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A Brief Discussion of
Nicknames and Diminutives



First things first: the word nickname derives from the Middle English phrase “an eke-name” where “eke” means “additional.” A nickname is a name, any kind of name, that one is called in place of one’s real name. Some nicknames are affectionate phrases used to describe a person. Shorty Smith is presumably short, for example. Slim Pickings is skinny, and Red Cooper may have red hair, while Scarface Capone has a scarred face. During the Middle Ages, many of these descriptive nicknames evolved to become surnames (last names, family names, etc.). Thus, an ancestor of Neil Armstrong must have had strong arms, and Jane White had an ancestor with a pale complexion or hair.

But the most common type of nickname is the Diminutive, usually a shortened or otherwise altered version of one’s true name, such as Jim, for James, Jack for John, Ted for Theodore, or Betty for Elizabeth. Diminutives are usually used with inferiors or equals, such as children and servants, or close friends or relatives. Usually meant affectionately, often times there are varying degrees of diminutives. A man is William to his acquaintances, Will to his friends, and Willie to his mother. Nicknames of this sort are among the oldest parts of language still used. Jack remained a nickname for John for centuries after its origianl connection and lost. Until the 20th century, one could still find Neds and Nans for Edwards and Anns, again, alghouh the original connotations have long since past. Some connections are so old that we do not really undestand how it happened, as in Peggy/Margaret or Polly/Mary or Billy/William.

“Diminutives” are formed by corrupting, shortening, or otherwise changing a person’s given name into something different. This happens in a variety of ways:

Sometimes, longer names are contracted, as in Margaret to Greta, Konradt to Kurt, Teresa to Tessa, or Henrietta to Hetty.

Other times a letter (usually “r” ) is dropped, as we see in Maggie from Margaret, Kit from Christopher, Biddy from Bridget, Fanny from Frances, and Hattie from Harriet.

One of the most common forms of the nickname is the “short” form. These nicknames are formed when part of the regular name is lopped off, leaving a stub. For example:

From the back:
Beth from Elizabeth
Derick from Theoderick
Drew from Andrew
Fred
from Alfred
Tony from Antony

From the front:
Alex from Alexander
Ben from Benjamin, or Benedict
Eliza from Elizabeth
Fred from Frederick
Marc from Marcus
Sam from Samuel

From the middle
Della from Adelaide
Liz from Elizabeth
Lisa from Elisabeth
Stoffe from Christopher (German)


Diminutive Endings

However, the most common form of diminutive is formed by the “diminutive ending,” a syllable tacked on to the end of a name that signifies “little.”

Before the 17th century or so, the most common diminutive endings were the Norman/English “in” or “kin”
Jack, for instance, was originally from the name Jakin, a corrupted form of Jenkin (John+kin). And the name Hank is short for Han-Kin, or Hen-kin, or Henry-kin.

Other “kin” names include:


Adekin - Adam
Hobkin - Robert
Hodgekin - Roger
Perkin
(Peterkin) - Peter
Thompkin - Thomas
Watkin - Walter


Most of these nicknames have died away, leaving behind only surnames. Only a few of this type of nickname have survived to this day, including:

Robin for Robert
Colin from Col (Nicolas).



But in modern-day English, the most common type of diminutive is formed by using the ubiquitous Scottish “ie” (or “ee” or “ey”) diminutive ending. It was applied at first, only to names popular in Scotland. Christie was originally a male name, from Christopher, as was Jamie from James, Charlie from Charles, Davey from David, etc. Later, the Scottish “ie” spread to the rest of England. Thus we get Johnny from John, Gracie from Grace, Rosie from Rose, Markie from Mark, Marty from Martin, doggy from dog, or horsey from horse.


Many other languages utilize the “diminutive ending” as well.

The Germans are fond of “chen” as in Gretchen (Margareta), Kätchen (Katherine), Röschen (Rose) or Trudchen (Gertrude).

