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Monday, March 10, 2008

Baby Boy John: Nickname Trouble

Kate writes:
Help! I need nickname advice!

I'm adopting a baby this Spring, and if it's a boy, I'd like to follow a family tradition and name him John after my father, my brother, my grandfather, you get the picture. The problem is that my father (Jack) and my brother (John) both live within a mile or so, and that's a lot of people running around with the same name (since I'm single, it will be the same first and last names).

So what I'm looking for is a good nickname for John that isn't Jack. I'm a big fan of traditional names - it's important that it's a name that will work for an adult as well as a kid.

If the baby's a girl, I'm going with Elizabeth, another family name. I'm leaning toward Bess or Lily as a nickname.

Any brilliant suggestions?

Help me, Swistle!

Tough one, Kate! The usual nicknames are Johnny and Jack and that's ALL, so we're really going to need to call upon The Powers of the Internet for this one.

Option the First: Go with the initial and call him J.---I had a friend in high school who did this. To the ear, it's "Jay."

Option the Second: Call him by first and middle names together: John William, for example. My brother was called by his first and middle names together when he was a child---and not just when he was in trouble, but all the time. At first it feels a little awkward, but then it blends into one name.

Option the Third: First and middle initials: J.W., for example.

Option the Fourth: Call him by his middle name outright. I'm pretty sure my friend Mairzy disapproves of this idea, but I think it's a good work-around when you are highly motivated to use a particular name but run into problems such as the one you're encountering. I went to school with several guys who went by their middle names, and other than the annual "roll call correction" ("John Abrams?" "Actually, I go by Will"), it wasn't a problem.

Option the Fifth: As I understand it from novels about rich people, people with a long-running family name used to turn to nicknames such as Trey and Trip for the youngest of three people with the same name. I think that's cute and appealing.

Let's ask Mairzy!
In this corner we have Good Idea: Name son the family name to give him an immediate sense of family identity.

In this corner we have Bad Setup: His grandfather and uncle, who live in the same area, will have exactly the same name.

Possible solution: Come up with a nickname.

The trouble with this solution, of course, is that traditional nickname for John is already in use. (I remember getting very indignant with a first-grade classmate, Johnny, who claimed that he and his father had the same name. I knew very well his dad's name was Jack. Who was he kidding?) If you do use the name John, he'll get called Johnny or Little John just to distinguish him from his uncle. If you call him Jack, he'll be Little Jack or (not at all appealing to me) Jackie. And he might just get called Junior, a nickname that makes me want to curl up and cry.

Possible solution: Use a variant of the name John.

This way, you honor the family name, but avoid the confusion and headaches that come with repeating names. You're lucky to be working with the name that shows up in practically every European language. You can choose from Jonathan, Sean, Evan, Ian, Giovanni, Ivan, Jaques, Johann, Jonas, Shane, Sion, and Yancey. (List courtesy of, which includes a whole lot more options.) Obviously a few of the names are heavily ethnic, which may not fit with the surname. I just included them because, well, I like names. I'd love to use the name Jaques, for instance. But my surname is in the same category as Johnson. Jaques Johnson! The world laughs. Anway, getting back to the matter at hand.

You could consider naming him Jake and calling it a variant of Jack/John. It's not traditional, but you could squeeze by with it.

(For Elizabeth, which you mention briefly at the end of your question: I think Bess is cute, and I'm ready to see it come back again. Lily is not a name I think of as being a nickname for Elizabeth, so I probably wouldn't go that route: if I wanted Lily, I'd go with Lilian/Lillian or just flat-out Lily.)

Help Kate out: What would YOU do if you were using the name John in this situation? Would you name him John and use one of Swistle's solutions? Or would you name him one of Mairzy's variations? Vote in the poll to the right [poll closed; see below], and leave your ideas in the comment section.

[Poll results:
John; call him J.: 11 votes, roughly 14%
John; call him first + middle names: 8 votes, roughly 10%
John; call him first + middle initials: 17 votes, roughly 21%
John; call him by his middle name: 13 votes, roughly 16%
Use a variation such as Jonathan or Ian: 20 votes, roughly 25%
Jake, and pretend it's a variation of John: 3 votes, roughly 4%]


Tessie said...

