Mailbag April 2015Back in February, there was a week without a #namehelp question.

After a flicker of panic – what, no post on Saturday? – I realized that there were tons of questions waitinilmore to be answered. They weren’t long enough to make for a full post individually.

And so, the Mailbag posts were born.

I also answer these kinds of questions in the new Appellation Mountain newsletter, delivered every Wednesday. If you aren’t already subscribing, you can sign up right here:

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I have a fun idea for a newsletter subscriber-only contest coming up in a few weeks, so you don’t want to miss out!

Now, on to the mail …

What are some great nicknames for Penelope?

Before I answer this question, let me answer the one you didn’t ask, but that others will:

Why name her Penelope if you’re going to call her something else?! Just put Nell/Poppy/Polly on her birth certificate!

When it comes to names, styles and strategies vary. This kind of comment pops up all the time on these questions. And I get it, I do. There are valid reasons to skip the formal name, and I’d never argue with someone who wanted to name her son just Jake or her daughter Kate, not Katherine.

But the opposite is also true. There are great reasons to give your child a formal name, while choosing a shorter form for everyday use.

Now back to the original question!

Penelope has great nickname potential. Besides Penny, there’s Nell, Pippa, Polly, Poppy, Lola, Pixie, Posy, and Pepper. And more, just waiting to be discovered. Penna? Nella? Nola, maybe?

I’m looking for a formal name for the nickname Rory, for a girl.

See what I mean about lots of parents liking the idea of formal names/nicknames? Versatility is a big reason.

Happily, Rory works with lots of potential feminine forms. And elegant is the word to describe many of them!

You can always go the Gilmore Girls route and use Lorelei (the more traditional spelling) or Lorelai (the spelling popularized by the show). One advantage? Anyone who has seen an episode will likely have the sense that Rory is short for Lorelei. Even though it wasn’t until the mother-daughter series debuted.

Aurora is another possibility, and one of my favorite ways to get to Rory.

Then there’s retro Marjorie, a name that re-entered the US Top 1000 for girls in 2013.

Cover of "Coraline (Single-Disc Edition w...

A lot of the Cora names would satisfy, too. Coralie, maybe? Or Coraline?

There are some more possibilities listed here.

I’m looking for elegant names that can be shortened to boyish ones.

For a long time, this was the kind of name I wanted to have. I wanted to be Alexandrine, known as Alex. Or Josephine, known as Jo. Examples of appealing characters with names in this style are found from Little Women to Who’s the Boss.

The list of possibilities is long, and grows longer still the more liberally you define “boyish” and “elegant.” Cordelia called Coco? That seems to fit the spirit of the question, even though Coco isn’t conventionally masculine.

Let’s start with a few that I think are interesting:

  • Charlie for Charlotte, or possibly Caroline. In many ways, it’s a safe choice. Charlie is catching on for girls and boys. Charlotte is even more popular. Charlie from Caroline is the tiniest bit more of a stretch, but works just fine.
  • Jacy or Jacey for Jacinta or Jacinda. Again, not exactly a boy’s name, but definitely a boyish feel. Jacinta is the Spanish form of Hyacinth. Jacinda is respelling that takes it closer to Lucinda and Melinda and dozens of names familiar in American English.
  • Georgie or Jory for Georgia, Georgina, or Georgiana. Feels retro and sassy and unexpected, without being really out there.
  • Frankie for Frances or Francesca or Francisca. Also Freddie for Frederica or Fredericka. Frankie might get a boost thanks to Drew Barrymore’s new daughter. Freddie remains less familiar. But I think they both work.
  • Davy for Davina. I blame Judy Blume’s Tiger Eyes for making me love the idea of Davy/Davey as a girl’s name. (I don’t recall why her heroine is named Davey, though – anyone remember if there was an explanation?) And Davina seems elegant, unexpected, on-trend. Other feminine forms of David I’ve sent: Dava and Davinia.
  • Nico strikes me as a truly gender neutral name, but would fit into this list if it were short for Veronica, Annika, Nicola, or another feminine name with a strong ‘nic’ sound. Is Nicosia too bold?

Does Dolly work as a nickname for Dahlia? How do you spell it?

The Dolly Sisters (film)

Yup, the nickname questions just keep coming!

