The Nicknamer

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I had a lot of rules when picking names for my kids.  I didn’t want their names to rhyme or start with the same letter, I wanted them to be easy to spell and pronounce.  All names beginning with the letter J or H were ruled out, as were many names of crazy relatives.  One thing I did want, however, was the possibility for nicknames.  That’s one of the reasons we went with Rebecca over Sarah.

Ice Cream for Dinner

And yet… in over a year and a half, I never called her anything but her full name.  We would sometimes say “Dan” for Daniel, but by and large we used their full names all the time.  It felt a little silly, since I had picked these names in part because of their ability to be shortened, yet here I was saying the whole thing every time.

Enter: toddler language development.  Rebecca has always said “Daniel” pretty clearly.  Daniel called her “Nee nee” for a while.  And then, unprompted, he started saying “Becca.”  And now that they’ve started referring to themselves with their own names, she calls herself “Becca.”  The funny thing is that I almost feel like that has given me permission to start calling her that, myself. Weird, huh?

Ice Cream for Dinner

I think it comes down to who you expect to bestow nicknames on kids.  Growing up, I was always the full-on Elizabeth where my family was concerned. But somewhere in late-middle school, my friends started to call me Liz.  Liz has stuck and it’s how almost everyone knows me… yet my mother will never, ever call me anything but Elizabeth.  So, in my mind, I guess I expect peers to pick nicknames.

My aunt, on the other hand, was always a Liz because that was the nickname her mother called her.  My aunt Liz named her son Christopher, and was somewhat distressed when his peers started calling him “Chris,” because she didn’t call him that.  In her mind, nicknames are picked by parents.

So, what about you, dear readers?  Did you pick a longer name for your kids but always knew you’d call them by the short version?  Did you pick a nickname-proof name to avoid the whole thing?  What is your take on nicknames and who “gets” to decide on them?

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35 thoughts on “The Nicknamer”

  1. I totally picked names also that could be shortened. I ALWAYS wanted a nickname but with a name like Heather, the closest thing is Heath (not like Ledger) which ends up sounding like a grunt. Our girls are Abigail (we call her Abby) and Margaret (we call her Maggie). My main reason is I like the way when you say their whole name, it gives it power – you now like, “Abigail, you get over here this instant.” But what is interesting is that I only do that to Abby. I NEVER call Maggie Margaret. I don’t know why except that it seems like such a grown up name and she is just four.

    I think I need to start trying. Don’t want to be accused of playing favorites:)


  2. We named Jessie Jessica with the expectation we’d call her Jessie, just like Jesse, the grandfather she’s named after. However, she refers to herself as Jessica, and both her sister and I call her Jess, Jessie, Jessica and Jess-Jess. My husband mostly calls her Jessie, but sometimes uses Jessica.

    I didn’t expect Melody to be nicknamed, but so far she’s been called Mel, Melly, Mel-Mel, Melly Belly and Dee-Dee-Bug by me. Her sister calls her Sister, Melody and Mel-Mel. At school she’s Mel or Melody.

    I come from a culture where everyone is given an official name (bhalo naam) for use professionally and by school friends, and nickname (daak naam) for use by family and childhood non-school friends. You write out your name in the order [Official First Name] [Family Name] [Nickname]. My parents named me European style, and it confuses my extended family batty. “What is this middle name Rebecca? No one calls you by this name? Then it is not your name!”

  3. I always loved that my name grew into an “adult” name. As a child I was always Cindy but somewhere around age 21, it just became Cynthia. I wanted a name like that for my daughter, but, alas, we didn’t agree on one. With the boys, our rules were “simple but not common”. Nothing in the top 25 of current baby lists as my husband (Brian) always shared his name with 3 other kids in this grade-school classes and hated that. We tried to stick with names that could not be shortened and did not lend themselves to obnoxious rhymes. Although, we had a struggle with the baby. I wanted the middle name “Michael” (a family name), but was quickly talked out of it when we chose the first name “Brett” (we didn’t want my love of the band Poison to be seen as obsessive!) Instead we went with another family name, “John” and obliviously ended up with a “BJ”, which we hope no one will ever call him!

  4. That was one of Jon’s non-negotiable requirements in naming: the names HAD to be able to nicknamed. He had a good reason why too… he grew up with so many Jonathans that it was nice to know a Johnny, Jon, Jonathan, etc. And obviously we use the nicknames for our boys (Nate and Alex), but the only reason behind that was that we liked those names.

