I love talking about names. I always have. I’ve had lists upon lists of names for future kids since I was old enough to write. When I named my kids, I just chose names that I fell in love with. I call them lots of silly pet names, but no nicknames. They go by the given names that I chose for them.
Even though my kids don’t have any, I truly adore a good nickname. I’m not talking about shortened versions of a given name. My formal name is Katherine, and I go by Katie, but there’s not really a story there.
I love nicknames that are seemingly unconnected or only loosely connected to a person’s given name. I could listen to people tell the stories behind their names all day.
My mom has a cousin who goes by the nickname Bunker. He has a real first name, too, but until last week, I didn’t even know what it was. He has always gone by Bunker, and it never even occurred to me to ask why. A few days ago, I FaceTimed my mom while she had tea with her sisters. One of my aunts happened to mention that Bunker got his nickname because his “bunker” was the pacifier he used as a baby. I was floored! It seems like such a random thing to stick to a guy for life, but it’s been about six decades now, so I’m thinking it’s permanent. This conversation got me thinking about nicknames and the people who carry them.
Since nicknames usually come with a story or on the heels of a defining moment, they can sometimes feel like an even more personal part of an individual than their given name. As a writer, I am always interested in hearing a good story. I went on social media and asked some people with permanent, unique nicknames how they got their monikers. Here are a few of the stories I collected.
1. Sometimes siblings come up with a nickname, and it just sticks.
“My full name is Christopher. When I was born, my older sister was only two years old, and she couldn’t say Chris. She said Crit instead. It just stuck. Because of her, I’ve gone by Crit my whole life, even at school and work. It hardly feels like a nickname. It’s just my name.” — Crit W.
“When I was born, my brother couldn’t pronounce my name, so he called my Cissy, and I’ve used it as my name ever since. I’m not alone! There are three siblings in my family that go by nicknames that have nothing to do with our given names. My brother has been called Hambone his whole life. It’s a play on our last name and his lanky, “boney” build. Our little sister is called PeeWee because she was very premature and weighed just over two pounds. My parents used really unconventional methods to keep her warm and safe, and she grew up fine, but she’s still always been PeeWee.” — Beulah B.
2. Something you do as an infant can stick to you for life.
“My family calls my son Bucky. It has nothing to do with his name, but he regularly took a medication that made him really hyper when he was a baby. The way he would vigorously buck in his jumperoo earned him a nickname that’s carried him all the way to high school.” — Emily D.
“My son’s name is actually Shawn, but he has always gone by Frog. He got the nickname from his older brother who said he “sounded like a froggy” because he drank his bottles quickly and loudly as an infant. Thirty-two years later, he still goes by Frog.” — Yvette W.
3. Sports teams and personal hobbies are common birthplaces for unique nicknames.
“My group of girlfriends met during high school in color guard. I was the Guard Captain, so they called me Cap. Somehow, this grew into each person in our group having a nickname from a character on Gilligan’s Island. For a couple of us, they stuck. To this day, I am still Cap and my best friend is still Gilligan.” — Kristy B.
“My dad goes by Swine because he and my mom used to collect pigs. His friends gave him the nickname years and years ago, and it’s just stuck.” — Olivia G.
4. A physical trait can lend itself to a cute nickname.
“My name is Amber, but EVERYONE in my hometown calls me Bitty. I’ve used it on social media and even on workplace nametags. There are just so many Ambers, and I was always the shortest one, so people nicknamed me Itty Bitty. That turned into Bitty, and the rest is history. I try to introduce myself as Amber, but my friends don’t allow it. Ha.” — Amber T.
“My whole family calls my lifelong friend Nicki. Her name is Stephanie, but my dad always said she was so tiny, she was just like a little knickknack. That evolved into Nicki, and that’s who she has always been to us. My kids all call her Aunt Nicki.” — Holly W.
5. Sometimes the story behind the nickname isn’t incredibly positive, but it sticks for better or for worse.
“My dad goes by Jim because when he came to America, his first boss couldn’t pronounce his given Persian name. His name is Homayoon, which is nothing like Jim, but he’s gone by Jim ever since the ’70s. I thought it was unique and funny as a kid. Now it’s a bit sad to me, but it doesn’t seem to bother my dad.” — Lisa S.
“My husband is 64 years old now, but he was a bit of a stoner in his youth! His friends in high school started calling him Veg. It stuck. If he sees an old friend, they still call him Veg.” — Pam L.
6. Some people just pick their own nickname.
“My name is Bethany, but my father calls me Sarah. When I was little, I decided I didn’t like my name. I wanted to be called Sarah instead. My dad said okay, and he’s called me Sarah ever since.” — Bethany S.
“I was in a life skills and discipleship program almost 15 years ago. We went bowling one time, and I randomly typed in Rob Bob as my name on the screen. I have no idea why I did it, but it stuck immediately. Everyone I know from that program calls me Rob Bob to this day.” — Robert P.
We all need given names, but there are millions of people out there with stories like this, using names that fate chose for them along the way. I think that’s really interesting! Formal names are great, but nicknames are where it’s at.