Are There Rules For Nicknames?

Filed under: Baby Names


"I was named Margaret when I was born but have been called Peggy all my life. Where in the world does Peggy become a nickname for Margaret? I hate Margaret."

"Given name = Richard. Where does nickname 'Dick' come from?"

"I've liked the name Katie ever since I was a little girl. We've chosen
Caemlyn as a first name and I'd like to use Catie as a nickname. Is this asking for trouble?"


The Name Lady's Recipe For a Modern Nickname: Take first syllable of name. Add -y to taste. Let stand until bored.

Once upon a time, nicknames went deeper. We took bits and pieces of formal names, combined them, stretched them and tweaked them. They evolved over time, with Rich spinning off into Rick, which in turn became Dick. William gave us Will, then Bill; Margaret was Marge, then Meg, then Peg. Did you even realize that Polly was "short" for Mary, via Molly?

This nickname buffet was essential back in the days when formal names were in short supply. In 18th-century England, the top three boys' and girls' names accounted for half of the population. With every village crammed with Marys, some Mollys and Pollys helped sort neighbors out.

Today, given names are spectacularly diverse. The top three American names together cover just one out of every 36 babies born. When it comes to nicknames, though, we've become oddly timid. Most families stick to the most obvious nicknames, like ... Nick. (Nicholas can also be Colin, Klaus, Nico, Cole or Nils, after all.) When we do dig deeper, choosing a name like Maisie for Margaret, we usually abandon the formal name altogether and write the nickname on the birth certificate.

When a mom worries that a choice as simple as Catie for Caemlyn is "asking for trouble," we've gone too far. An inspired nickname can be a gift to a child. If you love Catie, I don't see any reason not to use it. Just remember that, as always, it will be the child herself who determines whether the nickname sticks.

p.s. Caemlyn's mom -- brace yourself for a flood of responses from people who think your mistake isn't the nickname but the sci-fi given name.

How did you choose a nickname? Share your experiences here! And if you have your own question to Ask the Name Lady, drop her a line!

Related: Saying Yes To Prenatal Vitamins

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.