making nicknames stickWondering about making nicknames stick?

For every parent who prefers to write Jack or Millie directly on their child’s birth certificate, there are others who embrace the idea of a formal name.

Neither approach is wrong. And some names lend themselves to obvious, automatic nicknames. Everyone assumes your Benjamin is Ben. I’d guess that most Abigails are instantly Abby.

But what if you’re using a less familiar nickname? Or even a downright unconventional one?

It takes a little more effort. And it can go wrong – particularly in those years before your child can speak up.

Some of these tips come from readers’ suggestions, but we’ve got plenty of personal experience with this one, too.

Our daughter has a non-intuitive nickname. When she was not-quite-three, my husband dropped her off at a program, with all of her paperwork explaining her legal name AND what she answered to. Somehow that key piece of information never made it to the teachers … and after a confusing morning, they finally realized the problem. And apologized. But honestly? Our kiddo didn’t seem to notice.

Read on for advice on making nicknames stick – most of the time!


Announce your child’s nickname at birth.

Depending on the forum, you might use just the nickname: Nell Smith-Jones or her full name: Eleanor “Nell” Maven Smith-Jones.

Or opt for the short and sweet nickname-only announcement with people in your extended circle, while only revealing her full name to family and close friends.

Use it exclusively and consistently when you talk about your child.

At least for a little while. Few of us immediately remember the names of all the newborns in our circles. It’s tough enough to cement one new name in our memories, so pick the one that you plan to use daily.

Recognize moments you’ll need to help others remember her nickname.

When you enroll your very young child in programs, make sure the teachers or staff realize that your Alexander is Sasha or Xan, not Alex. That might mean adding a note to an online form, labeling it all over his personal possessions, or even just handwriting it on paperwork. The dentist doesn’t necessarily need to know, but your childcare provider? Yeah, that matters.

Consider personalized backpacks and other gear.

If your baby is headed to organized childcare, he’s probably going with labels on everything already, right? This is a great way to reinforce his preferred name before he can speak up for himself. But sending in a lunchbox, nap blanket, or other item that reads Bo instead of Robert helps teachers recognize that yes, this nickname is actually what you intended.

Choose your battles.

Your parents dislike the idea of calling their sweet granddaughter Poppy? Let them call her Penelope. Or HoneyBun or SweetiePie.

When my daughter reached sixth grade, her beloved homeroom teacher called her by her first name instead of her everyday-use nickname. After years of reinforcing her nickname, it surprised me – and my daughter – to not mind at all. But that’s the thing – once 99% of the universe complies with your preferred name, it’s a little easier to gracefully issue a pass. (Especially when you know that the choice is coming from a good place.)

Be prepared to repeat, repeat, repeat.

“Oh, actually we call her Birdie,” rolls off the tongue – even the fourth time you remind your well-meaning neighbor. Names are important to everyone, but the number of names we can correctly remember varies. Reinforce rather than bristle, and chances are that your neighbor – and everyone else – will soon adopt your daughter’s nickname.

After your success, enjoy the surprise when your nine-year-old Billie reveals her real name to friends.

That might be my favorite part!

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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. Great topic! One more suggestion, which you’ve touched on: in every new situation, consider whether you *need* to mention the full name or not. Sometimes you do, but for casual things (sports club, store loyalty card etc) it may be fine to just use the nickname.

  2. My daughter has been trying out various other nicknames for Margaret while she’s in remote instruction instead of normal school. I’ve always told her that one reason we picked it is so that she has a lot of options if she ever wants to switch it up, though she’s always been called Maisy. We selected it at birth and were extra hardcore in our insistence that everyone accept it, because one close relative was trying to override our choice.

  3. I tried picking up a non-intuitive nickname when I was 12 and everyone was like nope, you’re locked in already! These tips all make a lot of sense

    1. OH that’s the worst! We really ought to be able to tweak our names as we grow, no question.

      1. It’s become easier with the internet in my opinion! All you do is change your name on zoom, email, twitter, or wherever, and most people will call you what you labeled yourself as, instead of referring to their own files in their brain.