Fun topic!

I knew several Johns in school who went by first and middle names, and I do like that option (e.g. John David, John Thomas, John Robert).

I also have a brother-in-law who is a junior, and he likes to go by J.R.

Mrs. M said...

I LOVE going by both names: John Robert, John Scott, etc. It's all the rage in the south. His friends can shorten it to JR or JS or JW or whatever the case may be when he's older. That can also be a quick nickname eventhough you call him by John Scott. That way you're using two of swistle's fabulous options.

For Elizabeth, I agree that Lily isn't a nickname for it. I'm a fan of Betsy as I know several betsy's who are Elizabeth's. I also like Ellie, Ella, or Eliza so you stay tru to the initial should you get her personalized items.

Cass said...

So we had this problem in my family too - My grandfather was John Edwin - He liked to be called Ed. My uncle John liked to be called John. My cousin John likes to be called Johnnie. Now I also have a brother in law John and he goes by Jay and his middle name starts with B. So we call him Jay B or Jay Bird (but that's because he liked to run around naked as a kid and that was well before I knew him). My brother is having a son (in May and he wants to continue the John name) and he's going to go with Jay.

For girl I love Bess - my great grandma's name was Elizabeth and she went by Bessie which I think is a little old sounding but she was such an amazing women I think Bess is fantastic. I have a cousin named Elizabeth and when she was first born they called her Izzie (which I still think is weird) but when she grew up we all started calling her Ellie and now it's just Elle. Which I also really like.

My final vote is:
boy: Jay
girl: Ellie

d e v a n said...

I think if you really want to name him John you should just name him John or something very similar. I like the Trey option, but then, IMO you might as well just name him Trey.
Maybe you could use John as the mn, or you could just give him a mn and call him that.

Dallas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KHMcManama said...

Let's say the baby's full name will be John Patrick. With these parameters, I like calling him:

1. Trey or Trip (LOVE Trip)

2. Jay

3. J.P.

4. Patrick

Good luck!

Dallas said...

I've always liked Trey and Trip for thirds. (Sorry about the earlier deleted comment - I didnt read the original post completely the first time. )

Jen said...

I thought about this situation for my first 2 pregnancies; I wanted to use my husband's name as the first name, and then call the baby by his middle name. But we had girls, so I didn't have to actually go through with it.

I think I like the idea of going by his middle name, but it will cause some confusion over the years, and I don't know if that will be a pain for him or not.

I also like the initials idea. Like J.R. or J.D. Something that is simple and easy to say (I think J.W. is a mouthful). Or, go with John for a middle name. That way he still gets to have it, but it will cut down on the confusion, and he could always choose to go by John later.

M said...

I think JP, JD, JB, or JT are great options. Not sure about JR or JW ... there's just something about a W that doesn't ring well in my ear.

AndreAnna said...

While I don't dislike the idea of two names, like John Robert or John David, I like the initial idea much better, e.g., JT, JD, etc. (I would avoid JR though as it totally reminds me of Dallas).

As for a girl, I love the name Elizabeth and I'm surprised no one mentioned this nickname yet - Libby. I love love love that! I also like Bess, but agree that Lily is too different from tne name Elizabeth to be a nickname. You want to go real old-fashioned, you can use Betty or Betsy for Elizabeth as well. But my vote would be for Libby.

Semblance said...

Personally, I favor Jake (or Jay) as a variant of John. Jake sounds respectable both for a child and an adult. I also like the "Trip" idea...but I'm not sure that an adult "Trip" will be taken seriously...which seems to be one of Mom's concerns. (Side note: I know a "Cuatro" who is the fourth male in his family.)

Since Mom is so traditional, I think going by both first and middle names will work well. To me, John is like the male version of Mary, and both work great as double names. Going by his middle name alone would be fine too. I've known many people who have done that, especially when there is a namesake involved. However, I am not in the initials-as-a-name be blunt (and rude, eek!) it just sounds so incomplete and country (and I grew up in the country!)

