Sorry: There Are No Nickname Proof Names…


…But There Are Assumed vs. Optional Nicknames

A few years ago I remember an expectant mother lamenting that she loved the name Samuel, but hated Sam. She was pleading to the internet community, looking for validation.

“Can I name my son Samuel and avoid having him called Sam?”, she asked hopefully.

So many people were willing to tell her what she wanted to hear.

If you know me, you know I am not one to tell people what they want to hear.

I was the lone dissenting voice.

Something to remember when picking a name: When kids become older, the name becomes theirs not the parents.

The parents give the name, but the kid owns it.

Maybe this mom can successfully insist on Samuel for a few years, but once her son becomes older, if he decides he prefers to be called Sam, there’s little she can do.

Compounding this problem is that, for Samuel, Sam is the assumed nickname.

Names with assumed nicknames are like package deals. I would suggest to parents who don’t love the assumed nickname to avoid these names no matter how much they love them. (If the parents also happen to love the assumed nickname, that’s a different story.)

Few names are nickname-proof, but some names that have optional, and not assumed nicknames.

What does that mean?

Since the most recent Reader Q&A Video post was about an unwanted nickname, now seems like a good time to discuss assumed vs. optional nicknames.

Some names have assumed nicknames. This means that there is only one, possibly two nicknames that are widely used and are often assumed.

Then there are optional nicknames. Optional nicknames are ideal in my opinion. These names either are very unusual with one or two little-known nicknames or they have so many nicknames that most people won’t assume any of them.

The infamous Elizabeth is one of these names that has so many nicknames that no one should assume someone named Elizabeth goes by any of them.

But Elizabeth is an easy example.

An example of a name that is very unusual to the point where few people would know any nicknames is Bisma. (There were 6 Bisma’s born in the US in 2012.)

And of course there’s the name from the most recent Reader Q&A video, Philomena, another unusual name. The name is susceptible to being shortening due to its length, but there are a few options: Philly, Philo, Mena, Mina, Millie, and possibly others. Due to the unusualness of the name and the number of nicknames, none of them can be assumed.

Do you want other examples of names with optional nicknames?

Of course you do.

Here are some former UBN Spotlight Names that fit this category.

And if you are not familiar with Spotlight names the list may look a bit eclectic to you. That’s the idea. Some of these are part of a Spotlight Name series such as Great-grandparent Names and Unfairly Dated Names. (You can learn more about these series by visiting the UBN Spotlight Names page.)

(Each name links to the original post.)

Name Spotlight Name Series
Aida Spotlight Name
Aletha Spotlight Name
Amos Spotlight Name
Amy Unfairly Dated
April Unfairly Dated
Balthazar Spotlight Name
Begonia Spotlight Name
Bianca Spotlight Name
Blythe Name To Watch
Casimir Spotlight Name
Clive Spotlight Name
Eartha Spotlight Name
Effie Spotlight Name
Etta Spotlight Name
Farrah Failure to Launch
Heather Unfairly Dated
Helen Great-Grandparent
Hillary Failure to Launch
Humphrey Unexpectedly Familiar
Lara Failure to Launch
Lavinia Spotlight Name
Lottie Great-Grandparent
Mack Failure to Launch
Marlon Spotlight Name
Mary Spotlight Name
Mindy Failure to Launch
Ocie Great-Grandparent
Ophelie Spotlight Name
Perry Spotlight Name
Phaedra Spotlight Name
Rafe Spotlight Name
Rhea Spotlight Name
Roscoe Spotlight Name
Ross Spotlight Name
Tennessee Unexpectedly Familiar
Wallis Failure to Launch

It’s worth repeating: I can’t claim these names are nickname proof. A nickname proof name is one without any nicknames.

But as UBN reader Elizabeth recently discovered, there is no such thing as a nickname proof names. There will always be people who insist on finding a nickname for everyone.

What I am saying is that these names don’t have assumed nicknames. While 90% of Michael’s are called “Mike,” the names on this list don’t have that fate, the fate of an assumed nickname.

Names with optional nicknames do have a downside: these names may be more susceptible to unwanted nicknames from friends and family.

But like I said to Elizabeth (who was disappointed that family members had shortened Philomena into “Philly”): you can’t control what other people call your child, but you can control what you call your child and you should keep calling your child whatever you like.

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Photo Credit: seanmcgrath via Compfight cc


  1. I like the distinction between assumed and optional nicknames. I agree that no name is nickname proof. There are some that are more resistant to nicknames than others, and I think that many parents are choosing names that are less likely to be shortened. The surname trend and newer inventions like Brayden, etc, fall into this category.

  2. I have family members who picked “nickname-proof” names for their children, and insisted from birth that they be referred to by their full names, not pet names or unanticipated diminutives. This worked very well for a while. What they didn’t expect was that the siblings would devise nicknames for each other! Sibling-bestowed nicknames are about as impossible to escape as self-bestowed ones, especially if they are truly wearable. The youngest answers more readily to her nickname than her insisted-upon formal name now, and while her father is still annoyed about it, it really is admirable how much she owns it!

  3. Jennifer R. says:

    Good topic! I guess I just don’t get it though. I tend to choose my battles carefully and do not get upset about something I can’t control. This is one of those things. I would never not choose a name because of a potential nickname. As long as the nickname is not foul or would cause teasing/embarrassment. I can’t imagine any harm from Samuel being occasionally called Sam, or Alexandria being known as Allie.

    I think something has to be said about certain names feeling too formal for a small child, no matter how nice they are. Alexandria, for example, may feel a bit fussy for a 6 lb infant. But Allie, a natural choice for childhood. I think this is what happened with the example of Philomena. It’s a beautiful choice, but many people will feel it is overly formal for a close family member that is so young… so it feels natural to look for a nickname. I don’t see the harm in it when it is clearly out of love. Nicknames are usually expressed out of love and informality with someone close to you, rarely strangers.

    Choose your battles and live a happy life. I just can’t imagine taking this into much consideration.

    As for my own naming style – I have found that with some names I intentionally choose names for the nickname. Although I don’t love Winifred, I adore Winnie and would consider it. Just an example. But my name is Jennifer and I was always called Jen or Jenny from loved ones and it never bothered me a bit. In fact, it feels sort of special to have certain people call you different things. 🙂

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