Name Help: Avoiding NicknamesName Help is a series at Appellation Mountain. Every week, one reader’s name questions will be discussed.

We’re relying on thoughtful comments from the community to help expectant parents narrow down their name decisions. Thank you in advance for sharing your insight!

Taylor writes:

Our first child is due in March, and we had a name all ready to go: Josephine Mary. Mary is a family name on both sides. Josephine is the name I’ve loved for as long as I can remember. We’ve told others the name, because, well, not even a celebrity naming her surprise baby Josephine was going to put me off it.

But then I had my baby shower. And so many people I love referred to my daughter – even on cards – as Josie.

I do not like this name at all. It reminds me of the Drew Barrymore movie, where her nickname was Josie Gross-y. Yes, I realize that it’s kind of obvious, but … is this going to be a thing?

Please read on for my response, and leave your thoughtful suggestions in the comments.

Dear Taylor –

Congratulations on your new daughter! Josephine Mary is a gorgeous name, and I’m sorry you faced such an unexpected surprise at your baby shower.

Let’s take a few steps back:

First, we live in an age when lots of kids are William-not-Billy and Isabella-not-Belle. It’s pretty normal for even toddlers to answer to their full name, and I’ve found that teachers and other parents are generally pretty respectful of such requests.

Thinking back through my kids’ classmates and friends, there have been a few school-aged Josephines in our circles. One was always Josephine, without exception. Another one is always Josie. And a third is always Josephine at school, but I’m friendly with her mom, and I’ve heard her sometimes called Josie at home.

My guess is that this represents the full spectrum of possibilities: you can choose Josephine and never shorten it to Josie – or anything else! You can use a nickname 99% of the time. Or you can use her formal name most of the time, but reserve the right to call her Josie (or Fifi or Honey or Boo) at home, should the mood strike you.

So I think you can – and probably should proceed. Just plan on introducing her as Josephine, and gently correcting anyone who shortens it. This should work … most of the time.

I can think of a few tricky situations:

The people bestowing the unwanted nickname are her adoring grandparents. My husband’s parents have nicknames for our kids that no one else uses. This is fine. Along with extra candy and gifts I would NEVER buy, I chalk this up to grandparent privilege. (And I’d suggest most families do the same.)

Except if you’re lucky enough to have grandparents nearby, and they provide occasional – or regular – childcare. That’s a different kind of relationship, one where you’ll have to deal with lots of similar issues. If they’re you’re in-laws, then this one is on your husband. But if they’re your parents? This is one those issues you’ll have to handle. Polite-but-firm is a good guideline, and I’m guessing you’ll know how to talk to your parents best.

The person bestowing the nickname is another child. Some of the most interesting nicknames turn out to be the result of a slightly-older sibling or cousin struggling with the new baby’s name. (Or a future younger sibling/cousin.) These make for terribly sweet stories, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to love the name any better. I think you can acknowledge that it’s darling that cousin Sebastian can’t say Josephine without adopting whatever he happens to call her instead. Because for every family who retains the baby-talk nickname, there must be dozens and dozens who move on, right?

The person choosing the nickname is … your child! Here’s a really touchy subject. Let’s say you gracefully navigate a few well-meaning friends or family members who shorten your daughter’s name. Not even the sweet kid next door who calls her “baby Jojo” gives you a minute’s pause.

And then your adorable second grader comes home and announces she’s Josie. Or your newly independent high school freshman decides to shorten her name. Maybe it’s her middle school swim team who starts cheering on “Josie” during a meet and it all takes you by surprise – again.

This is a very different situation. At some point, our kids get to make their own decisions. And while you might be able to wait out a second grader, or even ignore the middle school nickname? Your child might eventually insist – and it’s awfully hard to say no. (I mean, you don’t have to call your kiddo Rainbow Sparkle, but Josie for Josephine doesn’t feel like an unreasonable request.)

But here’s the silver lining: you have a negative reaction to Josie today. It’s based on a 90s movie. (One that your daughter will probably never see.) Layer on four or five or ten or a dozen years of parenting this girl? And I’m guessing that Drew’s character will fade to a distant memory.

If your daughter asks for a nickname – and some kids do – you can suggest lots of things besides Josie.

But if your daughter asks to be called Josie? I’m guessing you might warm to the name when it’s your actual, flesh-and-blood, beloved daughter making the request.