On another side note, my mom's family has a long line of men by the name of Robert Bruce. It started with Robert, then Bruce, then Rob, then Bert. Though Bert changed it back to Robert in his mid-20s.

Linda said...

Am I alone in the No Nicknames camp? I just don't see the point of naming a kid X and calling him Z. Well, I understand the John thing. Family name, too many people in close proximity with the same name. Gotcha.

I don't understand naming a child Elizabeth (such a GORGEOUS name!) and calling her something else. If you want to call her Bess or Libby or whatever, why don't you just name her that? Is it because you get to name your child TWICE? Cheater. :)

Swistle said...

Linda- Definitely you're not alone, and in fact it's the Nicknames Camp that's frantically calling out for new members to meet their minimum residency requirements. A generation ago, NONE of my peers were called Thomas or Elizabeth, they were ALL Tom and Beth---and now the kids are ALL Thomas and Elizabeth and you'd have to pay CASH MONEY to get anyone except old people to use a nickname instead. But nicknames do come in handy for situations like this, where a name is worth using even though it's causing some confusion. Or for, you know, getting to choose two names: Bess and Libby and Betsy and Jay-Jay are a little light for a birth certificate, but perfect as nicknames.

Mairzy said...

Oh, right, I was going to suggest the initials thing, too. J is a letter that sounds good with lots of other letters.

I have a brother who says it's a pain to go by your middle name. The double name idea is great, though. John lends itself very well to a double name.

I agree with the opinions on Elizabeth/Lily. Both are lovely names, but Lily isn't a nickname of Elizabeth. I suppose there's no reason why it CAN'T be, except that it looks a little forced.

I once told August that we could have six daughters, name them all Elizabeth, and use a different nickname for each one.

Mommy Daisy said...

My vote is for the double name John Allen, John David, etc. Or for the initial thing, which I especially love JD. Or what about Jonathon (or spell is Johnathon).

For the girl, I see someone else said it but I'm going with Libby. I read a series of books when I was a kid that the main character was Libby short for Elizabeth. Cute.

Clarabella said...

I grew up with two kids who had this issue (one of many Johns in their families), and they went by Shon and Jo, respectively. In the poll, I voted for the naming him another version (Sean, Johann) of John, but I gave my own son a long name with the intent of calling him a nickname, so I thought I'd throw out those two (Shon&Jo).

Barb said...

I agree with a two-name solution. John Henry is my personal favorite (I'm considering it for my future child, after my husband John, but we can share it).

What about Jonathan?

I vote for Bess/Beth/Betsy for a nickname for Elizabeth.

I prefer Ellie to Lily for Elizabeth.

Congratulations on your new little arrival!

K in the Mirror said...

I'm a big fan of John Michael. I voted for naming him a variation though, because I also love Ian and Jonathan both.

With Elizabeth, I think all the different nicknames have such unique connotations, I would actually just name her Elizabeth and then see what you feel like calling her once she gets here. Libby, Elle, and Beth are very different people in my opinion.

Maggie said...

I think that you can't go wrong with either using a double name or by just calling the child by his middle name.

I also agree that Lily is a little bit of a stretch from Elizabeth for me, but that I really like both Libby and Ellie as nicknames.

As far as nicknames go, I think that they come in very handy when you are wanting to use a family name but aren't crazy about it or are trying to avoid doubling up names (my mother's name and mine are both Margaret, but she goes by Margaret or Margo and I only go by Maggie...and my grandmother went by Peggy). I also like nicknames because it gives the option to someone to 'change' their name by dropping the nickname once they are grown up, for any number of reasons.

LoriD said...

I really like the double name option. I know a little guy named John Carlo (picking up naming traditions from his English mom and Italian dad). I think it's adorable.

I also has a cousin who is in a long line of John/Johnny/Jay/Jack's. He simply goes by John B., which I always thought was cool. I also know a Mary K - she always seemed a little cooler than a Mary Kay!

For Elizabeth, I like Bess, Beth, Liza or Libby for nicknames (or actual names).

Rayne of Terror said...

