Name 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!
Our daughter is due in May, and we can’t wait to meet her! I want to name her Charlotte. Yes, I know, I know. It’s very popular and there’s the princess and all that. But I named my dolls Charlotte, my hamster Charlotte, and it’s the only name I can imagine using. So, done.
Here’s the problem: I love nicknames. My nieces have sweet nicknames, and I want the same for my daughter.
What I do not want is the nickname Charlie. I’ve been girl-Jordan for years, and my husband is a guy named Taylor. It gets old. If she wants to be Charlie someday, that’s one thing. But I hope not.
I’d like to call our Charlotte Lottie. Besides the fact that it’s a girl name, I like the idea that there aren’t as many Lotties as there are Charlottes and Charlies. (We know a couple of Charlies already.)
But my mom tells me no one will call her Lottie. She’s got all these stories about parents who planned one nickname, but ended up using another one that they really didn’t like, like her Uncle Albert, who hated being called Al, but pretty much everyone did anyway.
Am I asking for trouble?
Please read on for my response, and leave your thoughtful suggestions in the comments.
Dear Jordan –
Congratulations on your new daughter!
And oh, have I been where you are.
When our son was born, I wasn’t wild about the idea of calling him Alex, even though it’s the default nickname for Alexander. My husband was fine with Alex. I figured a nickname would evolve. So I let it go, and then realized that it’s pretty tough to undo these kinds of assumptions. Years later, he loves the name Alex, and it suits him – but I always wonder what might have been.
When our daughter came along, we planned to use a crazy nickname, not obviously connected to her given name at all. And it worked! Here’s my best advice on how to make an unexpected nickname stick.
First, introduce your child by the nickname.
You know that saying “begin as you mean to go on?”
Totally applies here.
Introduce your daughter as Lottie. Just Lottie. Don’t volunteer Charlotte, even though you love the name just as much. Many of us struggle to remember names, and we’ll never keep Lottie-Charlotte straight.
Second, use the nickname All. The. Time.
It’s not that you don’t love Charlotte every bit as much. It’s just that, at least in public, you’re trying to reinforce Lottie rather than Charlotte. So when you talk about her in the third person, it’s Lottie.
When you do share her full name, lead with her nickname.
Of course, sometimes you want to share her full name. When you do, try something like this:
Lottie is here! Born 5-1-19 at 4:10 AM, 7 lbs, 6 ounces. Welcome to the world, Charlotte “Lottie” MiddleName LastName. We love you so much already.
It makes it clear that you intend others to call her Lottie, too.
List her nickname on forms.
If you’re registering her for child care or a music time or baby swim lessons, put Lottie on her form.
Yes, you may need to list her full legal name, too. But lead with Lottie. Or add a line that indicates her nickname is Lottie. Some programs have this line already; really, they all should!
We do this everywhere except the pediatrician and dentist. Why? If you walk into a class and find your daughter’s name is already on her cubby or tambourine or what-have-you, this ups the chances that it will say Lottie. Which means all the other kids and parents you meet will think of her as Lottie, not Charlotte.
If someone does call her Charlotte …
You may want to refer to her as Lottie. Or even gently say, “oh, yes, but we’re calling her Lottie.”
When I said something similar to my sweet older neighbor as she held my days-old daughter, she said, “Okay, you’re going with that? Well, then, hello, Miss Clio. It’s nice to meet you.” Because most people do want to get your name – and your children’s names – right. Even when it surprises them!
Repeat, repeat, repeat.
If you call your daughter Lottie, the world will almost certainly follow suit. We don’t ask our neighbors for copies of their children’s birth certificates. No one pauses at the playground and says, “Wait, what’s your toddler’s full name?”
They’ll remember that your daughter’s name is Lottie, and that’s all that matters.
Maybe embroider it on something.
My daughter’s bottles had labels with her nickname. So did her snack containers. It’s what I wrote on the inside of her jacket. It’s not necessary, but it does help the world recognize that you have a preferred nickname, and here it is in embroidery thread/Sharpie marker/cute plastic label with a ducky on it, too.
Wait, what’s the big deal about using both?
Nothing at all! The older my daughter gets, the more likely I am to use her formal name. But here’s the thing: parents know the name Charlotte. It’s the one they’re almost certainly more likely to remember. You’re trying to ensure that they use Lottie instead.
I suppose your mom might – and could – use Charlotte. Grandparents, I think, deserve some latitude. But my guess? They’ll default to Lottie, too. That’s because you’re not just teaching The World at Large your daughter’s name. You’re also teaching your daughter. And when your 2-year old refers to herself as Lottie? And your kindergartener practicies writing L-O-T-T-I-E in crayon? You’re good then. She can pretty much take it from there.