Or you might be fine with her peers using the nickname, but feel more comfortable telling her that she’s still Josephine to you. Plenty of nicknames for kids seem situational – only on a sports team, maybe, or just among this one group of friends.

That’s a situation that you have time to figure out – if it ever happens.

Assuming you can navigate the first two hurdles, and figure out the third should the situation arise, my gut is to tell you to use the name you love – even if you occasionally have to explain that you prefer Josephine in full, thanks.

I can suggest plenty of substitutes for Josephine. Genevieve, maybe? Adelaide, Eloise, Georgia?

But my sense is that Josephine will work just fine.

One last note: when your daughter identifies as Josephine? Some of the work of correcting others falls to her. And that’s not a bad thing.

Let’s have a poll, and readers – have you ever had to avoid an unwanted nickname? Any advice?



Image by Khusen Rustamov from Pixabay

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 like Josephine. It’s the middle name of one of my favorite people who has helped me through a whole lot in my life. <3

    I never liked my birth name because of how common it was and how I got picked on at school because I have autism and making eye contact is hard for me so I never knew which girl the teacher was talking to (I also am deaf in one ear so I sometimes couldn't hear the teacher) but kids would laugh if I didn't answer and it just made me sad but the real reason I never liked my birth name was because my parents are divorced but before that my biological mom used to scream the name at me when I did something she didn't like.

    Because of that bad memory, my dad finally decided to change it to his name choice "Rachel", which I like better and feel like it suits me. I decided to go by Shelly with my family and people who knows me. Doctors and in more serious situations, it's Rachel. This is a name that I feel like is easier for me to answer to and say. "I'm Rachel, but you can call me Shelly."

    Best wishes to 2020,
    Shelly 🙂

  2. My daughter is Emmeline, and at the time Emma was THE hot thing. I kind of panicked while I was in labor because someone asked if we were planning to call her that, and I have a strong aversion to the name Emma. Our solution was to come up with an alternate nickname that could be offered to people who wanted to use one, so she’s Milly 90% of the time now.

    Another of my girls is Winifred-not-Winnie (except to Grandpa), and it works.

  3. My daughter is named Gloria, and we call her Glo about half the time. I didn’t even anticipate that a small handful of people would try to call her…Glory. Glory?! Ew. The first time shocked me and I didn’t say anything. The second time I (practiced ahead of time) just said, relaxed and nonchalant, “Oh she actually just goes by Gloria or Glo.” And then immediately moved on to another topic. Kept it relaxed, addressed it, did my best to not make myself look as neurotic as I actually am.
    But overall—like Abby said, lots of kids these days go by their full name, no nickname. It won’t be a big deal.

  4. I’d still use it, its beautiful, elegant and timeless I love the name but cannot use it as it’s my step aunts name. She gets called Pinny but I’d dive straight in and use Effie as a nickname. I also have the sense that when its your child you come to love there nicknames regardless. I never thought I’d have a Win but I do and I love that that is her nickname. Congratulations

  5. I suppose I am not an advocate of “given” nicknames, especially before the birth. We all know the though and effort it takes to come up with a baby name so why would anyone want to change or shorten it, other than the family? My niece is Josephine Eleanor, born in 1980 (family names). She has never been called Josie. Only one person ever called her anything other than Josephine and that was my Dad. He passed away several years ago. He always called her Joelle (rhymes with noel). I can’t recall there ever being a told a story about why or how he cam up with it, but to her, it was a special gift from him to her and she cherishes the memory. I grew up a child of the 50’s with a nicknamey name (Candy). I always wished for a grown up sounding name like Susan, especially now that I am a Grandma. She’s your own sweet baby, call her the name you have careful selected and gently remind others to do the same.

  6. If it makes it any better, when I read the headline of this Name Help, I immediately thought it was going to be “Jo”, and you love Josephine but don’t care for boyish nicknames on girls, or you always think of “Grandpa Joe”, or you like your nicknames a bit less curt…if you asked me, quick as I can, to come up with nicknames for Josephine, Josie would not be there. Jo, Posey, JoJo*, Pheenie, even Rosey-Posey. I just never think of Josie.

    *Which, due to my love of a certain anime series, is the current leader.

    Are the people who called her Josie people who, how should I put this…people who are above a certain age? Then it might be like calling a James by Jimmy, something I don’t think anyone under the age of 25 defaults to anymore. (Please, reply to tell me if I’m wrong, and it’s still something popular elsewhere!)