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Are There Rules for Nicknames?

"I was named Margaret when I was born but have been called Peggy all my life. Where in the world does Peggy become a nickname for Margaret? I hate Margaret." "Given name = Richard. Where does nickname 'Dick' come from?" "I've liked the name Katie ever since I was a little girl. We've chosen Caemlyn as a first name and I'd like to use Catie as a nickname. Is this asking for trouble?"

The Name Lady's Recipe For a Modern Nickname: Take first syllable of name. Add -y to taste. Let stand until bored.

Once upon a time, nicknames went deeper. We took bits and pieces of formal names, combined them, stretched them and tweaked them. They evolved over time, with Rich spinning off into Rick, which in turn became Dick. William gave us Will, then Bill; Margaret was Marge, then Meg, then Peg. Did you even realize that Polly was "short" for Mary, via Molly?

This nickname buffet was essential back in the days when formal names were in short supply. In 18th-century England, the top three boys' and girls' names accounted for half of the population. With every village crammed with Marys, some Mollys and Pollys helped sort neighbors out.

Today, given names are spectacularly diverse. The top three American names together cover just one out of every 36 babies born. When it comes to nicknames, though, we've become oddly timid. Most families stick to the most obvious nicknames, like ... Nick. (Nicholas can also be Colin, Klaus, Nico, Cole or Nils, after all.) When we do dig deeper, choosing a name like Maisie for Margaret, we usually abandon the formal name altogether and write the nickname on the birth certificate.

When a mom worries that a choice as simple as Catie for Caemlyn is "asking for trouble," we've gone too far. An inspired nickname can be a gift to a child. If you love Catie, I don't see any reason not to use it. Just remember that, as always, it will be the child herself who determines whether the nickname sticks.

p.s. Caemlyn's mom -- brace yourself for a flood of responses from people who think your mistake isn't the nickname but the sci-fi given name.


Please do not add links to your comments. Thank you.

January 25, 2010 2:07 PM
By Abby@AppMtn (not verified)

I might be in the minority, but I am strongly in favor of nicknames, even those seemingly many names removed from the original.

Our daughter, Claire Caroline Wren, answers to Clio.

For us, the unusual nickname route solved a bunch of issues. We very much wanted our daughter to wear some variation of the much-used family name, Chiara. (It's been adopted by others in my extended family as Clare, Clara, Clarice and Clarina in recent memory.)

My family is notorious for bestowing unusual pet names. (The Wren in our daughter's name honors my sister, usually called Bird. Nope, her name isn't Bird. Or Paloma, or, well anything that would lead to Bird.) So we couldn't trust the world to hand our daughter an acceptable diminutive, either - who knows what her aunts would've come up with while I was still too sleep-deprived to argue?

Our choice also splits the difference between my affection for unusual names and my husband's preference for the buttoned-down.

Lastly, while Clio as a formal name (or Catie or Maisie) leaves your child without options, putting Claire Caroline or Catharine or Margaret or even Caemlyn on the birth certificate leaves her with options in the future. That's no small thing. While it can be a headache to switch from, say, Maisie to Greta, what's worse is to go through the legal name change process. (I've done it. Years later, I still face occasional bureaucratic challenges.)

If it feels like the right choice to you, it probably is.

January 25, 2010 5:47 PM
By Amy (not verified)

My daughter's name is Kennedy and we often call her Addy. She kind of "chose" that name for herself when she was learning to talk and it stuck. People say really strange/rude things when they hear both of her names, usually unforming us that Addy does not have precisely the same ending sound as Kennedy. What can you do, right? We like both, she likes both--it all works out!

January 27, 2010 1:31 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

My daughter's name is Clara. For reasons we never could figure out she started calling herself Beeda when she was learning to talk. She can now say her name properly, but still introduces herself as Beeda. Time will tell if she wants the nickname to stick, but to family at least she will always be little Beeda!

January 27, 2010 4:31 PM
By A Rose (not verified)

My name is Alexa and I usually go by that, but some people call me Elx, some Bob (long story), and very few (two or three people) call me Lexy.