In Spanish, an “ita” (for girls) or an “ito” (for boys) tacked onto the end makes a name a diminutive, as it does for:

Anita - Ana
Juanita/Juanito - Juan/Juana
Carlito - Carlos
Carmelita - Carmel
Carmencita - Carmen
Evita - Eva
Josecito - Jose
Lolita - Lola/Dolores
Lupita - Lupe
Manolito - Manuel
Pepito/Pepita - Pepe


The Irish Gaels used “an” or “in” (often Anglicized as “een”)

Aodhan / Aidan - (“Little Aodh”)
Colleen - “Girl”
Doreen - “Little Dora
Mairin / Maureen - (“Little Mary”)
Brian - “Little Hill”
Ryan - “Little King”


The French use several such endings, including: “ot/otte,” “on/onne” “in/ine/line” and “et/ette.”

Alison - Alice
Annette - Anne
Babette - Barbara
Charlot - Charles

Guillaumet, Guillaumin, Guillaumot - Guillaume
Jeannette - Jeanne
Jeannot - Jean
Madelon - Magdalene
Manon - Marie
Margot - Marguerite
Masset - Thomas


The French also used these diminutives to make masculine names feminine, as in:

Antoinette - Antoine
Bernadette - Bernard
Charline/Charlotte - Charles
Claudine - Claude
Henriette - Henri
Huguette - Hugues
Jacqueline - Jacques
Lucette - Luc
Mauricette - Maurice

Pierrette - Pierre
Yvette/Yvonne - Yves/Yvon


Later the English and Scotch took these endings (ine, ette, otte, etc.), “Latinized” them by adding an “a,”and created names like Adelina (Adele +ine +a), Henrietta (Henri + “ette” + “a”), Paulina (Pauline +a) etc.

The Scotch were especially prone to this, creating many names like Alexandrina, Davina, Dolina, Jamesina, Malcolmina, etc. Some were more successful than others.


Medieval Mine

Before the Scottish “ie” came to dominate English diminutives, and besides “diminutive endings,” other strategies flourished for forming nicknames.


One medieval custom worth noting was the “Mine” nicknames that developed from first names that began with a vowel. For example

“Mine Ann” led to Nan.
“Mine Ed” led to Ned.
“Mine Ellen” led to Nell.
“Mine Oliver” led to Noll.
“Mine Abel” led to Nab.



Letter Swapping ‘n’ Dropping
When the Normans invaded England in 1066 they transformed not only politics, religion, society and language, but names as well. They brought their large stock of Germanic names, only Frenchified, reflecting their language.

The native Anglo-Saxons (now the lower classes) faced with an unfamiliar language and strange pronucnations. Often, they were uncomfortable with the Norman “R” found in names like Richard, Roger, and Robert, and Henry/Harry.

Another factor to consider is that most diminutives are coined when speaking to children, or when children are addressing one another. Sounds that many English-speaking children have trouble pronouncing the letter “R” as well as other sounds. The name Ouida, for example, came about a mispronunciation of the name Louisa. In names, the sounds of R is often switched for an L or a D. Often times it is dropped altogether.

Other times, a middle “r” would be swapped for an “l” or a “d” giving us the nicknames:

Hal from Harry
-and-
Molly or Mally or Maidie from Mary
-and-
Dolly and Dodie from Dorothy
-and-
Sally and Sadie from Sarah


R’s at the beginning of names fared little better, often being replaced with “Ds,” “Hs,” or even “Ns.” Robert gave up the nicknames Rob, but also Dob, Hob, Nob, and later, Bob. And Richard gave up the nicknames Rick, but also Dick and Hick, while Roger clocks in with Rodge, Dodge and Hodge.

In Scotland the “r” in Mary sometimes became an “n” in Minnie (á la the French Manon for Marie). In Ireland the name Nora yielded the nickname Nonie. Vice Versa, Annabel was often altered to Arabel.