    The other thing I find fascinating about nicknames is I went to a college that was 75% men and I would say 99% of my college friends had some kind of nickname. And while some of them were last name (Greene and Vogel for two roommates named Mike), quite a few of them were based on crazy stuff. One guy nicknamed Wayne bc he looked like Wayne from the Wonder Years. Art because he had hair like Art Garfunkel. It led me to believe it’s more common with boys, or at least more common in a male-dominated culture.

    I also played sports too, and again, it’s common bc you’re constantly calling each other’s name. My volleyball nickname was Lala while my tennis nickname was Verhoff (maiden name).

    Oh and my internet nickname is LauraC! I picked that bc Laura is so common I wanted people to know who I was when I left comments.

    I guess what I’m saying is pick the name you want to use bc who knows who many other names your kids will get over time?

  5. Well, in my family we never used nicknames. My parents gave us short names with that in mind. When I was a kid, there were dozens of Julianas, but I never met a Julia, so “Ju” was the nickname reserved for them at school. (today Julia is the third most common name in Brazil, after Ana and Maria, go figure. I go to the mall or supermarket and hear mothers yelling after their Julias all the time.)

    But funnily enough, I gave my daughters names that are doomed to become nicknames. Isabel and Beatrice. Bel, Isa, Bebel, Belinha, all are possibilities in Portguese. Bia, Bea, Bê, Tiz, for Beatrice. That was not really something we took into account, but now I think it will be fun!

  6. I didn’t even THINK about nicknames when we were picking names, but I wish I did. I am a nicknamer and I like to have a short name to call people I’m close to. But our boys’ names do not lend themselves to nicknaming – Henry and Graham. Unfortunately, my brother – also a nicknamer – has been creative in this department and likes to call them Hankenstein and Grahamathy. I sure hope their friends can come up with something better someday.

  7. Back to the college thing for a minute.

    We called one of my best friends’ girlfriend Terry because she would yell and squawk at him like a pteradactyl (sp?). She never knew why we were calling her that. And we called her that for three years.

  8. I actually preferred names that weren’t nicknamable, but even I call Madeleine “Maddie” most of the time. What drives me batty is that John and I chose to spell Maddie with an “ie” ending, and my sister-in-law INSISTS on spelling it “Maddy.” I pointed out to her that we chose the “ie” spelling, and her reply was, “OH, but I like the ‘y’ way better.” Um, great, but NOT YOUR CHOICE.

    (end rant)

  9. We thought about nicknames a little bit. Originally James was going to be James Robert, but then one night I literally bolted upright in bed and went, “Oh no! Jim Bob!” So that was out, James got a new middle name. I don’t think James will be Jim or Jimmy to me, but that could change. as he gets older.

    Emma was a quickly chosen name since were expecting her to be a him (Andrew). She often gets call Em or Emma Roo. James is often James Boo. Oh, and Emma-roni. And Jameserpie. Okay, so we are a very nicknamey bunch. :)

  10. My name is Erin, my mom is Kathleen. I deeply considered naming one of my girls Katherine and calling her Kate. But then I thought, if I’m going to call her Kate, why not just name her Kate? So I really looked for names that I would like as is.

    And now of course Delaney is almost always called Laney.

  11. We spent MONTHS with names. We knew which ones we liked, but then, everyone on the planet seemed to like them too, so the vast majority of our lists bit the dust rather quickly.

    I have no problem with nicknames. I’ve been Jen all my life (never Jenny – my kindergarten teacher and her shin can attest to that). We wanted to give our children names that were the same in both Spanish and English, and it just so happened that they had English nicknames.

    Graciela – has, and always will be, Gracie
    Lucas – is mostly Lucas, but is also Lukie (so far not really a Luke, but I’m sure that will change)

    We are also a heavily nicknaming family. My sisters call me Hen because my name in Spanish is pronounced without the J sound. My sister, Kristen, is Ten Ten because of how my neices said her name.

    Gracie and Lukie have lots of nicknames too:
    Gracie-Lu-Who, Gracialita, Whoville, Whosie
    Lukie, Lukie-Loo, Whatsie

    Given our family’s history with nicknames, I suspect there will be many more to come. They just seem to evolve that way.

    I mean, what else can you expect from a family that calls my mother, Hubsie?

    (Mother >> Mother Hubbard >> Hubbard >> Hubsie)

  12. Great post! Funny though, I seem to be the only one here that chose names that could NOT be made into nicknames (more or less). Our last name is really long though, so short first names were a must. French dad, American mom, so we went with Romain and Theo. And at 15 months, Theo calls Romain ‘baby’ (which is kind of funny, b/c as far as birth order goes, Theo is the ‘baby’)!