Re. Dick, etc.: In medieval times 'R' names (Richard, Robert, and Roger) had 3 nicknames, an 'R', 'D', and an 'H' (Richard-Rick/Rich, Dick/Dich, Hick/Hich; Robert-Rob, Dob, Hob--Bob didn't emerge until the 18th century--; Roger-Rodge, Dodge, Hodge.) These led to surnames like Dickson, Hitchcock, Dobson, Hobbs, Hodge, etc.

January 27, 2010 7:53 PM
By GilaB (not verified)

I'd agree that naming your daughter for a place in the fun, but ain't-exactly-literature Wheel of Time series is perhaps not the best way to go, but if you must, Katie is a perfectly fine nickname.

January 28, 2010 1:16 PM
By Dawn (not verified)

I've never read the Wheel of Time series, which one commenter points out the name is from . (It is on my to-read list, ironically.) At any rate, I think Caemlyn is a beautiful and original name for a girl! And Catie is a very suitable nickname for it. I say to go for it!

We're naming our daughter Angelina. I've always liked the nickname Angie, and my husband likes Lina. But who knows, in the end maybe she'll want to go by Angel, or Ange, or something I can't even conceive of yet.

January 28, 2010 1:45 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

My sons are Isaiah, who goes by Zae or Zaiah and Elijah who we ALWAYS call Eli.
All 4 of us have 3 letter nicknames, Dan, Kae, Zae & Eli. (my Kae is short for Kaela which is short for Makaela).
My husband fell for the name Elijah while I was not sold, we agreed that the Legal name would be Elijah then we would call him Eli.
I love the idea that the boys have "grown up" names for the future, but fun, cuter names for now.
I always loved having a name with options.

January 28, 2010 2:04 PM
By Meghan (not verified)

We named our daughter "Rhyan", which is a variation of "Ryan" for a girl. The "h" in the name made it look more feminine on paper, and it seemed like a more Celtic way of spelling the name...we are Irish.

The kids in Rhyan's "class" at daycare have been calling her "Rhy-Rhy", and now all of the other kids and teachers at the day care center call her "Rhy-Rhy" as well. She even calls herself that. So in our case, its the name that the other kids created when learning to talk that stuck for our daughter. I cannot imagine, however, that she'll continue to use it when she is older.

January 28, 2010 2:14 PM
By Tanya (not verified)

Wish I'd been Tatiana instead of Tanya as to be left with more nickname choices than just Tanya. Anyway as the the WoT reference name Caemlyn- Nice! Wish I had thought of that!!! =) (Though I think Sophie and Eliora weren't bad name choices for my girls.)

January 28, 2010 2:35 PM
By AMber (not verified)

We named our new daughter Persephone Quinn. While I love the ancient and melodic name Persephone, four syllables is a lot for a little girl, so we call her Pepper. When she gets older she has the choice of going by Percy, Quinn or sticking with Pepper as a nickname.

As for the name Caemlyn, I love it! Only those "in the know" will recognize it and probably will like it too.

January 28, 2010 3:46 PM
By Stephanie (not verified)

I personally love the name Caemlyn. I might go with Camie more for a nickname than Catie, but whatever works for you. I have read the Wheel of Time series and wouldn't think that it would be a reason not to name your daughter that. It's not like you are naming your kid Nynaeave.

I like unusual names though. My daughter's name is Aviana, the one on the way will be Ilyra. As for nicknames, Aviana has started calling herself "Ana" as does her friend. Who knows if it will stick or not. I grew up hating my name, if only because people tried to call me "Stephie." I have made up for that in my children, however, and luckily found a husband who indulges my unique name fetish. :)

January 28, 2010 4:51 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Our daughter Elizabeth Juliet answers to Lily, as well as Elizabeth. In fact, most people only know her as Lily.

The concern I have two years on is that she has to fill in a long name on forms all through her life (long surname too), so I wonder if I did the wrong thing giving her the name Elizabeth. Not that I'd change it - it's who she is.

