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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Baby Naming Issue: Nicknames

Jennifer writes:
This isn't really a baby naming problem as we have no baby to name at the moment but, I'm curious as to how you feel about choosing a name based on possible nicknames or shortening of the name...

My son's name is Liam & I feel rather strongly about not shortening boys' names so Liam works really well in that regard. Girls' names I have no problem with longer names that can be shortened to use in day-to-day life; in fact our girl name for Liam was Gabriella which would have been shortened to Brie (not Gabby or Ella).

I thought I was pretty safe with choosing Liam and having this "issue" with shortening boys' names AND nicknames...turns out my in-laws (why is it always the in-laws??) started calling him Li-Li the DAY HE WAS BORN! I cannot stand how that sounds, how it feels to say it (I never myself ever called him that), what it makes me think when they call him that...I like nothing about it yet still they managed to come up with a shortened/nickname for my unshortenable/unnicknameable boy name! Thankfully as he outgrow his newborn-ness they stopped calling him that, because seriously, could you imagine a 12 year old being called Li-Li by his Uncle? Talk about embarrassing...and of course, I apologize in advance to anyone who uses this & loves it, I just do not!

So, do you have a preference for length of names & nickname-ability for gender? I like the shorter boy names & longer girl names - plus they sound better with our last name! Admittedly, my name is a longer name and way obviously shorten-able so I could totally be biased...

And totally off topic - do you ever use the Must Sound Good When I Scream It name test? I especially use that when testing out how the first & middle names sound together :)

Oh, what a very interesting topic! I LOVE to talk about nicknames, because I am sooooo inconsistent: sometimes I will say one thing Very Strongly, and two minutes later I can say the opposite thing just as Strongly.

And I'm picky about nicknames: I consider some nicknames "legitimate" and some nicknames NOT, and who gets to decide what makes a nickname legitimate? ONLY ME. I will claim it "just IS that way," but then I will make a ruling in the opposite direction on a similar issue (or even the SAME issue!), and I won't bat an eye when I say it "just IS that way," too.

Where were we? Oh, yes! The first issue you bring up is the maddening one of people using nicknames when you don't want them to, which is something we touched on in the post about the name Devereaux. I think it's almost impossible to prevent a determined Nicknamer from nicknaming a child---and as you've found, they can nickname ANYTHING. If you'd named him the letter L, they'd have called him Elly-Elly-L or whatevs. But aside from the very determined (and why IS this so often the in-laws?), the trends are on your side if you want to avoid nicknames: never have there been so many Jameses and Williams and Elizabeths NOT going by Jimmy and Billy and Beth. (Okay, fine, I have no idea if the "never have there been" part of that sentence is true.)

Shoot, I've lost my place again. Oh, yes! You wanted to know if I had a preference for nicknameability of names, and if it was different preference for boys and for girls. So far, what I've noticed is this: I don't mind if a name has a nickname, as long as I LIKE the nickname. I've rejected names that I loved in their full forms but disliked the nicknames of: I knew I could control what I called the child, and that I would have some control over what my friends and family called the child---but that I would have zero control over what the child wanted to be called, and that the child might choose the very nickname I hated.

I notice that I tend to prefer shorter, more common boy names: of my four boys, none of them goes by a name-based nickname yet (I say "name-based" because we're the kind of family that calls people Hedgehog and Blue and Fry). I tend to prefer longer, more elaborate girl names: I call my girl by her long name, but almost everyone else in the family calls her by an approved nickname and/or by the non-name-related nickname that occurred spontaneously when she was a baby. Because I liked playing around with nicknames as a child, I do like girl names with nickname potential.

You also asked if I use the Scream Test to judge a name's suitability. I use something similar, which is the Nag Test. I say the name in this sort of sentence: "Name, did you go potty?" "Name, did you finish your homework?" "Name! I said to put away your shoes!"


Jess said...

You and I have very similar approaches to nicknames. I cross names off my mental list as soon as I think of one nickname that I don't like for them, because I know that ultimately it will be beyond my control. But I love the option of nicknames (for boys and girls) in general so that the kid can have some influence over the name they feel suits them the most. Also, Torsten's last name is only one syllable, so I like the idea of a longer first name that can be shortened for daily use.

But Li-Li! That's cruel!

Meredith said...