Every now and then, other letters were switched out. In some cases, a “p” would be swapped for an “m,” as in the names:

Polly - from Molly, from Mary
-or-
Peg - from Meg, from Margaret

And in the 19th century Bill was coined from Will, and Bob from Rob.


Other nicknames were created when the letter R was simply dropped, as in these names:


Babs, from Barb, from Barbara
Biddy, from Bid, from Bridget
Dot, from Dorothy
Fanny, from Fan, from Frances
Kit, from Christ, from Christopher
-and-
Meg, from Marg, from Margaret



Miscellany

Because nicknames are old, they often offer clues to how the parent name was pronounced in olden times. The following nicknames were coined when “th” in their parent names was pronounced as a hard “t” rather than a soft “th.” For example:

Kate - Katherine (kate-her-in)
Dotty - Dorothy
(door-oh-tee)
Betty - Elizabeth
(ee-liz-ah-bett)
Matt - Matthew
(matt-hew)
Ted - Theodore
(tee-oh-dor)
Tom - Thomas
(tom-as)
Tony - Anthony
(ann-tone-ee)


Please note that Thomas is still pronounced with a hard T (as is, to a certain extent, Anthony)

Another similar example comes from the name Richard, with the nickname “Rick,” reflecting the hard “k” rather than the soft “ch” (“rick-hard”).



One of the purposes of nicknames was to create a name to be used with one’s inferiors. So occasionally, nicknames will take on additional, derogatory meanings and lose their popularity.

Jill (coming from Jillian), to take an old example, went out of fashion after the phrase “to jilt” was coined from it in the 17th century.

And today, very few children are called Biddy, Dick, Dotty, Fanny, Kitty, or Prissy.


Elizabeth, that popular, royal, English name, probably has more nicknames coined from it than any other.

See: Babette, Bet, Beth, Bethina, Bess, Bessie, Bessy, Betsey, Betsy, Betta, Bette, Bettie, Bettina, Bettine, Betty, Buffy, Elisa, Elise, Elissa, Elisse, Eliza, Ella, Ellie, Elsa, Else, Elsie, Ilse, Lib, Libbie, Libby, Lil, Lilian, Lillie, Lilo, Lily, Lilybet, Lilybeth, Lis, Lisa, Lisabet, Lisabeth, Lisbet, Lisbeth, Lise, Lisette, Lissa, Liz, Liza, Lizabeth, Lizbet, Lizbeth, Lize, Lizette, Lizolet, Lizza, Lizzie, and Lyssa.
In the United States, almost twice as many women are named with a diminutive of Elizabeth, than are named Elizabeth (and Elizabeth has consistently been one of the most popular English names for several centuries).




The Following is a List of Diminutives Hosted by Edgar’s Name Pages:

