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onomastics, nicknames, gingrich, romneyThe two front-runners in the Republican presidential primary are commonly addressed by their nicknames. Though we refer to the former Speaker of the House as Newt, his real first name is Newton. His rival Mitt Romney’s real name is Willard Mitt Romney.

Nicknames are very common in English. The word nickname comes from an Old English word ekename, which meant “an additional name” and dates back to the 1300s. Some nicknames have obvious roots: Kim for Kimberley, Jim for James, Nick for Nicholas. Others are a little harder to wrap your mind around. How do you get Peggy from Margaret? Bo for William? Chuck from Charles? Polly from Mary?

Learn more about how our given names influence our lives here.

But what about our current candidates? Gingrich’s first name originally meant “new town” and has been used as a surname in English for over 1,000 years. (Newton is the 367th most common surname according to the U.S. Census.) Romney’s name dates back even farther than that. You can still find Romney on a map of England. As early as the 700s, “romney” literally meant “spacious river” in Old English and came to be associated with a region of southeast England called the Romney Marsh. (Romney is not even in the top 1000 most common surnames; neither is Gingrich.)

Nicknames are often just the shortening of a name, but they may sometimes be hypocoristics, meaning an endearing pet name, like Debbie for Deborah. Another interesting trend in nicknaming: Parents have started calling their kids by unusual nicknames for common names, such as Zander for Alexander, Drew for Andrew, or Toph for Christopher.

Here are a few words to help you talk about names. A surname is commonly called a last name, and your first name is technically called your forename or given name. Onomastics is the study of proper names.

Here are a few of our other favorite given name/nickname variations:
Sally for Sarah
Teddy for Edward
Tilly for Matilda
Jack for John
Betty for Elizabeth

What are your favorite nicknames?

98 Comments

  1. Bob6431 -  November 14, 2013 - 5:46 am

    What do you think my nickname is?

    Reply
  2. kay -  May 1, 2012 - 6:11 pm

    Mmy name is Kelsey, but my friends call me KK since those are my initials….most people at our school go by their last name like…
    Player
    Stone
    Coop
    Swoope
    Duncan
    Howell
    Rictor
    Peters, ect.
    some dont like their last name (like me) so we give them diff names (like KK)

    Reply
  3. MrBossMan -  April 4, 2012 - 12:38 pm

    I’m a writer, and one of my male characters is named Lucentio (after one of the main characters in “The Taming of the Shrew”). Blythe, a sadistic colleague of his, calls him “Lucie,” much to his chagrin.

    The word “hypocoristic” is rather appropriate in this case. I’ll consider using it in my story.

    Reply
  4. Naysia -  March 9, 2012 - 11:11 am

    My name is Naysia sound’s like asia but some people normally call me Nay,or Nay-Nay, Niyah, also Navsia, including NaNa. HEY every body this is the real Naysia come and check it out and tell me how you like it yes I do wrote also:)

    Reply
  5. Ashli -  March 7, 2012 - 7:28 pm

    Well my name is Ashli so most people call me “ashes” for short, but my friend calls me “asha”.

    Reply
  6. mary torres so loved -  February 25, 2012 - 9:57 am

    my name is mary torres everyone calls me marie or kookie :)

    Reply
  7. Kevin Martin -  February 8, 2012 - 8:43 pm

    I love this blog. I’m addicted to it. This particular post was a real eye-opener for me because I’ve never heard the use of Toph for Christopher.

    Reply
  8. tomsboat -  February 2, 2012 - 6:27 pm

    My friend call me tomy for my nickname

    Reply
  9. bholland -  February 2, 2012 - 9:34 am

    The nickname ‘Dick’ for ‘Richard’ is derived from the two words “rich” and “hard” (the ‘h’ gets double duty here).

    Reply
  10. leogregorydunn -  January 30, 2012 - 6:58 am

    Because I’m shcizoprhenic.

    Reply
  11. leogregorydunn -  January 30, 2012 - 6:57 am

    Why are you answering you ownd email?

    Reply
  12. leogregorydunn -  January 30, 2012 - 6:54 am

    if you have so many names to begin with why did you put Gregory in the middle of your email address/

    Reply
  13. leogregorydunn -  January 30, 2012 - 6:52 am

    My name is Leo Cormac Shanahan Dunn and I come from Lowell Ma where nick names are King.
    Leek, Leeko, Shamas, Corky and All Dunn have been my handles through the years.

    Reply
  14. Lefty -  January 28, 2012 - 2:19 pm

    Where does Dick for Richard come from??

    Reply
  15. BlueMomeRath -  January 28, 2012 - 1:00 pm

    My name is Skye, and I don’t really have a nick name, but I get called Star a lot…and my closest friends call me Skybie, Skee, Skee Lee, and Kabob; I just don’t “go by it” per se.

    Kabob? Well, it takes a lil’ o’ this and a lil’ o’ that to get a youngin’, so…I reckon that makes sense. :)

    Reply
  16. Vicaari -  January 28, 2012 - 9:51 am

    I thought I posted something to this block yesterday; however, I can’t seem to find anything of mine. Wonder went wrong!

    However, here is another one as I post today.

    To answer to the above … see no reason why not as long as president can deliver the goods to the ppl that elected him/her as their president to the office.

    Thanks for the article.

    Reply
  17. Mariusz -  January 28, 2012 - 7:27 am

    Cysia for Marcelina

    Reply
  18. Vicaari -  January 27, 2012 - 3:08 pm

    Interesting article.

    @Melody: Mel is a good nickname.

    @ Nina: Raanumani supposed to be Ranugem; gem, as in diamond, pearl, emarald, ruby, sapphire and such gemstones. Then again why not dear Ranu since those gems are highly priced or very expensinve; they are dear and so is/has our Ranu become dear or dearRanu.

    Thanks

    Reply
  19. Lourdes A Badillo -  January 26, 2012 - 3:35 pm

    In my name’s case I like the nickname my name is Lourdes and in Mexico,
    they call us “Lulu” [ with a strong accent in the last “u”, not like the British Lulu on which they accentuate the first “u”, here in the USA they just shorten it to “Lou”.

    Reply
  20. Dieter -  January 26, 2012 - 3:17 pm

    Though strictly speaking being part of a stage name H. Vernon Watson, a popular English Variety artist in the 1920s, was wellknown as Nosmo.

    When he set out on the stage he was stuck for a memorable name for himself, when he saw the half open backstage door which was parted and the two halves of the door spelled “No Smo” and “king”. From that moment he never looked back as quite a famous stage artist “Nosmo King”, for which the short version was Nosmo

    Reply
  21. coldbear -  January 26, 2012 - 1:50 pm

    No mention is made of nicknames from last names, like Mac or Whit.
    My first name doesn’t loan itself too well for a nickname, it being short as it is.
    In the military, last names are frequently used, and I developed many nicknames from that. I was often called Cold Beer (the name is Colbert, just like the comedian), but now I often get called Bear (which I don’t resemble).

    As for getting elected President with a nickname, remember Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Or even further back: Ike Eisenhower.

    Reply
  22. Josh -  January 26, 2012 - 1:49 pm

    Joshy for Joshua. Ladies LOVE to call me Joshy.

    Reply
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