I love nicknames, but only shortened versions of the original name (like Beth for Elizabeth - not Punkin or Boo or something non-related to the name). All of my favorite names are partially my favorites because of the nicknames that go with them. My daughter Annabelle gets called "Belle" often, which is fine with me, I chose her name knowing that Belle would be the perfect nickname. I imagine answering the phone when she older and having her friends say "Is Belle there?"

I like "Will" for William, "Meg" or "Maggie" for Margaret, "Ella" for Eloise, etc, etc.

I guess it seems like a classy thing to do (to me)...Maybe a way to make traditional or family names seem young, and I think it is important to use family names.

But yeah, Li Li is a little ridiculous. Liam just sounds so perfect on its own. Why mess with it? I think sometimes people just want to baby up a name.

Steph the WonderWorrier said...

As far as nicknames go, I feel that people will always find a nickname / other name for each other.

Like I said in my comment on the Evie Taylor post... if "Evie" goes on the birth certificate, she might be called "Eve"; or if "Eve" is on the certificate, she'll be "Evie". Longer or shorter names are always "nicked" as it were.

I don't believe nicknames (name-based or otherwise) are able to be avoided throughout a person's entire lifetime. So I do think it's important to think of names that have nicknames you like, so you can try to "sway the masses" to the nickname you want your child to have.

My best friend Lindsay has the following nicknames: Lins, Linny, and LOO. Yes, Loo (probably stemmed from being called Linny-loo as a little girl). It's just a nickname that happened; I highly doubt it was a nickname her parents wanted before she was born.

In sum: nicknames are going to happen in some form, it's inevitable. Just choose a name that you like many of the possible nicknames of - and be open minded I think. Sometimes even the most disliked nicknames become affectionate names between family members; and many nicknames that aren't traditional to a name won't last past childhood.

Last example. My name is Stephanie, and I've been Stephie or Steph. My youngest brother (13 years younger than me) called me "Estie" (prounounced "Ess-tee"); it was one of his first words. My family decided "Estie" was great - it was so cute that the baby was calling me that... and now, almost 10 years later, I'm still Estie to my little brother and to my immediate family when my little brother is around.

And I'll tell ya, Estie has grown on me over all these years. LOL.

Angie said...

When I named my daughter, I was trying to avoid anything that can be nicknamed. However, my Mom said there are people out there who will insist on giving others nicknames. Therefore I think it is better to at least have some control over the nickname, at least in the beginning, and pick a name with a nickname you like.

Interestingly, I too am inconsistent with nicknames. I used to think it was very stupid for expectant parents to pick a nickname first and then go about searching for a long version. I would think, "Why not just try to find a good long or formal name you like or a name that stands on its own without a nickname?"

However, as I begin to appreciate classic names more, I like the idea of following the trends with a nickname, while using a classic long name for the birth certificate. That way parents can follow the trends when naming their children, but when the children grow up and the trend is no longer hot, but old and tired, the adult child has a timeless formal name to use.

For example, instead of naming a child Lily, I like the idea of Elizabeth, nicknamed Lily.

And on that note, nicknames have turned me on to some formal names that I used to dislike. For example, I love Lainey and Sukie, but don't think these names stand up on their own, and are only suitable for nicknames. Suddenly I find myself growing to love their formal versions, names I used to write off as boring or dated, Elaine and Susan.

Rachel said...

I always found it odd when people name their kid with the idea that they will only be called the nickname. Why not just name them the nickname? I had a friend in high school who was named Nikki (not Nicole) and it made sense to me. No one was ever going to call her Nicole so why confuse the issue?

I can see nicknames just evolving (I went to school with a Sassy who was really a Samantha and knew a Woozy who was really a Susan!) but if you know you are planning to use a nickname exclusively, naming them the full version doesn't make a lot of sense to me, especially in some cases were I know the couple didn't even like the full name, just the nickname.

Rachel said...

I also think you can avoid a nickname even if you have a name that is easily nicked. My brother (Russell) has avoided nicknames simply by telling people that his name is Russell, not Russ or Rusty etc. And I am never called "Rach" because I hate it. I just say "I prefer Rachel" and that is the end of it. People who ignore your wishes are just being rude and that's a bigger issue than the name.

Swistle said...

Rachel- I think the idea is to give them something they can use in case the nickname ever DOESN'T make sense. There are some professions where the name Nikki would be a liability, and it would be nice to turn to Nicole. And if she were instead in a profession that was perfect for the name Nikki, it wouldn't HURT anything to have had the Nicole option.

