, Sal, Sally, Sarita

Susanna: Sookie, Sue, Sukey, Susa, Susie, Suze, Zanna, ZuZu

Veronica: Nikki, Rona, Ronnie, Vera

Wilhelmina: Billie, Mina, Minnie, Vilma, Willa, Willie, Willow, Wilma

BOYS

Alexander: Al, Alex, Lex, Sander, Sandy, Sasha, Xander, Zander

Charles: Cal, Charlie, Chase, Chaz, Chick, Chip, Chuck

Christopher: Chip, Chris, Kip, Kit, Topher

Edward: Ed, Eddie, Ned, Ted, Teddy

Frederick: Fred, Freddy, Fritz, Rick, Ricky

Henry: Hal, Hank, Harry

Jonathan: Jon, Jonty, Jonny, Than

Lawrence: Larry, Laz, Lon, Loren, Lorne

Nicholas: Cole, Colin, Klaus, Nick, Nico, Nikos

Robert: Bob, Bobby, Dobbin, Hob, Rob, Robbie, Robin

Theodore: Ted, Teddy, Teo, Terry, Theo

William: Bill, Billy, Liam, Will, Wilkie, Willie, Wills, Wim

Comments

1
March 26, 2015 1:20 PM

My mother calls me William,
My father calls me Will,
My sister calls me Willie,
But the fellers call me Bill.

(A poem my grandfather used to recite occasionally, presumably Depression-era or older. He was a Robert-called-Bob.)

2
March 26, 2015 3:30 PM

Elizabeth, Betsy, Betty, and Bess
Went out one day to find a bird's nest,
They found a nest with five eggs in it,
They each took one and left four in it.

3
March 27, 2015 8:08 AM

This kind of flexibility was very much what I wanted in a name for my kids. Nearly all these names were on my shortlist.:-)

Another good strategy is giving a middle name that's a different style from the first so that they can go by their middle name if they find the first too popular, or too weird, too old fashioned or too informal.

And then there are potential name and nickname combinations -- Mary Katherine can be Mary Kate if she wants, Sarah Elizabeth can be Sarah Beth, Eleanor Marie might even want to be Ellie May. John Paul or John Luke can go by both names, or "Jack" or "Johnny" or just the middle name. William Robert can become Billy Bob if it suits him.

As far as I was concerned, the worst thing that could happen in terms of naming is me picking a name that they grow up to hate. Even though I think most people dislike their names at some point in their lives... I hate to think of a decision I made before I even met them causing them to be feel frustrated and resentful a dozen or two dozen years later. Flexible names mean they pick a nickname name that suits them when they're twelve and another one that suits them when they're an adult. It seems only fair, when kids change so much, to let their names change too.

...I still wouldn't let Grandma call my newborn Katerina "Katie," though. I know too many Katies. :-) 

4
March 27, 2015 3:20 PM

I have a niece, Genevieve, who goes by "Nev" and my son, Jonathan, goes by "Jono." More nicknames to add :-)

5
March 28, 2015 2:56 AM

We named our daughter Margaret -- intending to call her Daisy, but wanting to give her a more "serious" option (because who is going to confirm a Supreme Court Justice named Daisy?). She's 19 now, and while she appreciates her options, says explaining the origins of her name to teachers, peers, and bank tellers is frustrating.  I wouldn't change my choice, just FYI...

6
March 31, 2015 1:09 PM

I have an Alexander nn Xander, Madelyn nn Maddy, Genevieve nn Gie, Theodore nn Theo, and Penelope nn Nellie. Love flexible baby names!

7
March 31, 2015 1:17 PM

I always thought it was weird when a nickname seemed nothing like the actual name.  Nicknames, to me, should have the same sound, or at least some of the same letters.  My daughter's name is short, so no nickname for her that I can think of (although sometimes we call her by both first and middle).  Some people try to say their kid is not to ever be called by a certain nickname.  However you can't control what people decide to call your kid once they are in school and in life.  You might try to influence what people say, but it doesn't mean friends won't start calling the kid something different.

8
March 31, 2015 11:09 PM

I'm Alexandra and Alexa (my main nickname) and Ali and Lex (and Lex Luthor to my little brother) and Alex (not Alex, chop the -a off of Alexa for the correct pronunciation) and Lexa and Alice and Sasha. I love my name.