Abbie - Abigail
Abe - Abraham, Abel
Ad - Aidan, Adam
Ade - Adam, Aidan, Adrian
Addie - Adeline, Adam, Aidan
Addy - Adeline, Adam, Aidan
Adie - Aidan
Aggie - Agatha, Agnes
Al - Albert
Alec - Alexander
Alex - Alexander, Alexandra, Alexis
Alexie - Alexis, Alexander, Alexandra
Alf - Alfred, Alfredo
Alfie - Alfred, Alfredo
Alick - Alexander
Alison - Alice
Allie - Alexandra, Alice, Alberta, Alana
Andy - Andrew, Andrea
Angie - Angelia
Anita - Aña
Annie - Anne
Annette - Anne
Babette - Barbara, Elizabeth
Babs - Barbara
Barb - Barbara
Barney - Barnaby, Bernard
Bart - Bartholomew, Barton
Bartie - Bartholomew, Barton
Bastian - Sebastian
Bea - Beatrice
Beau - Beauregard
Becky - Rebecca
Bella - Isabella
Belle - Isabelle
Ben - Benjamin
Benny - Benjamin
Bernie - Bernard
Bert - Albert, Bertram
Bertie - Albert, Bertram
Bessie - Elizabeth
Beth - Elizabeth
Betsy - Elizabeth
Betty - Elizabeth
Bill - William
Billie - William
Billy - William
Bob - Robert
Bobbie - Robert, Roberta
Bobby - Robert
Brad - Bradley
Bunty
Cal - Calvin
Carrie - Caroline
Casey - Cassandra
Cathy - Catherine
Celine - Marceline
Cherry - Charity, Chérie
Chris - Christopher, Christian
Christie - Christine, Christopher
Christy - Christine, Christopher
Cindy - Cynthia, Lucinda
Cissy - Cecilia, Priscilla
Clint - Clinton
Colette - Nicole
Colin - Nicholas, Colombus
Connie - Constance
Costin - Constantine
Daisy - Margaret
Dan - Daniel
Dana - Bogdan, Danielle, Daniel, Daria
Danny - Daniel
Dante - Durand
Dave - David
Debbie - Deborah
Derek - Theodoric
Della - Adelaide
Dick - Richard
Dinny - Dennis
Dodie - Dorothy
Dola - Dolores
Dolly - Dorothy
Dora - Theodora, Dorothy
Don - Donald
Donnie - Donald
Doug - Douglas
Drew - Andrew
Ed - Edward, Edwin, Edmund
Eda - Edith
Eddie - Edward, Edwin, Edmund
Effie - Euphemia
Elisa - Elisabeth
Eliza - Elizabeth
Ellie - Ellen, Helen, Eleanor, Ella
Elsa - Elizabeth
Elsie - Elizabeth
Ena
Essie - Esther
Etta
Eula - Eulalia
Fannie - Frances
Fanny - Frances
Fawn
Flossie - Florence
Francine - Frances, Françoise
Frankie - Frank, Francis, Frances
Fred - Frederick, Alfred
Freddie - Frederick, Alfred
Gab - Gabriel, Gabriella
Gabby - Gabriel, Gabriella
Gail - Abigail
Gatty - Gertrude
Gayle - Abigail
Gene - Eugene, Genevieve
Gia - Gianna
Gina - Angelina, Giorgina, Luigina, Virginia
Ginette - Georgine, Regine, Virginie, Genevieve
Ginger - Virginia
Greg - Gregory
Gregg - Gregory
Greta - Margaret
Gretchen - Margaret
Gussie - Gus, Augusta, Gustava
Gwen - Guinevere, Gwendolyn
Hank - Henry
Harry - Henry
Hattie - Harriet
Heidi - Adelheid, Adelaide
Hob - Robert
Honey
Ibby - Isabel
Ina - Angelina, Christina, Wilhelmina, etc.
Isa - Isabel
Iva - Ivana
Jack - John
Jackie - John, Jacqueline
Jacquetta - Jacqueline
Jacqui - Jacqueline, Jacques
Jake - Jacob
Jamie - James
Jan - Jane
Janet - Jane
Janie - Jane
Jay - Jason, James, Jasper, Jacob, Jack
Jeanette - Jeanne, Jane
Jeannette - Jeanne, Jane
Jeannie - Jean, Jane, Jeanne
Jeff - Jeffrey, Geoffrey, Jeffery
Jem - James
Jenna - Jennifer, Jane
Jennie - Jennifer, Jane
Jenny - Jennifer, Jane
Jerry - Jerome, Gerald, Gerard, Jeremy