Now we're expecting another imminently, and I cannot choose a second girl's name which does all a second name has to do (match, but new initials, different connotations, etc) as well as have a spunky nickname which also has a long name with enough gravity.

Let's hope it's a boy, so that our previous option (nick name Jos) will work : )

January 28, 2010 4:54 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

My daughter Juliet has the nickname of Jet, sort of a contraction, bestowed by her brother who could not say L.(Until 6 or 7 he still wuved me:) He called her Jet-jet. She forbid him to say it on the school playground, but now in middle-school she loves being Jet. She also likes Juliet but it doesn't fit her current girl-power stage in life. My son's name by the way is Tristan...and yes, classically they both meet the same tragic end- unintentional on our part.

January 28, 2010 7:11 PM
By Becky (not verified)

To Stephanie:
I do not have a husband that indulges unique names. He has said on more than one occasion, "Parents should not express themselves through their children's names". His mother is Carin and he is Jeffree. It's not that he doesn't like Jeff, but he hates to spell out his legal name all of the time. So we are going to pick more traditional names with the most typical spelling. It's a good thing I agree. I don't want to choose a name on the top 10, but I also don't want to completely make up a name either. But I'm liking that this blog has gotten me to think about future nickname options for our kids.

And yes, I'm legally Rebecca. I always go by Becky, but there have been a few others people have used - Beck, Becca, Beckster, Beckalicious, and only one person every used Rebecky.

January 28, 2010 7:22 PM
By Camille (not verified)

My parents wanted me to have the nickname Cami. First they were to name me Cameron, but when they found out its meaning they decided on Camille..which fit perfectly with my middle name, Lorraine, as both are French. However my dad is the only one who calls me Cami now! I have a myriad of nicknames, actually. My middle brother calls me Miss Lori when he wants to be condescending, my eldest brother calls me Camel, Chamomile, Cammile, Callameel, etc. And some people call me Gleemanon (strange story), Otis Barletta Senior Junior Agent Kandaisy Plus (long story), Glabbanon or Glzzanon, Child of the Universe, Charlie Harley (another long story), Milora (sort of a contraction of Camille Lorraine), Ellimac (Camille backwards), and Allmack (derived from Ellimac). I introduce myself as Camille, though. Just think of my grandmother, whose first name was Goldie! She goes by her middle name, Lorraine (my namesake of course).

I have a friend named Linzy. Her mother's name is Laralee. Both names are misspelled and mispronounced and mistaken, but Linzy is still an awesome name despite low on nicknames. We call her Yznil (Linzy backwards) or King Lamander.

Another of my friends has hers and her siblings' names coordinated nicely:
Clio Ivy and her siblings Flynt Sage and Fauna Lily. Their middle names are plants and their first names are slightly unique. (:

January 28, 2010 8:33 PM
By Alicia (not verified)

I absolutely LOVE nics, especially ones that are a bit more unexpected.

Such as Keb or Caleb or Wim for William or Jamin for Benjamin.

On my own list, my favorite girl name is Kerensa and I hope to call her Kessa/Kes as a nic. My second favorite name is Cecily who might just happen to get the nickname Lily.

January 28, 2010 10:54 PM
By Allison (not verified)

My son is Marshall IV (the fourth), so we have plenty of people in the family with that name - not just the 4 generations, but also 2 cousins all with the same name.

So we call our son Mac. Since Mac, as Scottish tradition, means "Son Of," we thought it a fitting nickname (as the son of the son of the son of the original). And it helps us know exactly who we're talking to.

My daughter has a double name, so often people call her by her initials, SB. It's turned into a bit of a nickname "Esby" itself!

January 29, 2010 10:49 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

My mom wanted me to have the nickname Tina, so she worked backwards and named me Kristina. I've always been Tina to my immediate family (no one else is allowed to call me that, as I have come to loathe it over the years) and a few friends call me Kris. One friend calls me Stina.

