I spoke to the Chicago Tribune about my thoughts on the decline of nicknames.
I have no idea why Pamela Redmund Satran would want to scatter (in effect hiding) 15 usable names in a long list of Rarely-Used Boys’ Names most of which are problematic for any child who gets them. Why? Because they will strike many as cartoonish, odd, off-putting, old-fashioned, ancient, strange and/or unrecognizable.
Here Are 36 Examples of Problematic Names That Aren’t Used Much Any More for Good Reason:
Cartoonish names: Linus, Abner, Casper, Waldo, Kermit, Homer
Odd names: Basil, Eamon, Vladimir, Boaz, Wolfgang, Caspian, Cosmo
Off-Putting names: Benedict, Enoch, Valentine, Ambrose
Old-fashioned names: Archibald, Woodrow, Clarence, Cornelius, Alistair, Thaddeus, Rupert, Randolph, Phineas
Ancient names: Obadiah, Esau, Horace, Horatio, Leander, Ignatius
Strange, Unrecognizable names: Ozias, Osias, Amias
Why would Pamela Redmond Satran choose to hide 15 pretty good names among such a long list of mostly unusable, unusual names. Maybe the idea of discriminating between names that will strike most people as usable and names that will strike most people as unusable is not in her job description. Or, maybe she’s penurious and likes the idea having someone like me organize and edit her list, without paying me a penny.
Here are the 15+ Usable Names Satran Tried to Hide:
Notice, I didn’t say these were great names, but I think you can use them without too many problems. You may think Finnian is old-fashioned or odd. But if you’re familiar with “Finnian’s Rainbow” (a great Broadway musical) you’ll probably think the name is charming and if you go for cool nicknames, Finn is a winner. I also like these nicknames: Dash for Dashiel, Cliff for Clifford, Harry for Harris, and Monty for Montgomery. BTW, it helps to know that Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery (a Brit) defeated the Germans commanded by “Desert Fox” Erwin Rommel at El Alamein.
But Clyde is cool as is. It was made cool by Warren Beatty who played bank-robber, Clyde Barrow, in “Bonnie & Clyde” and by Walt (Clyde) Frazier of the New York Knicks who stole baskeballs the way Clyde Barrow stole money. Batman and Robin were a great team and Robin pulled his own weight. And if you’re an aficionado of single-malt scotch whiskey, it’s hard not to like the name Glen as in Glenlivet, Glenfiddich and Glenmorangie.
I probably like Grey because of Grey Advertising, Grey Goose and “Grey Gardens.” If you’re looking for a color name, Grey is more nuanced than, say, Red or Blue. I’d use Grey if my last name started with a “G.” Grey Gordon. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? But, to be honest, I prefer Gordon Grey. I suppose I like Gordon because it goes well with Grey, if that happens to be your last name. Grey Goldberg? Maybe not. I’d suggest Gary Goldberg, but Gary isn’t on Satran’s list.
Can you see how baby-naming is about finding exactly the right name–with the right meaning, the right sound and the right vibe? Take your time; it helps to weigh all your options over a seven or eight month period. Here’s an important take-away: Never look for names in a list created by someone who doesn’t care enough to sort out the most usable names from the least.
At the end of her stimulating article about Busy Philipps’ much criticized approach to baby-naming, Sara McGinnis writing for Baby Center asks readers what they prefer: To pick a traditional (formal) name from which nicknames can be derived? Or to follow Busy Philipps’ practice of naming babies what you want to call them?
McGinnis quotes Busy Philipps (whose given name was Elizabeth Jean Philipps) from an interview on “Today,” “Since I grew up with a nickname — Busy being short for Elizabeth — when my husband and I started to have our babies, we decided that if we wanted to call our kids something, we would just name them that thing that we wanted to call them.” Needless to say, Busy is not short for Elizabeth. Liz , Liza and Beth are short for Elizabeth. Busy is either a name she picked up as a child from a sibling or friend who couldn’t say Lizzy or who inadvertently smushed Beth and Lizzy together–or because she was a human version of the Energizer Bunny.
Philipps’ unconventional style of baby-naming resulted in daughters named Birdie and Cricket. I’m not the only commentator who calls these names juvenile and demeaning. In her interview Philipps mentioned that Birdie might want to be a professional ice-skater or an astronaut. Do you think that the name Birdie would be a plus in either of those pursuits or would look impressive on her college or job applications? Cricket and Birdie may be cute names for toddlers or preschoolers, but those names are likely to be burdens in high school, college and adulthood.
I’m surprised that Elizabeth stuck with the nickname she picked up as a child. The name Busy projects the image of a multi-tasker in fast-mo (the opposite of slow-mo). The best thing I can say about it is that Busy is a unique and memorable name, like Dweezil, Moon Unit, Apple, Peaches Honeyblossom and North West.
Problem is: neither Birdie nor Cricket are “versatile.” Both names work well during early childhood because they sound “cute,” but at some point in a girl’s life, brains, talent and character become more important than cute-little-girliness. And from that time on, the juvenile names become a burden. I was called a diminutive nickname for my given name through high school and college. The only way I could lose it was to switch to my middle name when I started graduate school.
So if you want to call your daughters Birdie and Cricket, name them Bridget and Christine and call them by their nicknames through the preschool years and then let them figure out which forms of their names they’d like to use as they grow up and get on with their lives.