  13. I call my kids by their full names most of the time. My daughter’s name doesn’t really have a nickname, but I picked a name for my son that could be shortened into a name that I liked. His name is Benjamin and I like the name Ben, even though I don’t call him that. I thought that someday his friends would shorten the name and I wanted to still like his name! (I had also considered Frederick as a name for him, but don’t like the name Fred so decided against it.)

    One of my cousins HATES that people have shortened her son’s name, but then always calls my son Ben, which I don’t really understand.

    My Mom (like Alison) purposely named my sister and me names that did not have nicknames. But now my sister’s friends often call her by her last name. Go figure.

    Someone deciding to spell one of my kids names differently would drive me nuts….

  14. There is no name that is “nickname proof” (even Sarah). It’s one of the immutable Rule of Peers. My mom’s friend April was named that so she wouldn’t have one…they called her “Ap” (long A…poor girl). So our deal was to pick names for the kids and give them nicknames ourself. Their peers are more apt to use our chosen nicknames then to come up with their own.

    I hear Snickollet on the spelling of nicknames – we always called my sister Allie but suddenly she started spelling it Alli. Um, I don’t think so!

    P.S. Goddess, I’m going to keep thinking of her as Rebecca until you start referring to her as Becca in posts.

  15. We have many nicknames for our kids, but our naming decision was not based on whether or not they are nicknameable. In fact, most people assume that Finn’s name is short of Finnegan or Finley or Phinneaus. It’s not. Just Finn. The funny thing is though, I call him ‘Finnegan’ nearly 75% of the time…so a lot of people who we don’t know well assume that is his full name.

    Unfortunatly, with identical twins, our kids are often called either ‘Freid’ or ‘Refinn’.

  16. Oh did we think about this. I had similar rules in terms of different initials from our last name. We didn’t know what we were having and I firmly believe you don’t know the name until you actually see them…. We had 3 girl’s names, and S said the first time he looked at our daughter in the nursery he wanted to say “Hi Natalie”. It still took us 2 days to agree because he did not want her to be Nat. I finally won him over on the grounds that we could call her “Lielie” (yes, I was thinking of the actress) and her nickname would probably be whatever her brother mispronounced as they were learning to talk. We always use Natalie, and her brother calls her Sis (which is awesome because I had an Aunt Sis who died shortly after they were born — I didn’t know her real name (which is Cathy like me!) until I was about 12). Zachary is easily Zach but surprisingly Zachey. and Natalie currently calls HIM Sis…

  17. When we named our son William, we absolutely did not want to call him Billy. Bill isn’t bad, and I actually like Will. But we’ve had an open mind about nicknames. So far, my husband and I mostly call him William, but I’ve noticed when we’re using our stern voice, we often call him “Will,” which is funny because usually, the stern voice uses the full name! But anyway, I’ve asked William a few times if he likes to be called William or Will, and he answers “Will,” so I think in the end, that is what his peers will call him. I’m fine with that. In my family, though, I have four siblings, and four out of five of us go by our middle names. And that was done on purpose. We are all named after family, and my parents thought the names sounded better together with our given names as middle names. To further complicate things, My middle name is Elizabeth, but I’ve always been called Beth. So the first day of school always required a bit of explanation when the teacher got to my name! LOL. When I got married, I dropped my first name, so Elizabeth is now my first name, and my maiden name is my middle name. If we had had girls, I would not have made their lives quite as complicated!

  18. Only one of my daughters has a name that’s easily shortened, but they all have nicknames. The nicknames developed out of how they refer to each other. For instance, when trying to say Kassidy, her sisters originally said Tassie. The nickname stuck long after my daughters could say her name correctly. It’s pretty cute… but I wonder if the names will stick once they get to elementary school.

  19. Both babies have three names – all Hebrew. We considered giving them separate English names for their birth certificate (DH and I each have a first and middle name in both English and Hebrew). In the end we decided that that just confuses issues so we stuck with each of their first names in Hebrew as their legal names (and didn’t give them middle names on the birth certificate). Their legal names are both pretty short – Moshe and Malka (yes – both M’s – that was actually semi-coincidental).
    Moshe calls Malka either Lala or Maba (normally Maba – Lala is when they’re outside a little distance from each other and he’s looking for her). But we haven’t really come up with our own nickname for her yet.
    Moshe is just Moshe and from time to time I call him Mosh. Malka doesn’t call him yet. But the older kids have started taking to calling him Momo. That one irks DH a bit because it’s the more common nickname for Mordechai, which is his Hebrew name. But that may end up being the one that sticks.