Jessie - Jessica, Jane
Jill - Jillian, Julian
Jim - James
Jimmie - James
Jimmy - James
Jo - Josephine, Joseph
Jody - Judith, Josephine, Joseph
Joe - Joseph
Joey - Joseph
Johnnie - John
Johnny - John
Jon - Jonathan
Josh - Joshua
Juanita - Juana
Judy - Judith
Juliet - Julie
Kari - Katherine
Kate - Katherine
Kathy - Katherine
Katie - Katherine
Kay - Katherine
Ken - Kenneth
Kenny - Kenneth
Kim - Kimberly, Kimball, Joachim
Kitty - Katherine
Krista - Kristina
Kristi - Kristina
Kristie - Kristina
Kristy - Kristina
Kurt - Conrad
Lana - Alana
Lance - Lancelot
Larry - Laurence
Laurie - Laurence, Laura
Lena - Helena, Magdalena
Liam - William
Lillie - (Lillian, Elizabeth)
Lillian - Elizabeth
Lina - Angelina, Carolina, Emmelina, Jacquelina, Paulina, etc.
Linda - Melinda, Belinda
Lisa - Elisabeth, Elizabeth
Lola - Dolores
Lonnie - Alonso
Loretta - Laura
Lula - Lucy, Louisa
Lynette - Lynn
Lynnette - Lynn
Mab - Mabel, Amabel
Mace - Thomas
Mack - Mackenzie, McDonald, etc.
Maddie - Madeline
Madge - Margaret
Magda - Magdalene
Maggie - Margaret
Maidie - Margaret
Maisie - Margaret
Mamie - Mary
Mandy - Amanda
Marge - Margaret
Margie - Margaret
Marietta - Maria
Marlon - Marcelon, Marcel, Marcus
Marty - Martin, Martha
Matt - Matthew
Mattie - Matthew, Martha, Matilda
Maureen - Mary
Max - Maxwell, Maximilian
May - Mary
Megan - Margaret
Mel - Melvin, Melanie, Melissa, etc.
Mia - Maria
Mike - Michael
Mindy - Melinda
Minnie - Mary, Wilhelmina, Minna, Minerva
Mollie - Mary
Molly - Mary
Nancy - Anne
Natasha - Natalie
Nellie - Helen, Ellen
Nessie - Agnes, Vanessa
Nettie - Janet, Antoinette, etc.
Nina - Antonia, Anne
Nonie - Nora
Nora - Eleanor, Honora
Ollie - Oliver, Olive, Olivia
Paddy - Padriag/Patrick
Pam - Pamela
Paulette - Paula
Pat - Patricia, Patrick
Patti, Patty, Patsy - Patricia
Peggy - Margaret
Penny - Penelope
Perry - Peregrin
Phil - Philip, Philibert
Pippa - Philippa
Polly - Mary
Posey - Josephine
Princess
Rab - Raibert (Robert)
Randy - Randall, Randolph
Ray - Raymond
Rick - Richard
Ricky - Richard
Rickey - Richard
Rita - Margarita
Robin - Robert
Robyn - Roberta
Ron - Ronald
Ronnie - Ronald
Rosetta - Rosa
Rosie - Rose
Rudy - Rudolf
Sacha - Aleksandr
Sally - Sarah
Sam - Samuel, Samantha
Sammy - Samuel
Sandra - Alexandra
Sandy - Alexander, Alexandra
Sheri - Chérie
Sherri - Chérie
Sherry - Chérie
Sissy - Cecilia, Priscilla
Sonia - Sophia
Sonja - Sophia
Sonya - Sophia
Spike
Susie - Susan
Stacey - Anastacsa, Eustace
Stacy - Anastacsa, Eustace
Steve - Steven, Stephen
Sue - Susan
Tammy - Tamara, Thomasina
Tanya - Tatiana
Tasha - Natalia, Natasha
Ted - Theodore, Edward
Terri - Theresa
Terry - Terence, Teresa
Tim - Timothy
Timmy - Timothy
Tina - Christina
Tom - Thomas
Tommie - Thomas
Tommy - Thomas
Toni - Antonia
Tonya - Antonia
Tottie - Charlotte
Tricia - Patricia
Trixie - Beatrice
Ty - Tyler, Tyrone, Tyrus
Val - Valentine, Valerie
Vicki - Victoria
Vickie - Victoria
Vicky - Victoria
Will - William, Willard, Wilbert
Xander - Alexander
Yorick - (obsolete) Georg (George)
Zana - Suzanne (Susan)




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