You may enjoy Sara McGinniss’ article because it comes with some attractive photos of the telegenic Philipps and the two young daughters whom she named after diminutive chirpy critters.
You may have a family obligation to honor someone with a name that seems either dated or unusable in the year 2014. Or you might like the biblical Esther or the literary character, Lorna Doone, but wonder whether either of those names will be a good fit for the baby daughter you are expecting in 2014.
Those are reasonable concerns, particularly because Pamela Redmond Satron and Aela Mass of Nameberry are trying convince expectant parents that out of date, rarely used names are “stylish.” (I find it comical that a little-used “flapper “name, like Zelda, or the name that launched the”Victorian Era” could possibly be called “stylish” in 2014.) Stylish names are names that are rapidly growing in popularity, because trendy people are flocking to them like mindless herds of sheep.
So I’ve created this list of alternatives to 11 old-fashioned or ancient girl’s names that may come across to you as out of date and unstylish. If you’re wondering, many of the alternative names have the same root (hence the same meaning) as the names in question. And some are simply “name-book neighbors” that are likely to be more pleasant for you and your child to live with–if you are worried about picking a name likely to subject your daughter to embarrassment or teasing (or worse)
Esther Biblical Namesake: Queen Esther was crowned by Ahasuerus, King of the Persian Empire during biblical times, and is said to have helped liberate Persian Jews and gain rights for them–according to Jewish tradition.
Instead of Esther and French form Estelle, consider Estee or Stella.
Lorna Fictional Namesake: Lorna Doone was the protagonist of a romantic historical novel of the same name, written by Richard Blackmore and published in 1869.
Instead of Lorna, consider Laura, Laurel, Lauren or Lori.
Louisa Namesake: Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) was a popular American novelist whose most famous work was Little Women, published in 1868.
Instead of Louisa, consider: Eloise, Louise, Lois, Lola, Lolo or Luisa.
Lucille Namesake: Lucille Ball (1911-1989) one of the most popular female comics, Ball teamed up with husband Desi Arnaz to star in “I Love Lucy” from 1951-1957.
Instead of Lucille, consider Luci, Lucie, Lucy or Lucia,
Millicent Namesakes: Millicent Garrett (1847-1929) a British suffragist and early feminist. Millicent Fenwick (1910-1992) a 1974-1992) a Republican congresswoman from New Jersey with moderate views on civil rights.
Instead of Millicent, consider Amelia or Mila.
Sybil Namesame: Sybils were oracles who relayed messages from the gods, according to Greek mythology.
Instead of Sybil, consider Cybele, Cybelle or Cybill
Tanith Namesake: Tanith was the goddess of love according to Phoenician mythology.
Instead of Tanith, consider Tania or Tanya.
Twyla Namesake Twyla Tharp (born 1941) formed her own dance company and toured with them from 1971 to1988. Her choreographed dance pieces are performed by the leading modern dance and ballet companies and in popular movies and Broadway shows. Although Twyla’s career is “now” her name is an old tailoring term. It means “woven of double thread.”
Instead of Twyla, consider Tyler or Tyra.
Willa Namesake: Willa Cather (1873-1947)
Instead of Willa, consider Willow or Winona
Victoria Namesake: Queen Victoria (1819-1901) ruled for 63 years, longer than any other British monarch during a period known as the Victorian era. It was famous as a period of industrial, scientific and cultural change and the expansion of the British empire.
Instead of Victoria, consider Tori, Tory, Torrey, Vicki or Vicky.
Zelda Namesake: Zelda Fitzgerald (1900-1948) A southern belle born in Birmingham Alabama became a major celebrity when her husband Scott Fitzgeralds’ book This Side of Paradise became a bestseller in 1920. He called her “the first flapper.” The name Zelda means “grey woman warrior.”
Instead of Zelda, consider Grey
Linda Rosenkrantz of Nameberry.com has written a fascinating article that explains the evolution of nicknames. It’s must reading for anyone with the slightest interest in nicknames. Here’s a very brief sample of some of Linda’s fascinating facts:
From Henry to Hank: The Dutch form of Henry is Henryk, which was shortened to Henk. The “e” was changed to an “a” which produced Hank.
From Richard to Dick: Richard used to be pronounced Rickard, which was shortened to Rick; Dick is a rhyming cousin. “R” is hard for young children to say, which made Dick the more popular nickname.
From Margaret to Peg: The “a” in Margaret was switched to an “e” which produced Meg. Peg is a rhyming cousin (and Peg is easier for young children to pronounce than Meg).
From John to Jack: Once upon a time, John was pronounced Jen. Adding the Norman pet form “kin” produced Jenkin—which morphed into Janken, then Jackin, then Jack.
From Sarah to Sally: Because “r” is harder for young children to pronounce than “l,” younger siblings found it easier to call Sarah Sally.
From Francis to Frank: Adding the Norman pet form “kin” produced Frankin, which was shortened to Frank.
From Barbara to Babs: The Normans introduced the “r” sound when they invaded England, which the Brits dropped in nicknames.
From Charles to Chuck: The Middle English term of endearment, Chukken, imitates the clucking sound–so the short form of Chukken (Chuck) worked well as a nickname for Charles.
From James to Jim: In Scotland, James was pronounced Jeames, the pet form of which was Jem, which ultimately morphed into Jim.
Linda’s article is a gem (which rhymes with Jem). I hope these tidbits convince you to read the original article by clicking on the link.