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Friday, January 31, 2014

The Nickname Myth

I have blogged before about using nicknames as given names. Its an ongoing controvery in the naming world. Many people would say its a current trend. Often, when it is discussed, it is treated as a new phenomenon - something to be compared to the classic tradition of giving full names on the birth certificate. This characterization, however, doesn't hold up to some basic research. Even if using nicknames as given names IS a trend, which I also question, it is certainly a recurring trend, not a brand new dilemma.

I discovered this rarely-known piece of information when I was looking for new baby name inspiration (Yes, despite my blog-silence, my name obsession has continued). Tired of looking at the 2012 SSA records and thinking "none of these names are CLASSIC enough for me", I pulled up the oldest records the SSA has available for babynames - 1880. What I found surprised me.

The following names were all in the top 100 in 1880: Minnie, Annie, Nellie, Carrie, Jennie, Hattie, Mattie, Lula, Fannie, Mamie, Effie, Sallie, Nettie, Lizzie, Susie, Etta, Kate, Addie, Lulu, Lottie, Nannie, Lottie, Katie, Leo, Dan, Ray, Alex, Charlie, Jack, Ben, Ed, Jim, Tom, Sam, Will, Joe, Fred, and Frank. And those are just the OBVIOUS nicknames I didn't include things like Harry, Mollie, Elsie, or Lillie, which could be viewed as stand alone names depending on the definition. Thats 38 names out of 200 that were very common given names, but would be considered nicknames today. (On an entirely seperate note, holy -ie endings batman!!! Seriously, I am not sure they believed in the letter "y" at all!!)

So, in 1880, 14% of top 100 given names were obvious nicknames. Let's compare that to today. The following names are currently in the top 100 (as of 2012... I can't wait for the 2013 data!!) - Kayla, Ellie, Alex, Eli, and Liam. A measly 5 name, or 2.5% are nicknames, and thats counting Liam as a nickname, which at this point could be considered a stand alone name as much as Mollie and Harry are.

Is 2% really a trend? I don't think so. I can't go through every year to gather statistics on that, I don't have time. But, it wouldn't suprise me to find out that having ONLY 5 of the Top 100 names be nicknames is actually quite low.

Conclusion?? There is not a "epidemic" of using nicknames as given names, and even if this was a current popular trend, it wouldn't be a new trend, but rather just cycling back to the past as we always do.