9
April 1, 2015 12:09 PM

When I came to,the US from Ireland many years ago, I noticed and disliked that Americans did shorten people's names. I thought then and still do that using a different version of a name should be the choice of the " named". With that in mind I named my children Nora and Eoin ( pronounced Owen). While I have never heard anyone call Nora " No", Eoin is sometimes called by very good friends "  O". 

10
April 1, 2015 4:02 PM

I've noticed with my 9 year old son that nicknames is something he and his friends do as a way to show "this is a very special friend." So sweet!  It seems that using a rarely used nickname always gives a nice smile/feeling betweent the boys.  Sometimes it's a name they've overheard used at home by family like "Kenny" for a boy only called "Kenneth" at school.  My son uses his full name, Jonah, almost exclusively except by close family member who sometimes still call him is "baby name" "JoJo" as a term of endearment.  However, I have noticed his best buddies call him "Jones" or "Jo" or "Joey" at special times like when saying goodbye for a long time, making up after an altercation,  or congratulating on a really great play on the field.  

11
April 2, 2015 1:37 AM

Sile Convery, I have noticed this trend, as well. I cannot tell you how often, immediately after introducing myself as Alexandra, I am called Alex. Alex is not my name, and I do not appreciate being called such. There is nothing wrong with the name, it is just not mine.

12
April 7, 2015 11:55 AM

Perhaps a little off topic--but I wonder, is flexibility aways best (maybe this is best for its own thread)--I have a nickname proof name and rather like it. I have friends named Elizabeth-only-Elizabeth and Kenneth-not-Ken and people frequently shorten their names for them. Something I liked about nickname-proof names is that there is no ambiguity about your name and you don't have to deal with people deciding that you're really Cassie or Cas if you'd prefer Cassandra but don't want to spend your life correcting people. 

 

What are you-all's thoughts on flexibility as a bonus?

13
April 7, 2015 4:19 PM

My husband is named James and I find it almost more annoying than he does that strangers automatically call him Jim sometimes. If he introduces himself as James, why would they presume to shorten it? It seems to be a generational thing, mostly people his dad's age. On the flip side, Charlie is the only one of our boys that goes by a nickname. It makes it confusing for his brothers that his actual name is Charles, but we wanted to give him options. I am not too worried about it simply because Charlie and Charles are so close together that it isn't quite the stretch that some other names are. And I try to call him Charles often enough that it will still feel like his name.

14
By mk
April 21, 2015 6:55 PM

cindylou: I have a name that can be easily shortened and even as a child I hated when people tried to use a nickname. I only have ever gone by my full name, with a few very rare exceptions. I don't see multiple nickanmes  as a bonus, personally, more like a preference for some.

 

15
April 27, 2015 10:43 AM

 mks_mary, My name is Katerina and I love it and all the nicknames I have.

Most people do call me Katie (for the entire year of 3rd grade I spelt it Katy to distinguish myself). My mom and her side of the family calls me Kate and this is the name I use for restaurant reservations etc. Most of my college friends called me KB because of my initials and I go by Kat at work. My alter ego is Trina. 

I love that what name people call me depends on how they know me. I also have prefered my full name more within the past years. The only problem I encounter is when people spell it Katarina or pronouce it Katrina.

16
February 23, 2016 1:46 PM

And I try to call him Charles often enough that it will still feel like his name.

Trainnames, this is an excellent point.  My husband (born mid 1970s) was always called Larry, never Lawrence.  I asked him why he never made the switch once he got older given he actually prefers Lawrence, and he said it felt too weird because it didn't really feel like his name.  (I suppose sort of like an unused middle name -- it both is and isn't your name if no one ever calls you by it.)  His mom sort of regrets it now, as she intended for Larry to be a little kid name, and really assumed he'd use Lawrence as he got older.

So, if you do use a nickname but expect your child may want to use the full name later, be sure and use it some of the time.  Consider making the switch or go 50/50 when they start school, because that seems to be what really locks the nickname into place.

 

17
June 13, 2017 11:31 AM

I always use full names until the bearer asks me to do otherwise. Two of my friends insisted I call them 'Judy' and Vicky' when I kept addressing them as 'Judith' and 'Victoria'. My own name (Agnetha) is difficult to pronounce in the English speaking world so I use 'Annie'.

18
July 18, 2017 6:10 PM

This makes me think of British Prince Harry.  His official name is Henry, but was given the nickname Harry at birth, and I'm pretty sure I remember hearing that he would be referred to as "Prince Henry" once he was older, yet all news reports of him still refer to him as "Harry" or "Prince Harry."  His brother William managed to escape the toddler nickname "Wills" and goes by William.