  20. Great post! I was always known as “Chrissy” growing up, but I reverted back to Christine when I went to college. After college, people started calling me Chris of their own accord. Its funny, a few times I’ve introduced myself as Christine and immediately been asked “Don’t you have a nickname?” What- 3 syllables are too much for you?

    We call Madeleine Maddie, and also have issues with relatives spelling it “Maddy.” We also call her Mumu because she’s too young to object.

    We call Lily Lulu. Its not any shorter (obviously) but we dig it 😉

  21. I named my son Jake because I liked the nickname version better than the full Jacob. Our daughter is Mallory, & we have called her Mal or Mallory pretty much interchangeably since birth. My full name is Allison, but most of my friends & family call me Alli. I guess I think that parents get to pick nicknames when kids are little & then the kids can decide for themselves when they’re older. I definitely wouldn’t want someone else to start using a nickname for my kid if I preferred their full name.

  22. You sound like me! James is named after family members named James Dale (Dale), James Allen (Jim), James David (David), James William (Jimmy), and James (Jay). Since we already had a Jim, Jimmy, and Jay, we didn’t want him to get nicknamed with any of those. His middle name is Thomas, so we said, “If you want to nickname him, it will be JT and nothing else!” Most of us still call him James, though, because there haven’t been any others in his life.

    Andrew will probably always be Andrew unless he picks a nickname for himself. Dad likes Andy, and I like Drew. Andrew it is!

  23. Interesting! We named one child after my brother, but the name is not nicknamable, so we just call him by his full name. However, we named the other one a name that we like, but with the full intention of calling him the shortened version. (i.e named him Joshua but call him Josh since birth). So now the dilemma is Christmas stockings and such. Should I put “Joshua” on his stocking or “Josh”. Same with the necklace I want with their names on it.

    LauraC – HILARIOUS about calling the girl “terry”. We had two guys named Scott in our group, so we called one Scott and the other “Pretty Scott” or just “Pretty” because he was a metrosexual. HA! We also called Aaron “two A” because there was also an Erin. I call my husband by his last name more often than his first name, because that’s what everyone called him when we met.

  24. I’m not a big fan of nicknames so the names we picked had to at LEAST have nicknames that I didn’t mind – because I figured the nicknaming was inevitable. Madeline = Maddie. However she calls herself Madeline and her sister uses the full name as well when referring to her. I usually call her Maddie – unless she is in trouble and then it’s: “Madeline Marley!!!!!” LOL! Chloe is just Chloe although I find myself calling her Chlo. I also call them all sorts of other things. Maddie is frequently “Maddie Moose” and since day one we’ve always called them chicken nuggets when referring to both of them. There are still days when I’ll say “come on nuggets…we’re going to be late.”

    I truly think that if a nickname isn’t deliberately chosen by the parents from the word go that something will inevitably develop down the line – either given by family or peers. My name is Marnie. That’s it. It’s not short for anything – although people ask me that ALL the time. My parents liked it and also liked that there was no nickname. However, everyone – parents included – calls me “Marn.” I never tell people to call me that….it just usually happens after a couple of months.

    We’re having a heck of a time picking a name for the new baby. There are tons of boys names that I love but I don’t like any of the nicknames.

    Interesting post – cool topic…thanks :-)

  25. Great topic!

    While choosing names for our girls, my husband and I were very conscious of potential nicknames. We chose Amelia’s name first, after his aunt. However, the spelling was/is a bit controversial because it’s pronunciation in Portuguese is slightly different than in English. We spell it with an ‘A’ but pronounce it like the Portuguese, Emilia. Always confuses his relatives! We were also determined to call her Mila, a typical nickname for Amelia. Instead, my mother-in-law started calling her Mimi, which I hated! I nixed it, and thought Mimi was a distant memory until her sister busted out with it one day. Now, it’s impossible (even for me) not to call her Mimi given that I hear it at least a billion times a day! We also call her Mealy quite often.

    We had no nickname in mind for Ella, but oddly enough, she has the most — El, Ellie, Ella Bella, Elly Belly, Belly Boo-Boo…

  26. We tried that and used one syllable names like Grace, Kate, Miles, James…and now they are Graciegirl, Katiepants, Milesman, Mr James. Nicknames happen.

