Friday, November 14, 2014

Isn't a name enough? Why do so many people need nicknames?

The 2012 GOP presidential primary season included two Ricks, a Ron, a Fred, a Buddy, an Andy, a Mitt and a Newt. 

Some past presidents have insisted on using their nicknames. William Jefferson Clinton was just plain Bill, or Bubba. Enemies called him Slick Willie. James Earl Carter was Jimmy (or Jimmah).

On a campaign button, Ike fits much better that Dwight, Ditto for TR, LBJ and FDR.

But, President William Henry Harrison was known as Tippecanoe. That's much longer than Bill. He served for just 30 days (a record).

Ike's veep -- and later a president -- Richard M. Nixon became Dick and Tricky Dicky.

Jimmy takes up about the same space as James (Carter), but sounds much friendlier.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was called Jack, but "JFK" fit much better in newspaper headlines. I don't know if the current president has a nickname, but the New York Daily News frequently prints "Bam."


  • Some really wussyful names like Melvin, give us manly names like Mel.
  • Les is more (not less) manly than Leslie or Lester.
  • Sly Stallone could kick Sylvester's ass.

Tony Soprano sounds much more macho than Anthony. Anthony Anastasio was Tough Tony, the younger brother of Albert "Mad Hatter" Anastasia. Machine Gun Kelly, Muscles and Sammy the Bull invoke much more fear and trembling than George Kelly Barnes, George Futterman or Salvatore Gravano. Crazy Joey Gallo is not someone to mess around with. Neither is Scarface (Al Capone, above). Baby Face, Skinny Joey, Fat Dominic, Hymie, Louie Ha-Ha, Louie Lump Lump and Little Nicky are much less intimidating than Kid Blast, Killer Twist or Grim Reaper. Click for more mobster names.

Why do some names (e.g., Richard) spawn so many nicknames, (Rich, Rick, Dick).

  • And some nicknames even have nicknames (Richie, Ricky, Dickie).
Why do some names that invoke ugly people (Gwendolyn) lead to nicknames that evoke cute faces (Gwen)?

Why so some nicknames like Peggy sound nothing like their full names, like Margaret? My father was called Bud or Buddy, but his legal name was Bertram. No one who knew him called him Bert. Sy (not See) is a commone nickname for Seymour, and for Simon.

Why do some nicknames, like Josh, Luke and Matt, sound contemporary, even though the full names (Joshua, Lucas and Matthew) goes back thousands of years? Isaac and Izzy both sound old-fashioned.

Why do some people never outgrow their childish names, like Sammy Davis and Stevie Wonder?

Sometimes a nickname for one person becomes a full name for others. Alexandra has given us Alex, Alix, Alexa, Allie, Ali, Lexy, Sandra, Sandy. Elizabeth has a long long of spinoffs: Betty, Bettie, Bet, Bett, Bette, Betta, Betsy, Betsey, Betsi, Beth, Bess, Bessie, Bessy, Bettina, Elsie, Elisa, Elsa, Eliza, Ellie, Elly, Ilse, Liz, Lizzy, Lizzie, Liza, Lisa, Lise, Lisette, Lizette, Lisbet, Lizbeth, Libby. 

I know a man who was born Charlie (not Charles) and a Jake who is not really a Jacob.

Some nicknames cross the gender barrier. Jacky(ie) can be a nickname for Jacqueline or John. Chris goes with Christopher and Christina (who may also be Tina). Stevie Nicks is a female, born Stephanie. I dated Rosemary, known as Ricky.

Some names like Gregory, Oliver, Frederick, Allison, Charles, Leonard and Timothy are most often said by parents and teachers -- but friends say Greg, Ollie, Fred, Freddy, Al, Alli, Charlie, Chuck, Len, Lenny, Tim and Timmy.
  • If someone calls my office and asks to speak to "Mike Marcus," I know he never met me and is probably trying to sell me Wall Street stock or printer toner. I think only one person who actually knew me called me Mike. That was my father, so I didn't correct him. NOBODY calls me Mickey or Mick.

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