I spoke to the Chicago Tribune about my thoughts on the decline of nicknames.
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
I knew that women earned less than men and that people of color earned less than Caucasians. But I had no idea that people with long names earned less than people with short names. The research for this finding was reported by Daniel Cronyn of The Ladders who crunched data from 6 million members to find out how names and income might be correlated. Here are some interesting findings as it relates to the length of names and salary:
-The Ladders found an inverse correlation between the number of letters in names and the salary those individuals earned.
-More specifically, they found that salary decreases $3,600 per year for every additional letter in your name. (For example, when you compare Bill vs. William there are three more letters in William than in Bill, so Bill can be expected to make about $10,800 more than William.)
-And, when they compared nicknames to given names (e.g., Chris vs. Christopher; and Debbie vs. Deborah) they found that people with shorter names earned more in 23 out of 24 (formal name vs. nickname) pairings they tested.
After crunching millions of numbers, I was very surprised to read The Ladders’ erroneous conclusion:“In conclusion, it DOES make a difference what your mother named you. So, to all prospective mothers, our advice is to keep Baby’s name short and sweet – your child will thank you when they’re raking in the money one day.” Wrong! They completely missed the point.
It doesn’t matter what your mother named you. It matters which version of your name you choose to go by at work. (If your mother named you Elizabeth, you will earn more money if you encourage your colleagues to call you Liz; and likewise for Stephen and Steve.) To be clear, they proved that the version of the name you go by when you take a job affects your chances for success (as measured by your salary). People who “go by” their “formal” names, earn less than they would if they went by their (shorter) nicknames.
I can think of two practical reasons why women and people of different ethnicity, national origin or color earn less than men and Caucasians:
1) When men and women or people of different ethnicity, national origin or color take different kinds of jobs (e.g., field work vs. office work or clerical job vs. a management position) the comparisons (for research purposes) are not what you’d call “apples to apples.”
2) But, when men and women or people of different ethnicity, national origin or color take the same kinds of jobs, the most likely explanation for a different salary is probably discrimination.
Before reading the research results (to the effect that a guy named Bill would earn more money than a guy named William), I would have guessed the opposite–thinking that William is a more upscale, professional-sounding name hence it is more likely to be used by a well-paid executive than Bill. But now that I know that research clearly supports the finding that men named Bill and women named Debbie earn more money than men named William and women named Deborah, I can think of a reasonable rationale to support that finding (which is the opposite of what I thought, originally).
Here’s my new rationale: People with shorter names earn more than people with longer names because shorter, more informal names are easier to pronounce and spell and are also more accessible to people throughout the company. More to the point, having a short, informal name helps you come across as more approachable and less stand-offish (whether you are a man or women; whether you are white or black or brown or yellow).
So, don’t thank your mother if she gave you a short name. Don’t curse your mother if she gave you a long name. Choose a short, accessible version of your name to use at work. That will help you get along with people at work and, based on the research findings, it is likely to increase your take-home pay.
FYI I found a post about The Ladders’ research report on Nancy’sBabyNames.com. It’s a great place to look for fascinating information and stories about names.
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.