While I was pregnant with my oldest, I decided if it was a girl, I wanted her to be nicknamed Katie, so we worked backwards to come up with a name that would sound good if she became a lawyer one day (that is my "measuring-stick" for names.) We thought Kaitlyn and all it's variations were too trendy, so we chose Catherine. I'm French-Canadian, so another of her nicknames is "Catou," which is what most Catherines are nicknamed in Quebec.

Our twins are Alexander, nicknamed Alex, and Emma. A friend with a short, 2-syllable name cautioned me that it might be hard for her to have a nickname, especially since her sibilings have multi-syllable names. But Emma has actually become known in the family as "Emma-Lou." I can't even remember how it came about, but it has stuck.

Nicknames can come about in many ways and don't always have to do with the actual name. I have an uncle Marcel, who everyone in the family calls Joe. Apparently my grandpa started calling him that when he was little, and it just stuck. I have another uncle named Galbert, who is Gabby to the family, but all his friends know him as Gabe. My husband's name is Wade, and he has no nicknames whatsoever.

So if you want Caemlyn to be known as Catie, go for it. Just be prepared for people to be surprised. I have had to explain the Katie/Catherine thing a lot because we chose the spelling of Katie with a K, but I really love Catherine spelled with a C. I'm the mom, I got to choose. :)

January 30, 2010 10:11 PM
By Rook (not verified)

@Allison: We definitely have it "worse" than you. My husband's family tradition is so entrenched that our first son will be William the 25th. Needless to say, there are not enough nicknames for William for all those men, so while his grandfather goes by Bill, he and his father both use their middle names exclusively. I personally think it's a shame about his grandfather, because I love the name Eugene. But we're facing the difficulty of choosing a middle name that our son will want to go by, to avoid being William # oh-my-God.

January 30, 2010 10:13 PM
By Rook (not verified)

By the way, our top choices are Gabriel, John, Nathan, Noah, Patrick, and Tobias. Which do you all think would work the best with William, and which do you think would be most likely to be accepted instead of William as the name he uses?

January 31, 2010 1:50 AM
By Meg (not verified)

I am in favour of nicknames, I have several names on my list that have nicknames with them eg: Finn for Finley, Timmy or Tim for Timothy, Penny for Penelope, Emmy for Emmeline or Emily, Mia for Amelia, Ginny for Genevieve, Immy for Imogen etc. I am debating whether it is acceptable for me to use Susie as a nickname for Louisa. I can see it work, but many other people can't.

January 31, 2010 6:24 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I think Susie is a great nickname for Louisa, It definitely works in my opinion! If you like it- go for it!
also @AMber, i love Pepper for Persephone, both are so cute, and Persephone is beautiful and sophisticated too -- wish I had thought of that :)

January 31, 2010 6:27 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

My friend Melissa goes by Nessy, cute but alternative and unusual.

January 31, 2010 1:01 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I'm in agreement with most that nicknames, multiple, and not necessarily obvious ones, are great. Persephone doesn't just lend itself to Pepper and Percy, but also Fifi, Sophie, Poppy, Seph, Sephie, Sonny, Penny, Fern, Finn (with the mn Quinn, especially), and probably some others too!

Caemlyn doesn't really have staple nicknames, since it doesn't have the same kind of given-name history as, say Margaret, but that gives even *more* licence. Catie, Lyn, Caelyn, Cam, Cammy, Callie, Amy, and Aly are all nicknames that have pretty clear links to the original... but that's not necessary either... I know a Stephanie who is 'Bean'. A nickname is a personalization by definition, so go for what is right for you and your little one!

January 31, 2010 9:07 PM
By Kelly (not verified)

I have a great-aunt Peggy whose legal name is Vivian Arietta ... family legend says her grandfather was watching her learn to walk and said "she's walkin like she got a peg-leg," and called her Peggy ever since.
In that same family I have an "Uncle Junior" (he was a Jr. and that's what everone called him and the kids picked up on it) also known as "Lefty" and never by his legal name.