My grandpa was Larry or Lawrence Sr. My dad was Little Larry (he hated that). My brother went by a nickname of his middle name so he wouldn't be littlest Larry. I can tell you from a practical perspective it is a PITA for anything having to do with credit to have so many men with such close names. For example, identity theft of one's credit impacts all three's credit.

Nowheymama said...

Remember in "Little Women" when Meg and her husband, John, called their son Demi, as in demijohn? I always liked that. I guess Demi Moore ruined that one, though.

Anna said...


Stephanie G said...

This is an interesting one. I went to school with a kid named Ryan, who found out in grade 8 (so, age 13!) that his actual first name was "John Ryan". And that all three of his brothers were "John somethings" who went by the "something".

His parents never told any of them! hahaha. He only found out because the teacher was writing "John Ryan" down for the diploma and Ryan was all, "My name isn't John Ryan..." until he asked his mom.

I always thought that was funny.

I would say, go by his middle name or name him with John as his middle name. You're still honouring your family, but you don't necessarily get stuck then if you feel there aren't anymore John nicknames.

For Elizabeth, I agree with people that you should wait to meet her before nicknaming her. :-)

I also knew a Beth who I *always* knew as Beth, and found out about 5years into our knowing each other that on her birth certificate it says "Elisabeth"... so it is possible to easily make people believe a name is one thing even if one the birth certificate it's something else.

And it took me many comments on here before it clicked that "Trey" or "Trip" are plays on the number three or third place. LOL. I'm dense today!

I do actually think Trip or Trey are totally cute in that context.

Misty said...

First, I like the "Jay" option. I feel like that maintains what Kate is going for. But the middle name option works, too. Then, you are keeping the family name AND letting the child have a separate identity.

Also, when we were pregnant, we considered Elizabeth with the nickname Libby. Love that.

Carolyn said...

Did anyone watch the series Once and Again? The main character's name was Lilly, short for Elizabeth. It stuck with me b/c I had never heard of it before. I think it is pretty and interesting.

B said...

I voted for the first and middle initial. But I also just like J. Here's why:

My husband was named Jimmy, after his grandfather and uncle, and Dale as a mn after his father. For the first several years he was called Jimmy Dale. For those of you who like double names, fine, your choice, but imagine Jimmy Dale said with a thick southern accent. Not pretty.

Thank God he had a T-ball coach who shortened it to JD. Maybe southern, but not nearly as bad.

Then we started dating, and it got shortened to J, which my husband likes much better. So double names may be fine, but you have to be extremely careful with the flow, and it may depend on what region they live in and how it is going to sound.

Anonymous said...

My son was almost named George V (yes, the fifth!) Alive at the time of his birth were his great grandfather George Jr., his grandfather George III and his father George IV. The eldest George was generally only referred to by his first name by his wife (obviously) and the grandfather went by George. My husband (George IV) went by George or Georgie (even at 30 years old). While that sounds confusing, it honestly wasn't. We opted not to use George V and chose instead to use George as his middle name which has worked well for us because we had another name we really liked for a first name.

I say use John. Eventually a nickname or a shortening that is exactly perfect for him will find it's way into the family and you won't have the confusion either.

Anonymous said...

Oh, as a nickname for Elizabeth I really like Betsy or Bettie. Both are cute and uncommon.

heather said...

I know I'm coming in late on this one, but I just had to add my two cents...
We have a friend who is a fourth generation 'John Edward'. His last name starts with a B. So for his whole life he has been called Jeb. I didn't know for the first long time that I knew him that his real name was not Jeb. I happened to one day see his credit card and found out he is actually John Edward. And I thought that was the coolest way to come up with a nickname for a repeat name in the family! Now this of course, would have a lot to do with your last name as obviously you couldn't put together a three letter name with just any last letter... but on the off chance we have a B last name or something similarly workable, I think that's a unique way to go!

Taith (Journey) said...

I have the same problem, but with William Joseph. Father and Grandfather, and uncle all go by Bill. Cousin is named Liam.

Swistle said...

Taith- I like "Will" best, myself. Not, er, "Willy." But Will is good!

Anonymous said...

My name is John and I've always hated it. My father is also John so my family called me John Scott. I hated that too.

Give the kid a cool middle name and call him that.