So go with your plan. Charlotte-called-Lottie is a great name, and it’s one that you loved forever. A little bit of deliberate reinforcement on your part will
Readers, what’s your best advice for helping others to understand – and use – your preferred nickname?
Totally agree with the above. My son Matthew is now 20.from 18 months until he went to High School, he was “Mattigan,” a name I found I loved, and was more unique than Matthew. So I did all of the above, which was a leeeetle hard as he didn’t start out as Mattigan. Especially the name badges thing, I made a shirt with “Mattigan” on it when we changed it so everyone would know! And it worked. In high school he was known as Matt and nor “professionally” likes Matthew (he’s in 2nd year Uni – we live in Australia) but Mattigan is the sweet little boy he was. Hope all goes well with your Lottie!
This is definitely great advice!
I love Lottie. If I had a Charlotte, that’s what I would call her. It is such an adorable, underused nickname!
I am a day late coming to this. One of my first childhood heroes was a woman named Lottie Moon. She was a Southern Baptist Missionary to China (1873-1912). We learned about her in Sunbeams (a class for children that focused on missions) and at Christmas, there was always a big foreign missions fund campaign which was named after her. She was always called ‘Lottie’ (even though this was a nickname).
tp b says
My only reservation is that if you really only ever are using Lottie, you may have naming remorse about not actually using Charlotte, the name you love. You’ll only be hearing it in official settings, like a doctors visit, and that could be grounds for a bit of regret over time. Think about it for a bit – would you be ok with this?
Charlotte doesn’t necessarily need a nickname. It’s beautiful in it’s own right.
Another possibility is to use the two names interchangeably. We’ve had success using first and nickname interchangeably. For example, our eldest is an nn Eve, first name Evelyn. It’s a nice way to vary things up when you’re calling her in to dinner, etc. In your case, I wouldn’t default Charlotte to Charlie – Lottie feels like a fairly natural fit. So I don’t think you’re in the same degree of danger as Alexander to Alex.
That said, you may have grown more attached to the nn. For some of our girls we’re more attached to the nn than the first name, so we’re at peace not using the first name. Our fifth daughter is a nn Bess, first name Elisabeth. We definitely like the name Elisabeth, but love calling her Bess. We’re ok for Elisabeth to be her doctor’s office name.
Something to consider. I reckon in this case, it would also be fairly easy to change your mind later – increase or decrease the use of the nn.
The Mrs. says
This might have just become my favorite of your posts, Abby.
Everything is in perfect pitch.
All four of my girls have first names that are abstract nouns, but each of them has a down-to-earth, familiar nickname. I love that they’re able to have whichever identity they prefer.
As far as grandparents go, they insisted calling my third daughter by her full first name until, one day, she squared her little two-year-old shoulders and said in exasperation, “No, Gwampa! My name’s *insert nickname here*!” That cured them.
Erin Beth says
I absolutely love Charlotte nn Lottie and I hope you use it! I know a few Charlottes of varying ages and none of them use a nickname, so I certainly don’t think Charlie is inevitable. Worst case, she’d end up defaulting to Charlotte, but it’s a really lovely name. I wouldn’t worry if I were you.
I make sure to only introduce myself as Panya, never as my given name of Stephanie, except as Abby said at places like the doctor and other places where my legal name is required. Of course, the people at the doctor’s office try to shorten it to Steph when they call me in and I *HATE* it — that’s one of the reasons I go by Panya instead of Stephanie, to avoid Steph. If I’m standing right next to the person saying Steph then I always correct them with something like “-anie. Stephanie or Panya, not Steph.” Then, if there’s time and they’re friendly, we can have a short conversation about how I got Panya. My mom only calls me Stephanie, *never* anything else.
My husband prefers to be called by his given name William, but when he put that on his name tag at work his coworkers tried to shorten it to Will, which he dislikes and has never gone by, so he had to get a new name tag with Bill on it. [And shockingly to ‘name people’ like me, some of his coworkers were baffled and didn’t understand how he got Bill from William!]
I just read a post on reddit about UK couple naming their daughter Disney. I don’t know if I could be that brave, but I hope that girl will grow up singing all disney songs…
I think Lottie makes complete sense and should stick just as easily as Char or Charlie. Love it!
