Baby Naming Advice: Nicknames or Formal NamesTime for baby naming advice: nicknames versus formal names.

And … drumroll please! This isn’t just a post, it’s also the launch of a video series called Abby Answers: Your Most Pressing Baby Naming Dilemmas, Resolved.

I’ll address the questions that come up again and again and again about choosing the name you love for your child.

Today we’re talking about one that vexes so many parents: Does Jake/Millie/Lucy/Nate/Gia need a formal name?

Feelings run high on this topic. Some parents won’t use a name like Lucy because it sounds like a diminutive. (Even though it’s not!) Others far prefer to write their child’s everyday use name on everything, so he’s Theo, not Theodore.

Me? I’m a nicknamer. But that doesn’t mean you have to be, too.

Baby Naming Advice: Nicknames versus Formal Names

I’ve argued the question both ways:

Watch the video here:


Baby Naming Advice: Nicknames on the Rise

I mentioned in the video that plenty of nickname-names are more popular than their formal names.

Looking at the current girls’ Top 100 list:

  • Lily outpaces Lillian, as well as lots of other Lil- names. (Real name fanatics will also know that Lily’s history is complex. It probably started out as a nickname for Elizabeth.)
  • Nora started out as a diminutive of Eleanor and similar choices, and it’s a few spots ahead of Eleanor today.
  • Ellie comes behind Eleanor, but way ahead of lots of other Ellie names.
  • Alexa ranks solidly ahead of Alexandra and company.
  • Sadie and Sarah were used in almost identical numbers in 2016.
  • Bella lags behind Isabella, but well ahead of Arabella.

As for the boys’ Top 100:

  • Jace comes in ahead of Jason by a few hundred births.
  • Leo counts as a complete given name, but it can be short for longer names.
  • Jack lags behind the classic John – at least in the US – but is wildly popular on its own, too.

At first glance, it appears that nickname names are replacing formal names for girls at a faster pace than boys, but I’m not sure that’s the case. Just beyond the Top 100, names like Max, Kai, Jude, Finn, Beau, and Jax straddle the formal name-nickname line. Mini names are big for boys and girls alike, and some – like Eli and Ian – might be short for something longer, even though they’re complete names on their own.

Names evolve. As the linguist John McWhorter says, “Language is a parade …” What feels like a formal name today might be perceived differently in another generation, and that’s true for nicknames, too.

As in all things naming, it’s always best to use the name you love. Even if that’s a name that others may occasionally perceive as a nickname.

Baby Naming Advice: Nicknames … what’s your take?

Where do you fall on the debate: do you prefer formal names? Or would you rather put the name you intend to use on your child’s birth certificate?

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

You May Also Like:

What do you think?


  1. I have a long unusual name with a somewhat forced nickname. Husband has a long classic name with a very natural automatic nickname.

    We both preferred a formal name that didn’t feel too diminutive, but whereas I love Ivy and Ezra, which are not nicknames but are brief, he specifically wanted a name with a nickname. I like that style too… it’s just not all my favourite names fit it.

    We have a girl name. The boy’s name I really like but I’m still looking at boy’s names waiting to see if I feel a distinct click.

  2. Bottom line- just because a name isn’t your personal cup of tea doesn’t mean that it isn’t a valid name and it doesn’t mean it can’t be worn by a future doctor or lawyer. I feel like if we choose a name based on our concerns about how they will be perceived, than we a fighting a loosing battle because no name is universal and no matter what you choose someone may not like it for one reason or another. That’s a big reason to choose the one you love, and not try to talk yourself out of it.
    Personally- I used longer names with nicknames for my girls, and short no-nickname names for my boys. It wasn’t a gender related choice, I just loved both the longer AND nickname forms of my girls names so opted to go that route for them. I like that it gives them options down the road and flexibility to change/choose, since names (like people) grow and evolve over time.
    That said even though I chose to give them longer formal names- I’ve had people point out that my girls names aren’t their “real names”. For example- “well my Belle is actually named belle and yours is Isabelle, right?”. Ugh. I say if they go by that name, than it’s their name too, just as much as their birth certificate name! We all just need to take a step back and stop being so judgmental about other people’s name choices.

  3. I’m in the kids-need-options camp, so we’re all about the formal name with full nickname options.

    Even if the first name is a stand-alone, one-syllable number, we like a good middle name, so there are options that way.

    We’re naming strangers (as Abby always mentions). We want our kids to hunt down their own identity. Longer names seem like a logical way to help them out. 🙂

    1. I tend to agree – but then, I had a VERY short first + middle name, and always lamented my lack of options.

  4. I love nicknames, especially ones that aren’t obvious. I think they add depth to a name, a back story. For example, I had a roommate named Gabrielle, but instead of using the expected Gabby, she went by Ellie. To me, it added so much personality to her name. She had her elegant formal name, but she also had a fun and sweet side to her name; and both fit her perfectly.

  5. Honestly, I’m not a huge nicknamer myself. But I definitely think that plenty of diminutives work on their own as given names. There are some exceptions that I see, however. If I met someone named Jack or Molly, I wouldn’t assume their given names to be John or Mary. When meeting a Jake or Abby, on the other hand, I would naturally assume that their given names were Jacob and Abigail. Maybe it’s because Jack is so different than John, while Jake simply sounds like a shortened version of Jacob.

  6. My personal style is long and formal with a great nickname. My son is Theodore and we call him Theo 99% of the time. We have a long, unusual last name, and it’s nice to have a short option, though I am drawn to longer names. So it’s the best of both worlds IMO.

  7. You do you. I like long, formal names with lots of nickname possibilities, myself. I’m also more lenient toward diminutive names that aren’t nicknames, or aren’t obvious ones. So I’d be more for a Jack than a Tom. Personal preference.

  8. It’s all worked out in the end as we’ve come to love the full name Katharine, but in retrospect I should have just named our 2nd daughter Kate. We used the full name because we wanted to honor the saint and it’s my mother’s name (different spelling). However I think Kate would have honored the two just as well and it was the name we both liked. It’s not so much that we prefer nicknames just that we prefer short names.