  27. We weren’t thinking nicknames when we named our children. We gave them names that we liked and their middle names are after family members. Their nicknames came after they were born.
    Nathaniel is Nate or Nates. Love is my nickname for him.
    Riley is Riley Roo or just Roo
    Jonathan(Riley’s twin) doesn’t really have a nickname. I think I will be using JD. J-Jonathan and D-David. He is named after my Uncle who passed away at 3yrs old. My Uncles name was Jon David. I may end up calling my son, Jon. I am not sure yet.
    My husband and I are the only ones who use their nicknames. Family members stick to their given names and that’s fine with me.

  28. Well, we have an extremely long German surname, so short names were in order when we had our twins! They are Ivy and Nina. You can make silly-sweet pet names with those names, but they can’t be shortened. I’ve never gone by a nickname, nor has my husband, so we didn’t give it much thought. A few very close friends call me Ellie or Elle — I’ve never thought of myself as either. My husband is sometimes called by his first initial. But lifelong nicknames, no.

    Timely post — I just recalled the other day that before a nephew was born, my SIL said that his name would be Andrew, nicknamed Drew. That was 8 years ago and “Drew” never happened.

  29. We deliberately chose names that could be shortened. Nathan -> Nate, and John -> Jack (who is named after my dad). Unfortunately no one seems to know that Jack is a nickname of John: Hello people! John/Jack Kennedy, anyone?! We only call him Jack, but it causes problems at the doctor, etc.

    We also have tons of “insider” nicknames for them, including “Goat-Boy” (Jack used to make these preemie goat noises when we brought him home from NICU), and “Sharkie” because he would always “shark” his head back and forth before eating (even nursing…ooh boy….).

    Nate is “Nater Nater mashed potater” and “Bear Bear” because he’s just so cuddly.

    Personally, I can’t stand it when people call me “Val”, but I figure they can insist on their full names when they get older if they want.

  30. My daughters name was decided on when I was 12 yrs old, Alexandra Elizabeth(after my best friend, who was called Ali by everyone). We call her Lexi. My son was named by my DH, Tristan Kenneth. So far everyone calls him by his given name. Tristan will say Lexi and his own name. Lexi will say Tristan, but has not said her own name yet.

  31. Great topic! DH and I picked a family name, William, for our “boy” name. We always planned on calling him Will. When we found out we were having twins, we had to come up with 6 name combos as we opted not to find out the sexes. We decided to go with another traditional boy name that could be shortened and easily spelled, thus Matthew. I have found that I only use the long name when they are in trouble or I am introducing them. Otherwise I use their short names or one of MANY silly nicknames.

  32. i don’t have much to add except to say that the girls have “nicknamed” themselves, which I wasn’t expecting. Chloe started refering to herself as “diggie” before she could really speak and even now will respond to that if she’s ignoring me calling her real name. Zoe is “do-do” and not b/c they can’t pronounce the Z, although it comes out a little french :)

    my family always called me B. couldn’t tell you why. I tend to refer to myself as B as well. Could explain why when I think of howie, I mentally think of him as H.

  33. When I found out I was having twins I refused to be one of those parents who picked rhyming names. I have always tried to ensure that the twins have their own personality and are treated as the individuals they are. That’s not to say that I don’t think it’s cute when other parents do rhyming names, because I do, it’s just not for me.

    Whether the names could be shortened was of no concern, but I certainly didn’t want names that were common. Nothing too far out there either, but something that was just different enough that they would most likely be the only one in their class with that name as they get older. Oh and nothing that could be turned into a horrible saying that would stay with them for life. Hence Marisol and Flynn

  34. Didn’t really think much about nick names with my oldest when we decided on Lennox…then before he was even born some people started to refer to him as Len or Lenny. I didn’t like that at all so much so I wanted to change the name we had decided on and were comfortable with. My husband convinced me it would be fine and there is only so much we could control. He will be 6 this August and you know what his nick name is Bub…don’t know where it came from but it’s what the family calls him and his friends all call him Lennox. Then my second son’s name is Aidan and for a long time he was Boodie because when he was little he looked just like a little Budha walking around. He’s mostly A or Aid. Then the girls…Cuba Faye and Cora Kensley. I know typical twin names but it felt right. Cuba Faye is a family name and Cora seemed to go well with it. Cuba became Cubie almost immediately and Cora has yet to receive a nick name. I think are base for name choosing was that they be unique but easy to spell and pronounce. Scary thing naming people!

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