I agree with you about a person usually being able to prevent a nickname for themselves. What I worry about is more like I'd have a daughter named Rachel and I'd hate the nickname Rach, but SHE'D like it and want to use it. THAT I don't think can be prevented. I also don't think it's easy to prevent a nickname on someone else's behalf: that is, you've found you can keep people from calling you Rach, but your parents might have run into more trouble if they'd tried to keep your grandparents from calling you that.

Rachel said...

Not to be argumentative but I sort of think what with all the Heavens, Brilynns, Ashleighas, Brooklyns, Jaydens, Devontes, Savannahs, Kaylees, Diamonds, Caydons, Destinys, Makalyas and Asias running around (all names of students I taught in public schools, many of which are on the top 100 list for 2007) that a name that is traditionally a nickname used as an actual name will not stand out by the time these kids get into the work force much less be a detriment. If anything a lot of them will seem quaint, especially in our increasingly multicultural workforce and the recent fondness for "unique" names.

There also a lot of nicknames already being used as names in the professional world. I don't think I've worked anywhere were someone in a major position of power wasn't named Jenny or Debbie or Cathy or Patty.

My parents also had no problem telling people what our actual names were. If anyone (relatives included) called us anything different, they were nicely corrected. People who insist on using unwanted nicknames after being asked to stop are being incredibly impolite and insensitive. You're the parent, you get to decide what the kid is called, at least until they are old enough to see things differently and make their own decision.

As a former teacher, I would say that 99% of the thousands of kids I taught, kept the name the parents called them for the years before they got to school/puberty if for no other reason than they are used to it and that after all those years it is easier to keep it than to have have to convince everyone in your life to call you a new name, no matter how ridiculous or embarrassing the original nickname or name might be.

Of course, some people don't seem to mind random nicknames or even people saying their name incorrectly, both things that would drive me crazy.

Queen of Carrots said...

I love nicknames. Maybe it's because my name doesn't have any real nicknames. But I always look for names for my kids that have good nicknames. Even though that is what we will call them primarily, I still like them to have a more formal option. And I usually come up with a totally random, silly, embarrassing nickname to call them only while they are babies.

Leah said...

I think you hit it Swistle, when you said that no matter how short the original name, nicknames are bound to follow. Elle will become Ellie, Beau will be become Beauster, whatever. Nicknames just happen.

I think with babies, though, there's extra leeway since you're talking at them more than to them to a certain extent. Li-Li might seem okay to an eensy baby but not so okay for a five-year-old kid.

That said, nickname habits can be broken. My brother was called Timmy until he decided he hated it at age 7 or so, and ever since, he's been Tim. (Incidentally, my dad's official name was Teddy until he changed his birth certificate to Ted, and my SO decided at age 8 that he hated his first name and has since gone by his middle name.) We always like to think names are permanent, but they really never are.

Anonymous said...

I am a Jennifer who is unlike most people apparently are. I go by Jenny, but I am never bothered if someone tries to call me Jen or Jennifer. I tend to find that if they have a friend or relative that they call Jennifer, they'll call me Jennifer too. But I know a lot of people who HATE it when someone tries to shorten or lengthen their name.

Even though I'm Jenny, I am happy that my Dad got his way and my name went on the birth certificate as Jennifer instead of Jenny. And it has made me think that instead of naming my first daughter Lily, that I will go with a more formal Lillian or Liliana.

Mommy Daisy said...

I love this discussion. I always thought I'd steer away from naming my children names that can be shortened. My mom named us three girls Sarah, Rachel, and Mary. No nicknames. Occasionally someone will call Rachel, Rach, but she hates it and usually tells people. I briefly went by Saige in high school, mostly because there were too many Sarah's in my small school and it was a combination of my first and last name.

But my son's name is Zachariah. And when we chose it, we liked the name and we liked that it could be shortened. It just worked for me. Since it's such a long name, we went ahead and OKed the nickname Zac- spelled that was for shortness vs. the long name. My mother almost never uses his full name. He is Zac to her and was from the beginning. I do regret telling people right away that they could call him Zac, because I love the name Zachariah and hardly anyone calls him that. I do, but I still shorten it from time to time because it's easier. So, I suppose we have to live with what we started. And by using Zac we don't have to constantly correct people that mistake Zachariah for Zachary. Although some assume that's his name from the shortened Zac. And I want people to know that his name is a little different than all the other Zac/k/h's out there.