February 3, 2010 6:07 PM
By Jamie Sue (not verified)

Both of my kids have nicknames on purpose. I was named Jamie and never had a nickname. I named my daughter Aryanna Jolene Marie ... we ALWAYS call her Ary. Her aunt calls her AryJo, but its always been Ary until my son started talking and he really couldnt say Ary but it came out 'Ya-Ya' Which has stuck now for over a year.
I named my son Lucas but never wanted him called Luke. My daughter gave him the nickname Buddy when he was 4 months old bc he was "her buddy" And he's now been Buddy for over 2 years, most people think his name is Buddy :)
I think the name is beautiful & that Catie is a great nickname.

February 4, 2010 2:46 AM
By zaida (not verified)

Nicknames are great and the more the better! My first name is Tamara and I have been called Tammy, Tams, Tamalama, Mara - you name it! Tamara is great because its formal enough for professional reasons, and the rest are just pure fun!

My son Alexander goes by Alec - but every so often we say Sandy, Alex, Lex, Xander - again, you name it! But primarily he is Alec.

Because my wee son is named Arran (after the scottish island) there is not much we can do with nicknames - so, I often call him his full name Arran Joseph Sinclair - or I call him "my little sleeping warrior" which is a hill range on the island of Arran!

Names are great and I say, the more the merrier!

February 4, 2010 10:43 AM
By Mel (not verified)

I have a strange thing about nicknames; I love cute contractions of the name, especially where it isn't just the first syllable ( eg Nils for Nicolas, Als for Alison- but I really don't like nicknames with a different initial- Tony for Anthony, Becky for Rebecca- even though these are extremely established. I still remember feeling cheated when I realised that the first Tony I knew had initials which were Al, not TL, and for some reason that bothers me.

February 4, 2010 11:36 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Re: Persephone
I have a friend whose daughter is named Persephone, and her nickname is Persnaff. :)

February 6, 2010 9:13 PM
By Kara (not verified)

Hmm, I've never thought that much about nicknames! My own name is rather nickname-proof, as is my daughter's... Clare. But then again, my family called me Kara Bear, and my daughter is Clarabelle, Clare Bee, and Stinky Cheese around our house. :)

February 8, 2010 1:14 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

What is the point of picking an unusual name such as Caemlyn, and then using a nickname? Unless it is one that grows organically over time. Don't pin down a nickname just yet.

February 12, 2010 9:41 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I am not a fan of nicknames at all. It's not that I think that they're bad, but just that I prefer the long version of names. If I wanted to name my child a nickname, I would have done so in the first place.

Neat thing: my mother has a group of cousins who are named Silver (junior), June, Sterling, and Frieda, whose parents were Willo and Silver (senior). Silver (junior) was always called Tad, because when he was a boy, his father said he was like a tadpole. Well, the name stuck so much that it took me until last year to find out that Tad wasn't "short for" Thaddeus, but for Silver.

February 16, 2010 2:39 PM
By BR (not verified)

Our daughters name is Ava Elizabeth and we do call her Ava most of the time, but she's been called Aya (when she couldn't pronounce the v and thank God it never stuck) to Ayv or just plain old A! She is almost 5 now and decided she wants to go by Bella (from Elizabeth)... She is still Ava to us or Ava Elizabeth when she gets in trouble. Sometimes around the house she gets called Monkey. Our second child is due soon and we decided to name him Miles Christopher and his nickname will probably end up being Milo or whatever his sister nicknames him. I'm not too worried about coming up with one myself. My name is Bojana (Boy-ana) and I've been called Beej, Bobo, Beyonce (by my husbands co-worker), Beatrice (have no idea how my husband came up with that one), Ana in school when teachers butchered my name... personally my favorite is Mommy! I think nicknames are great but when it comes to papers and forms just use your full name. As for Caemlyn, I love the name all on its own. Nickname her what you want and like and that can be her special nickname from you. Nicknames will be hitting you from every direction and it's just something that can't be avoided.

February 16, 2010 6:36 PM
By Cristina (not verified)

As much as I love nick names, I was never allowed to have one. "Her name is Cristina" was the comment my parents invariably made. Of course, I wasn't too thrilled with the name, or any other derivation: Cristy/Crissy/Crista/Nina/Tina etc. I did like Stina, which is what my little cousin called me.