Let’s start here: if you name your daughter Dahlia, it’s no surprise that you’ll find yourself shortening Dahlia to Dolly.

When it’s spoken, it works.

But when you write Dolly for Dahlia, it looks disconnected.

Swapping the “ahl” for an “oll” seems slightly off. Maybe that’s because we sort of know that Dolly is a traditional nickname for Dorothy. And we might also think of Dolly as short for Dolores. So should Dahlia called Dolly actually be … Dally?

I don’t think so. In this case, there’s a conventional spelling for the preferred short form. If Dolly is the sound you’re going for, I’d spell the nickname Dolly.

In similar cases, I’ve given the opposite advice. I’d spell London’s nickname Lonny, even though it rhymes with sunny, not Johnny. There’s no absolute right way, but if there *is* a familiar spelling that gets you to the right sound and looks like an accepted given name? Then I’d use that.

Is Petra a popular name in Germany?

Ooh … this is a tough one for me. The little I’ve gleaned about German name trends over the years is just enough to tell me that I don’t understand the landscape.

It’s even tougher because Germany doesn’t publish an official stats list.

But not all hope is lost! While this is an unofficial compilation, First Names Germany seems to have a pretty reliable database stretching back over a century plus.

Based on those numbers, it looks like Petra had a good run in the 1950s and 60s, ranking in the unofficial German Top Ten for around twenty years. A quick Google search turns up plenty of accomplished German women by the name – athletes, performers, a politician or two.

So Petra was a popular name in Germany. But I’d guess that Petra is the rough equivalent of Lisa in the US. Familiar, and you know a few – but not a name you’d expect to hear on a baby.

Petra is popular today in Eastern Europe, including Hungary and Croatia. In the US, it’s pretty obscure, but I think Petra would make a great name for a child today.

Got any questions you’d like to see answered in a future Mailbag post or weekly newsletter? Please leave a comment! 

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.

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What do you think?


  1. I know a Joanna who sometimes goes by Jody. I love Bertie/Birdie/Bernie for Alberta, Robin/Roberta, or Bernadette. Mattie for Matilda is also lovely, as is Nat for Natalie, Kit for Katherine or Christine, Andy for Andrea or Amanda, Lindy for Linden or Lucinda, Rhett for Loretta, Vic for Victoria, or Vinny for Lavinia.

  2. Favourite nicknames for Penelope are Pepper and Penny.

    Dahlia – Dolly works for me. I know Aussies say day-lee-ah but I say doll-ya. (It’s also named after a guy named Dahl, you guys… sorry I’ve had this US/Aussie debate with my inlaws lol)

    I would ALWAYS spell it Dolly with the -y and Dottie with the -ie. Because.

    Favourite boyish nick/elegant names are:
    Billie – Sybilla
    Teddie OR Theo – Theodora.
    Gus – Augusta.
    Rocky – Raquela, Roxana.
    Rory – Rosemary, Rosario, Aurora – double question answer!

  3. I think Dolly must only work as a nickname for Dahlia in North America – they sound quite unlike to me.

    Girl to boy – Augusta or Augustine, nicknamed Gus.

  4. I’d add Donatella called Donny to the list of elegant names that shorten to masculine nicknames (I can’t be the only person who finds Donny adorable!)

  5. I would add:
    Evan for Evangeline, Dan(i) for Danielle/Danica, Ed for Edwina, Jack for Jacqueline, Sam for Samantha, Teddy for Theodora, Hank for Henrietta, Harry for Harriet, Max for Maxine, Jo for Josephine or Marjorie, Steve for Stephanie, Andy for Andrea, Will for Willamina/Wilhelmina/Willow, Gabe for Gabrielle/a, Lou for Louisa, Gus for Augusta, Leo for Leonora, Mickey/Micki for Michaela/Michelle, Mel for Melanie/Amelia, Cole for Nicole, Tom/Tommy/Tommi for Thomasina

  6. I know dogs are not the same as people… but… my dog is Daltrey (after Roger Daltrey of the Who) and her nickname is Dally, and we’ve always spelled it Dally and it doesn’t confuse.

    “Daltrey” though, gets a lot of funny looks. I still love it though. If she hadn’t been my dog for 10 years, I would give it serious consideration for a daughter.