I love that you’re going to call your Charlotte ‘Lottie’, so refreshing! I love all of this advice. I think the only wild card is whether you have any less respectful family or friends. I know a family with an Elizabeth that they planned to call Betty from day one. The maternal grandparents decided Betty wasn’t suited to the baby and call her other nicknames instead and not consistently. Never Betty.
Lottie should totally work with people you meet in future though. There are a number of kids we know, in my daughters classes, that go by nicknames that we didn’t know until later, were nicknames. People are choosing nickname names more and more and I’ll bet a lot of people won’t ever know she’s Charlotte.
This is my question!!! And there is a lot of great advice above on how to get a nickname to stick. But what about when you want no nickname?!
I too am in love with Alexander, but I dislike almost all the nicknames. Well, some are cool but not my preferred name for my son. I would choose Alexander because I’d want to call him Alexander. But, at four syllables, no one else is likely to.
How to you make the full name stick? Does consistent repetition and correction still work? Or do people just dismiss it as the formal name and go on assuming that he **must** go by a nickname. My fear is that the lack of an identified nickname may be seen as free license to come up with one?!?!?
My son had a classmate named Sebastian, no-nickname-please. It was tough when he was little because a) toddlers can’t quite say Sebastian and b) it’s a big, grand name for a cuddly little boy. His mom was pretty vigilant about it, and even spoke to one of their nursery school teachers about avoiding nicknames. After a while, we all just called him Sebastian, all of the time.
So yes … constant repetition + correction DO work. We’ve known plenty of kids who are kids who are Caroline, Santiago, Isabella, Christopher, Cordelia, and other longer, more elaborate names without shortening them.
But, but, but … what IF your Alexander wants a nickname? My Alexander is Alex all. the. time. Despite my attempts to come up with alternate nicknames! So that last part, about when your child takes over introducing himself? That’s when you have to give up control.
My guess is that most of us (mostly) accept what our children prefer. Things feel different when your kids is 9 or 12 or 14. There is one possible nickname that our daughter could’ve embraced (and could still) that would be downright weird. (My husband’s ex-girlfriend’s nickname.) But if she came home and told me she was now going by that name? Oh well. I don’t think I could have said that when she was just a few weeks old!
Thanks Abby for your thoughtful reply! I appreciate it. Good to know it can work!! And your right, at some point it is no longer our choice. Glad to know that seems to feel less poignant by then!!
I don’t like nicknames for my kids and I worried a lot when I went with Emeline for my third child (the oldest two have more nick-name proof names), but people really do call your child what you call your child. I have never had anyone call her anything but Emeline. We’ve called her Emeline Bea at home since she was born, and now that she is 12 and her name is firmly Emeline to all and sundry, I will sometimes call her Bea for fun because I don’t worry at all about anyone else calling her anything other than Emeline.
If you call her Lottie then other people will follow suit. That really has been my experience.
KayVee, I’m so curious, what is your non-standard nickname for Stephen?
Shep or sometimes Sheppy. My Shep is the sixth over five generations.
As a mom of an Elizabeth, nn Lily (now a teenager), this is PERFECT advice!!! Well done.
Mandie L. says
I went into a panic just before my daughter Emmeline was born because I did NOT want her called “Emma”. Normally we’re an “organic nickname” family, but with that one we brainstormed ahead of time and I fell in love with “Milly” – which is not the most intuitive nickname for Emmeline, by a long shot.
We proceeded just as Abby describes above. We called her Milly, introduced her as Milly, wrote Milly on her diaper bag tag, etc. Now that she is 6 I tend to call her Emmeline at home, but she is Milly pretty much everywhere else and it has most definitely “stuck.”
Meredith S says
This is great advice! Here in the south, nicknames, calling a child by their middle name, and double names are all very common. I have seen dozens of birth announcements that identify the child’s preferred name right along side the full formal name, and everyone gets it. I actually know a young Charlotte who exclusively goes by Lottie. What a precious name! Congrats!
This is great advice.
My son’s name is Stephen but he’s gone by a non-standard nickname since birth. It’s my family’s default nickname for Stephen so they were never as issue. My in-laws were great and asked what we call him and have done the same without issue.
My son is still a toddler but I never introduce him with his given name. I always use his nickname. It occasionally leads to questions but people have been very good about following my lead. Including my pediatrician’s office who put the nickname on his records so that doctor visits are more comfortable and familiar.
This is really useful – thank you, Abby! My husband and I have a preferred name-nickname that we want to use for a firstborn son one day. I like the full name, but it’s relatively unusual. We think its nickname is more palatable, and better for everyday use. There’s some great, practical advice here on how to make that nickname stick!