I’m a huge fan of nickname-rich names. My daughter’s name is a study in reinventing family names. Failing to figure out a preferred short form for my son bothers me still, more than eight years later. And I legally altered my own name out of frustration that I didn’t have any options to change up my super-short birth name.
Still, we live in an informal age. It’s easy to argue that you should pen your child’s everyday name on the birth certificate. And plenty of kids answer to Isabella, thanks, not Izzy or Ibby or Bella, proving that even the longest names don’t require any abbreviation.
A few words on terms:
- Strictly speaking, nicknames are things like Pumpkin or Red.
- Trixie for Beatrix or Billy for William is a diminutive.
- Or maybe a hypocoristic - especially if your daughter’s name is Elizabeth but you call her Bunny.
- While English isn’t big on them, other languages tend to favor elaborations, like Antonella for Antonia.
There’s more than one way to get to a nickname, and there are those that children outgrow, as well as ones that stay with us for life.
But back to the question at hand: why should you choose a formal name, and then immediately proceed to call your child something entirely other?
10. You’ll make room for cute, even silly short forms.
Not sure if Lulu works on a district attorney? Fretting that Freddie won’t be taken seriously someday? Going with Louisa and Frederick on the birth certificate is a fallback.
9. They signal the gravity of a formal occasion.
In religious and academic ceremonies, a formal name can emphasize the gravity of the occasion. Make no mistake - Callie can earn her PhD and walk down the aisle, too, but Caroline is the equivalent of a special occasion dress.
8. It can honor a loved one while still making space for individual identity.
Naming a child after grandma Betsy is simpler if her given name is Elizabeth. You, too, can write Elizabeth on the birth certificate but call your little girl Eliza. It can even make a family name dance. Katherine might always the firstborn girl’s name in your family, but Kiki is your daughter.
7. Formal names can soften a trendy or risky name.
Let’s say you love Jax, but fear that your son will hate it some day. Naming him John or James Xavier leaves space for Jax to keep his super cool appellation – or change it to Jack or Jamie or James down the road.
6. Diminutives signal familiarity and affection.
When I’m home, I answer to other names. Those names are subject to elaboration and revision. If your family is a nicknaming family, nickname-rich possibilities are welcome. (Though, for the record, if you’re a nicknaming family, there’s very little that will prevent nicknames.)
On a more practical note, a telemarketer can only call you William. Your friends and loved ones will know if it is Will, Billy, or Bud.
5. It can eliminate repeating name drama.
A very popular name rich with nickname options might be easier to wear than one without. Two classmates named Ava will always be Ava S. and Ava R. But two classmates named Isabella might be Isabella and Bella.
This is even more useful in family situations, where siblings want to pass down the same set of family names. You and your sister can both names your boys after grandpa Robert, as long as one kiddo is Robbie and the other is Bo.
4. It can make an unusual family name, or an ethnic name more wearable.
Want to embrace your heritage, but give your child a wearable name for everyday use? Plenty of imports offer this option. The Indian name Vivek shortens to Vik; Nikhil to Nik.
In other cases, the possibility of a nickname can make an unusual name more accessible. Considering using grandma’s maiden name for a daughter, but worried that Adair will object? She can always answer to Addie.
3. You might be wrong about not being the nickname type.
I suspect that first-time parents settle on nickname-proof choices, only to be handed a cuddly little baby and realize that more natural to call him Booboo Bear than Bryson. We learn a lot about ourselves when we become parents. Even if you’ve never bestowed an affectionate nickname on a friend or pet, a baby can be different. Suddenly you’re calling your daughter Ry-Ry instead of Riley.
2. Nickname-rich names leave options for growth and change.
An adorable baby Charlie is one thing. But as your son grows up, he might feel more like a Charles. We’ll have to see what happens in the UK, with all of those babies called Alfie. Will some of them want to be Alfred?
But it isn’t just about growing out of an informal name. Sometimes it is about change. Maggie can be a college professor just as easily as Margaret. But what if your Margaret-called-Maggie just plain prefers Greta or Margo? The possibility of reinvention is the gift of a nickname-rich name.
Likewise, a nickname-rich name lets you look at your son William and realize he isn’t a Liam - he’s a Will.
1. Nickname-rich names preserve choice for your child.
It’s tough to make over a mini skirt, but a ball gown has lots of fabric to work with. The same is true of mini names versus more elaborate ones. Your Alexandra can shift identities without ever changing her legal name. That’s not so easy if you name her Lexi.
Where do you stand on nicknames? Do you prefer nickname-rich choices, or would you rather have your child’s everyday name on the birth certificate? Does your given name have nicknames?