My thanks to Linda Rosencrantz for spotting the rising trend for vintage “nickname names” like Winnie, Minnie, Elsie, Hattie, Josie and Alfie, Ollie, Freddy and Vinny that were popular in the Victorian era—and which she discovered on the top-100 list of British names. Perhaps the formal names considered by William and Kate when picking a name for their royal baby may reverse that trend in the future.
But, it’s worth thinking about the reason why the British royals did not consider picking a nickname name, like Georgie, and why there’s a benefit to using Oliver, Frederick, Elizabeth and Matilda instead of Ollie, Freddy, Elsie and Tillie for your child.
The concept of “versatility” is simple. It’s better to pick a name that can be used on both formal and informal occasions (or which works well when the child is young, when the nickname version may be preferred—and when the child is an adult, when the more formal version may be more appropriate).
You may recall Judge Judy. She was probably picked as the star of a courtroomTV show because of her common sense, but it helped that her name seemed so unlikely for a judge. Most judges use a formal form of their name, like Judith and Susan rather than Judy and Susie. Why? Because formal names project a more sober, rational and adult—hence credible–image. Judging legal cases is a serious matter. But “Judge Judy” is a highly memorable name because it sounds as though Judge Judy might a small child or a teen-ager rather than an adult who went to law school and became a real judge.
There are many formal occasions on which it can be a benefit to have a name that projects a serious, sober, rational, credible impression: When you graduate high school; when you apply to college, when you go on a college interview or a job interview, when you send out a resume. I’m sure you can think of other occasions when a name that makes a serious impression would come in handy.
Elizabeth is one of the most versatile names around. If you look at 100,000+ Baby Names, you’ll find scores of variations Elizabeth could use at different times in her life depending on her age, temperament and situation: Bess, Betsy Betty, Beth, Elsa, Elsie, Lizzie, Lisa, Liz and Lizzy are just a few. Elsie seems to have worked pretty well for a cow used in TV commercials to advertise milk, but probably won’t make a favorable impression on a job application if you’re not a bovine creature.
So it makes sense to give your child a versatile name that gives him or her a variety options throughout life. Which is why picking a “nickname name” isn’t as smart as picking a versatile name (even though it may be a rising trend in Great Britain).