Richard I the Lionheart, King of England

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.

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. This is my husband’s name and I need advice! He has been called Dick since he was born. Back in the 60s/70s, it didn’t seem to have the connotation that it does now. Sometimes he uses his full name but he really seems to prefer the nickname that his whole family has always used for him. I am uncomfortable with this as the name gets more and more of an ugly veneer due to the way it is used popularly. What should I do? Do I keep referring to him that way or is there some way I can change it at this late date? I don’t like to cringe when I speak his name to someone. Has anyone else had experience with a name that has suddenly gone “bad”?

    1. Hi Wife – I’ve known a few Dicks – all 50+ at this point, I think, but maybe one or two a little bit younger. It strikes me as odd, too, in a general way, but I’ve never found it impossible to use as the person’s given name. I think the thing is this: your husband isn’t uncomfortable with his name, right? I would guess the only option you really have is to introduce him to others as Richard and to call him Honey, or the equivalent. Have you talked about it with him at all? It’s possible he wouldn’t mind being Richard – but it’s also possible that he has reasons for embracing his name. And, FWIW, I don’t know if the name is taking on any more social awkwardness – I suspect this is just an issue you’ve left unaddressed for so long that it feels more and more uncomfortable for you. And that’s valid, and should be discussed – but it’s equally valid for him to shrug it off. It’s possible that, after so many years, he just feels like it is his name, nevermind the occasional snicker.

  2. Richard is my darling husband’s name, and I’ve always thought it was an underused classic. Every Richard I’ve ever known has been smart, good-looking and sexy, so I guess it helps that I have good associations with the name. It sounds a bit dated now, but I can definitely see it coming back now that many names that used to sound like “old man names” (like Henry and Edward) are back in vogue.

  3. Richard is a nice classic. It is a family name, so I always debate whether I should include it on my list.

  4. I know what you all mean about Richard but – and maybe this is because it’s a family name – I rather like Richard. The nicknames are an issue I’ll admit, as is the ‘hard’ sound but all in all, Richard gets the thumbs up from me. ‘Richard’ implies strength, power, tradition and trustworthiness and I would definitely consider him in the middle to honour a relative or (shock horror) maybe as a first name! The trouble is that try though I might, I just can’t see it on a baby…

  5. My nephew is Joseph Richard, named after his both of his maternal great-grandfathers. When he was born I thought the name was too stogy, but now it suits him. However, I know he HATES his middle name and refuses to tell his peers what that it’s Richard. So that’s something to think about.

  6. Richard is my husband’s middle name… sometimes I forget that, though, because it sounds so serious, sleazy and middle aged that it doesn’t fit him at all. Still, I’ve thought about using it to honor him, possibly. I’ve thought of the nickname Hardy, too, I think it’s cute! It’s unfortunate, if this was 50 or so years ago, I would have loved Dick. I think it’s quite cute, Dickie. But I would never use it now.

    I’m so glad to hear that it’s the source for Hudson! I have other family ties to Hudson, so this is wonderful news!

  7. You forgot about Dick Van Dyke and Rick Springfield! Nevertheless, this classic name is not among my favorites. However if it was a family name that I felt obligated to use, I would rejoice at learning of options like Hud and Hardy!

  8. Well, I tend to like those Englishy King/Leadery type names… George is my son’s middle name and it could easily have been his first (we waffled for a couple of days after he was born… until the birth records lady in the hospital made a visit to lecture me that she just HAD to file the paperwork on my kid! – I had a really hard time not laughing at her, by the way, and the bemused smile I wore throughout her haranguing apparently ticked her off something awful by the look on her face!). Henry, William, Oliver, James Charles, even Alfred – yep, like ’em. So, maybe not all of them: Ethelred, Ethelbald, Eadred, Eadwig, and Egburt are not my thing, but those are the old-school kings. But Richard? I have to say, I’m not a fan… or maybe, I wasn’t…

    Richard just sounded slimy to me. The nickname options were not helping matters: Rick (sounds dated to me), Rich (not into the wealth association a la Richy Rich – a problem the gaining Cash shares IMHO), and Dick (need I comment?)…

    …And then you said Hardy. Wow! The name did a veritable 180! I certainly get UrbanAngel’s comment on the hard part of Hardy and admit I need a bit of time to let it all come together in my head, but Hardy could possibly make all the difference. Hud is OK too, but it wasn’t enough, but with two acceptable nns, well, Richard is sounding more appealing to me!

    Still, it is apparently fodder for comedy currently – The New Adventures of Old Christine features an ex-husband and a son called Richard… they lay off the direct jokes, but it always had that whiff of comedy without actually saying it to me. I’m not quite sure that Hud and Hardy will get me past that… but they’re definitely going a long way toward doing so.

    1. Hardy was one of those 180 moments for me, too. I knew a real jerk named Richard, but I also knew a bunch of nice guys who wore the name. (Inevitable, I guess, given how common it was for so long.) I’ve yet to convince anyone to use it, but I do like Hardy. Thomas Hardy, The Hardy Boys, sounds like hearty …

  9. I actually known someone who goes by Dick.His first name is Desmond, but he calls himself Dick. To be honest, he isn