Well, I'm almost 30 and 3 years ago I started using my middle name. My parent's aren't happy... but I am! I like the idea that you let the child decide what she wants to be called!

February 16, 2010 8:28 PM
By kc_hardt (not verified)

I like having a "proper" name as the legal name (not that these days you can say something is proper or not, but I think people will get my gist.) Like a previous post I like to think of that name as something that would sound and look good on a medical school diploma (instead of as a lawyer.)Call me crazy but I wouldn't be to thrilled myself to have my name be Dr. Cricket (or Kiki) Hardt I'd rather have something more formal like Dr. Katherine Hardt, and have everybody who is in my personal circle call me by my nicknames. In my cultural background nicknames are like little jewels you pick-up along the path of life. My first was Charlie (because all the nurses at my mom's hospital thought I looked like Charlie Brown), since then I have been Ladybug, Fancy, Casey, Chili, Katydid, Katie, Kate, Kay, Gallon (don't ask!), stinky pants (poopy diaper related), Chris, Bossy Boots, Princessa, Chulapona and several others. My sister has the same laundry list of nicknames. They all happened spontaneously and have great stories and memories behind them.

Oddly, I found my self "trying" to fit my daughter with a nickname. I guess I wanted to rush the process and give her something special right of the bat. But nothing really fit, I was trying to hard. She is now 5-1/2 months old and I find I started calling her Kiddo Bean which has evolved into just Bean. Now my husband and family are calling her Bean. So Bean it is, it fits her and it happened without me worrying about it. I'm sure along the way she'll pick up a few more nicknames from all sorts of different important people in her life. It will be fun to see what they are.

So in answer (sorry I took the round about way) nickname her what you want. But don't be surprised if she just isn't what you thought and another name just fits. That's part of the fun.

February 17, 2010 1:40 PM
By Jennifer (not verified)

for the william commenter...

we have a william who goes by memo,
the spanish nickname for Guillermo (william in spanish).

February 18, 2010 3:49 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Personally I think you should put Caemlyn on the birth ceritificate and use Catie as a nickname. The longer name will give her more options when she is older and might want to put a more formal looking name on her CV / resume. It also gives her more options for other nicknames if she doesn't like Catie when she's older. I don't think that nicknames have to correspond in some prescribed way to the official first name. Sure, many Josephines get called Jo or Josie, many Theodores get called Theo or Teddy, but I also know an Andrew called Renny, a Florence called Rosie, and an Adam called Teddy. Nicknames are very personal things that don't have to fit a formula. If it works for you - do it!

May 17, 2010 6:05 PM
By Chrysalis (not verified)

Having such an unusual first name, I have been christened with many nicknames over the years to compensate, so to speak, for people not being able to pronounce my first name (or remember it, for that matter!). "Chrysalis" has become Chrys, Chrissy, Christy, Christmas, Kisses, Cissy (my personal favorite), and a multitude of others that I can't even bring to mind right now. Although I love having an uncommon name, I am grateful that it at least can lend itself to many nicknames to accommodate those people who I tire of reminding how to say my name time and again. If I am ever blessed with a daughter I would like her name to have many nickname possibilities just in case she doesn't like what we named her.

November 9, 2010 1:46 PM
By Rule no. 5 (not verified)

Caemlyn is a badass name- though I wouldn't give nickname.

Also someone called Meghan- I think- said they called their kid Rhyan? The Irish language doesn't actually have the letter y, so ryan/rhyan would be spelt Rian and pronounced something similar to ree-un. Just a little fact from a fluent speaker of the 'aul Gaeilge.

December 17, 2010 7:33 PM
By Ariana (not verified)

My full name is Ariana, I went by Ari to everyone until very recently. My brother was doing a project on mythology when we were in middle school and decided to start calling me Ariadne.

I've started to go by Ariana as I'm working and changed my facebook name to reflect that - I got a ton of comments along the lines of, "Wait, your real name isn't Ariadne?"

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