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Nicknames baffle me at times.

I don't mean the nicknames that are specific to a person. NBA great Karl Malone was "The Mailman" because he always delivered. The NFL's Walter Payton was "Sweetness" because of his smooth moves on the field. Baseball's Reggie Jackson was "Mr. October" because he often hit better in the playoffs and World Series than in the regular season.

Those nicknames make perfect sense.

But I'm talking about the accepted nicknames for common names.

Some of those are logical. They are simply shorter forms of a longer word.

"Will" for William

"Rob" for Robert

"Jeff" for Jeffrey

"Greg" for Gregory

"Nate" for Nathaniel

Some names offer a bounty of nicknames.

Albert can be "Al" or "Bert" or "Bertie."

Abigail can be "Abby" or "Gail."

Alexander can be "Alex" or "Xander" or "Zander."

Isabella can be "Izzie" or "Bella" or "Ella."

Patricia can be "Pat" or "Tricia."

Someone, somewhere along the naming road, decided that shortened names that rhyme with each other are also valid nicknames.

William becomes "Will" but also "Bill."

Robert can be "Rob" or "Bob."

Ah, so is "B" the fallback letter? Of course not.

Edward is "Ed" and also "Ted."

Margaret becomes "Meg" and "Peg."

Richard becomes "Rich." It also becomes "Rick" or "Dick." But not "Dich."

That's a little mystifying.

When the Normans invaded England in 1066, they brought sounds that the locals couldn't replicate. "R" was one such sound.

Barbara became "Babs." (Today, it's often "Bobbi.")

Dorothy became "Dolly."

Florence became "Floss." (More often "Flo" today)

Mary became "Molly."

Harold became "Hal."

Teresa became "Tess."

Sarah became "Sally" or "Sadie."

Another factor in less logical nicknames is that some sounds were pronounced differently from how we say them today.

"Ch" was pronounced as a "k." "Th" sounded like "t."

That's why Richard nicknames include "Rick" and "Dick." The name formerly sounded more like "Rickard."

Anthony became "Tony." (This is also why the Thames in England has a silent "h.")

Elizabeth might become "Betty."

Christopher sometimes became "Kit."

Catherine became "Cate" or "Kate."

Another tradition was to add "mine" to the beginning of a name of a loved one.

Along the line, the "mi" sounds fell off and the "n" sound remained.

Edward became "Ned."

Or Ann became "Nan."

Many nicknames came from simply adding the "ee" sound to the end of a name or part of a name. This started in Scotland, but moved elsewhere. The "ee" sound could be spelled a couple of ways.

Nicholas becomes "Nicky."

Arthur becomes "Arty."

Susan becomes "Susie."

Oliver becomes "Ollie."

Michael becomes "Mikey."

A few other nicknames have funny origins. Why would you call a Charles "Chuck"? In Middle English, Charles was "Chukken." That's a scary one.

I can't find an explanation for how James became Jim.

"Daisy" is a nickname for "Margaret" because "Marguerite" is the French word for "daisy."

My Aunt Letitia had the nickname "Lets." I'm embarrassed to think of how many times I would begin a letter to her, "Dear Aunt Let's." But "Let us" was not her nickname.

The word "nickname" has a circuitous origin. At first it was "ekename," a Middle English word for "an added name." People would say "an ekename" and eventually the "n" migrated to the second word and became "a nickname."

We rarely get to choose our nicknames. They are chosen for us. (That's not baffling. We don't choose our regular names, either. Unless we change them later in life.) A son with the same name as his dad might be called something slightly different. If John is the father, the son might be "J.J." for "John Junior."

The shortening of names is sometimes just easier. A three-syllable name can be exhausting to say. (That was blatant sarcasm from a person with a three-syllable name.)

But nicknames are more often an affectionate name for another person. Maybe they'll someday be called "nicenames."

Sources: Rant Sports, Name Nerds, Mental Floss, Today I Found Out, Merriam-Webster, English Language and Usage, The Straight Dope, Baby Names

Style on 02/25/2019

Print Headline: Everyone should get a nickname


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