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Is This Nickname a No-No?

My beautiful 8-year-old daughter is named Ilana. Though we both love her name, she more closely identifies with the nickname we have called her since she could speak, Nani (nah-nee). She wants to start going by her nickname not only at home but at school. Looking into the name Nani, it may actually be a Hawaiian name; but we are not Hawaiian. Is it acceptable to have everyone start calling her Nani even though it is not commonly known as a "real" name? Is it a nickname that should only be used in the family or is it something that could be used all around?

–Nani's Mom

I'm going to start this column off with a little test. Quick, Nani's Mom, which of the following celebrities are familiar to you:

  1. Mary Elizabeth Gore
  2. Josephine Lauder
  3. Rafael Cruz
  4. Elizabeth Jean Philipps

None of these names are likely to be on your radar. That's because Tipper Gore, Estee Lauder, Ted Cruz, and Busy Philipps all achieved success and prominence under their family nicknames, not the names that appeared on their birth certificates. All have undoubtedly fielded questions in both their personal and professional lives about the source of their unexpected names. But despite the political figures included in this list, none of the questions are of the "gotcha" variety. An unusual name provokes curiosity in those who hear it. That doesn't mean that everyone who asks about a name's origins is secretly issuing a pop quiz.

All of this is to say that Nani needs no authorization to make her private name public and need never apologize for its origins. Whatever Hawaiian roots those sounds might have don't ultimately matter much when your daughter is choosing it for very different reasons. These days, most people acknowledge that a name's linguistic definition has far less to do with its personal and social significance than other sorts of meanings. Does Elsa mean "Frozen Queen my sister was obsessed with when I was born" or "Great-Aunt my mother wanted to honor by naming me after" or "Name that sounded kind of like Ella but wasn't as popular" or "Traditional nickname for Elizabeth"? Only the person who bears the name can truly say.

Ilana has her own reasons for wanting to bring her cherished family nickname to a wider stage. Perhaps she feels more herself when she answers to it. Perhaps she thinks it sounds more interesting or glamorous. Perhaps there are other Ilanas in her school and she wants to more easily distinguish herself. Whatever Nani means to her is validation enough for switching to it full-time. So stop skimming those baby-name books in the hopes of finding a "real" name you can hitch to your daughter's name switch. In the unlikely event that someone someday questions her about her name's etymological origins, Nani has a ready response that no one can argue with: "It's a family nickname I’ve been called all my life."


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

June 29, 2015 1:10 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

This is seriously overthinking things. Nicknames don't have to be "real" names.

June 29, 2015 3:28 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I agree, it's really overthinking it.

And little Nani is only 8, who knows if she'll even stick with the nickname. It could be a phase & she ends up going back to her full name, or switches to some other nickname. It's her name, let her do what she wants with it.

June 29, 2015 3:57 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Lots of people from different ethnicities choose white names for their children, why do you think you can't do the same? A lot of people are taught that races are supposed to loathe each other, are fragile, easily offended, and other rude things, etc... Don't believe it. Just do it, if anything it's flattery and breaks down racial barriers. If the race mafia shows up on your doorstep saying that Hawaiians are offended that you'd pollute their name with your race and want to take revenge (which they won't--this is all hypothetical), then you can reconsider whether or not this is a good idea.

June 29, 2015 3:59 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

by "same" I meant reverse (I didn't mean to assume you're white by the way)

June 29, 2015 4:13 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

There's been a lot of talk about cultural appropriation lately, but I don't think this is that.

I don't see a problem with Nani as a nickname.

July 7, 2015 4:50 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I think you need to consider - will she still be cool with it in five, ten years time??? I habe friends from kindergarten and primary school who still call me by my nickname from back then, and as cool as I thought it was back then, it just is too cringeworthy now. Nani isn't a bad name, but consider how she got it - will it be relevant later? Is it something she could get teased about? You could try with something closer to her actual name in school and see if she can respond to that instead, so if she doesn't like it later, going to her full name wouldn't be so hard.

July 14, 2015 11:55 AM
By Charly (not verified)

Is she a Jewish girl born on February 19th? If no, then her birth certificate name didn't follow tradition, anyway.

July 14, 2015 12:40 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

She could be teased as a "nanny" in later life. Also, babysitters will have to stay away from the word "nanny" so as not to offend her. I agree with the person that says choose a nickname close to her actual name. How 'bout "Lanny"? It is quite close to "Nani" and closer to her actual name, Ilana, so she can easily switch back and forth to her heart's content.

July 14, 2015 6:25 PM
By Paula (not verified)

Is her nickname pronounced Nah-nee, or like nanny? If it sounds like nanny, that's not only a term for a professional babysitter, but also a common name for children to call their grandmothers. The pronunciation might make for some confusion.

July 14, 2015 8:20 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Its pronounced nahh nee like from lilo and stitch.

July 14, 2015 8:21 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Nah nee like from lilo and stitch (thhe hawaiian name)

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