Nicknames as Given Names

Sometimes when a baby name trend hits the UK, it finds its way to US shores. The US and the UK share these top 20 names, Olivia, Emily, Lily, Chloe, Grace, Ava, Isabella, Mia, and Ella. And some top 20 UK names haven’t hit the US top 20 yet, but appear to be on the rise, such as Amelia, Ruby, and Charlotte. Incidentally, the reverse is also true – Jessica, of US 80’s fame is currently number 6 in the UK.

Among the ranks of the UK’s top 100 girl names are Evie, Maisie, Daisy, Poppy, Ellie, Millie, Katie, Molly, Gracie, Rosie, Tilly, Eliza, and Libby. The boy’s top 100 includes, Harry, Alfie, Charlie, Max, Archie, Leo, Freddie, Jamie, Theo, Alex, Toby, Ollie, Ben, and Louie. These names share a commonality – they are all nickname given names.

This is really nothing new under the sun, at least for girls. Among the top 10 girl names for the US way back in the 1880’s was Minnie – ranking at number 6 for the decade. Names in the top 20 for that decade include Annie, Bessie and Nellie. Other names in the top 20 for that decade have seen resurgence this past decade, such as Anna, Emma, Clara, Alice, Grace, and Ella.

What can this tell us about future baby name trends in the US?

The time is right for a nickname-name trend on this side of the pond. There are two prominent indicators, the popularity of these names in the UK and these names fit the 80-120 year recycle pattern, meaning revival names are most likely to come back in style every 80-120 years-or roughly every four or five generations.

Feelings about this trend are mixed in the US.

On the one side are those who feel if you prefer the sound and look of the nickname over the formal version, using the nickname on the birth certificate ensures the name you like won’t get lost to a rebellious teen choosing a different nickname or – yikes – the formal version!

On the other side are those who feel using a formal version gives your child more options and seems more substantial on the future resume.

Generally I fall into the later group. My general feelings are that parents should have fun naming their baby, but not at their baby’s expense. While nicknames are fun, they paint the child in a corner when she becomes a grown-up.

Additionally, while perhaps the future business world will be less judgmental of nickname-names, I simply can’t imagine formal versions ever being seen as inappropriate. For that reason, I usually feel the risk isn’t worthwhile.

Lastly, most names ending in -ie, seems incomplete to me without a formal version.

But with me, there are always exceptions.

First of all, let’s get this fact out of the way. Some people feel Lucy and Sophie are nickname names. However, these names are historically given names in their own right.

While Lucy can be a nickname for several other names such as Lucille, Lucinda and Lucia, as a given name, Lucy is actually older than all of its “formal” versions.

Sophie is nothing more than the French form a Sophia, and while Sophie works as a nickname for Sophia, it is an established given name.

Second of all, let’s get another fact out of the way. While Molly began life as a nickname for Mary, Molly has become established as a given name and most modern parents don’t even know Molly was once a nickname for Mary, except for name nerds like me. Molly has successfully crossed over and therefore is now considered a given name.

Some other nicknames, while they haven’t completely crossed over yet, I feel could cross to the formal side soon. These include Alex, Kate, Leo and Max.

Maybe like some variant spellings, I will eventually come around to some nickname names. I must admit I have a soft spot for some of them.

Poppy, Polly and Millie have a lot of potential. Change the first letter of the acceptable given Molly, and Polly is the result. And if you switch out a vowel, Millie sounds very much like Molly. Using the Milly spelling makes the similarity even more apparent. If Molly is ok on the birth certificate, why not Polly or Milly? As an interesting tidbit, both Molly and Polly also originated from Mary.

But some nicknames, while I like them as strictly nicknames, as given names, they irritate me for no good reason. I’m hesitant to mention them, because I don’t want to alienate readers who may have used these names on their kids. And that is likely since many are on the rise in the US and already popular in the UK.

Thus is the challenge in writing about baby names. I pride myself in being honest, but I don’t want to get on my soap box and come across as being the only opinion that matters on the subject.

Photo Credit: Pink Poppy Photography


  1. Hi Angela,
    I know kids that have almost all of the names that you mentioned in the beginning of the post. When I was a kid I was always the only Justin in my school. Now it has gotten more popular.

    I laugh sometimes when I see the kids name listed on personal cups and other trinkets that they sell in stores like Toys R Us.


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