He’s a regal choice and a former member of that elite fraternity, the US Top Ten. But has he been sunk by his awkward nickname?
Thanks to Corinne for suggesting Richard as Name of the Day.
It sounds like a contradiction, but even classic baby names are subject to changes in fashion.
Henry and Mary have come and gone and sound fresh once again, but poor Richard is undeniably at an all-time low. He had quite a ways to fall, too.
From 1920 through 1970, Richard ranked between #5 and #10. In fact, he’d been among the most popular names for centuries. Along with William and John, Richard was one of the three most common choices for men in medieval England. Add in Robert and Thomas and you would have covered close to 70% of the male population. Sure, you might’ve met a Cuthbert. Children were customarily named after their godparents or possibly a close family member, and that tended to keep the pool of names small.
The Normans brought Richard to England, and one of their own, Richard the Lionheart became King in 1157. He hadn’t been expected to inherit, but his two older brothers died young. Richard commanded armies while still in his teens and led the Third Crusade shortly after being crowned. Even though he made his home in Aquitaine – the legendary Queen Eleanor was his mother – Richard was then, and remains, an English hero to many. Countless fictional retellings have appeared over the years, including The Lion in Winter, a drama adapted from stage for screen. Anthony Hopkins played the young Prince Richard in the 1968 version.
Other famous Richards followed, including:
- Two more kings of England;
- Composers Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss;
- Actors Richard Burton and Richard Gere;
- Music’s Dick Clark and Little Richard;
- Comedian Richard Pryor;
- Race car driver Richard Petty;
- Former Philadelphia Eagles coach Dick Vermeil and former NBA basketball coach Dick Vitale;
- Richard was the birth name of musicians Ringo Starr and Moby;
- Billionaire businessman Richard Branson;
- Vice President Dick Cheney and former President Richard Nixon.
The list goes on and on and on.
It’s tempting to attribute the decline of Richard to President Nixon. But the name had started to slide in the rankings before his scandal. Like many a popular name, there are just too many other accomplished Richards for one negative association to stick. (England’s King Richard III, at least in Shakespeare’s play, was a thoroughly dastardly character, but didn’t slow the name down.)
Instead, Richard seems to have exhausted his nicknames. Calling your little boy Dick today seems cruel. Rich and Rick came into vogue later. But neither feels quite right circa 2010.
So if you love Richard, what options remain? You can go nickname free, or consider:
- Medieval nickname Hud, the source of surname Hudson, which had climbed to #176 in 2008;
- Another surname option that might stand better on his own is Dixon;
- Rico is usually linked to the Spanish variant Ricardo, but you could use him with Richard, too;
- Here’s my favorite – Hardy, a surname that charted in the US from 1880 into 1950s, but has been quite rare since.
If you’re looking for a classic, Richard is an option much neglected of late. Think differently about nicknames, and you can sidestep Richard’s biggest drawback and still bestow this regal name on a son.