I know first names are usually shortened in verbal communication for reasons that I am not clear about. For example, Andrew becomes Andy.

But is it also the case for last names? If yes, what is the reason? Is it polite or impolite? For example, if I am correct, I heard once that Robinson is shortened to Robin by a third person in the US.

  • 1
    No, but you can always fall back on:en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nicknames_used_by_George_W._Bush
    – JeffSahol
    Sep 21, 2011 at 12:43
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    A cultural note (and thus not on-topic for this site): Referring to someone by a nickname or shortened name is impolite if that person doesn't appreciate it. Names are very personal. And a communication note: a nickname only works if everyone knows it. First names often have well-known and predictable short forms, but last names are not commonly shortened in this way. Sep 21, 2011 at 12:49
  • @Mr. Shiny and New 安宇: Some exceptions for last names include "Smitty" for Smith, and "Mick" or "Mac" for names starting with "Mc" or "Mac". The latter may be considered by some to be an ethnic slur against people from Ireland or Scotland.
    – oosterwal
    Sep 21, 2011 at 14:18
  • My last name is Fogleman and a lot of people call me Fogle.
    – FogleBird
    Sep 21, 2011 at 14:51
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    OP should be very careful about shortening any part of a person's name unless the person specifically asks him to. When you are introduced to someone, and they tell you their name, that is normally what they expect you to call them. Any variation should only be introduced with caution, even if you hear other people use a short form. It's not uncommon for someone to have a familiar name used only by very close friends/family, where they would (quite rightly, IMHO) take offense if a relative social newcomer used the term. Sep 21, 2011 at 15:53

6 Answers 6


Shortened versions of surnames (last names) are often used as nicknames in English-speaking countries, but normally by people on very familiar terms with the person and therefore not in quite the same way as Robert might be shortened to Bob or Steven to Steve.

In my experience (predominantly British English) longer surnames such as Robinson and Brightman might be shortened to Robbo or Brighty or even extended from one sylable to two with the addition of an "o" or "y", e.g. Brown to Browny.

I would emphasise that this isn't something that would happen outside relatively close circles of friends, teammates or colleagues.

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    Such shortening is a recognized and documented phenomenon Jul 6, 2015 at 16:51
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    You forgot a circle: friends, teammates, colleagues, or enemies/haters. I doubt George W. Bush’s friends call him Dubya, and I'm entirely certain that any acquaintance of Lord Voldemort who called him Voldy to his face as a nickname would not live long to tell the tale. Jul 6, 2015 at 21:48
  • "...But using a modification of a last name as a nickname, though it can happen, is definitely much much less frequent than mods of the first name or other choices."
    – Mitch
    Mar 26, 2021 at 15:24

Shortened names are also known as nicknames. They're generally casual, shorter versions of a person's first name (Like Andy for Andrew), though they can be assigned based on features or characteristics, as well (Shorty, for example).

A nickname could be taken from a last name; it's feasible that George Macintosh, say, could be called 'Mac' by his friends.

There is no other reason that I can think of in which a last name would be shortened. It is not standard practice and could in fact be quite confusing!

  • Nicknames are not always shortened names. Although they usually are derived somehow from a name they can also be derived from some other characteristic e.g. a tall person may have the nickname 'Lanky'
    – tinyd
    Sep 21, 2011 at 12:54
  • I'm pretty sure I made that clear; see the Shorty example.
    – user13141
    Sep 21, 2011 at 13:03
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    Technically, a shortened name is a diminutive.
    – Marthaª
    Sep 21, 2011 at 13:54
  • @onomatomaniak - you did make that clear, apologies for that. However, your first sentence implies that nicknames are synonymous with shortened names, so people with short attention spans (like me!) may misunderstand your point.
    – tinyd
    Sep 22, 2011 at 10:33
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    Another example is Chelsey "Sully" Sullenberger. Oct 11, 2011 at 23:17

Only colloquially and among friends. Sometimes the name is lengthened in such circumstances, For example, 'Jones' can become 'Jonesy'.


Nicknames come into use either because the original name is long and/or cumbersome and the nickname is shorter and/or catchier, or as a term of endearment.


The general rule is ask someone if they mind being called "X" before you refer to them as "X".

In various situtations, it may be normal to commonly refer to people principally by last name, such as in certain schools, military, sports, etc.

In such cases, a person's last name could easily be nick-named in time. From my experience, this occurs when the last name is long, complicated, exotic, or cool sounding.


My family name is Clifford. My dad was always called "Cliff" or "Cliffy" at work and so when I grew up, I would also "shorten" my last name as a option for what ppl could call me. However, I didn't realize that this practice is fairly uncommon in the US in 2021, and people sometimes don't know if my last name is Clifford or Cliff. To me, it's so obvious, but I guess if you aren't used to it happening, it is confusing.

Perhaps it's because Clifford is also a first name, which would lend to a natural nickname in "Cliff" or "Cliffy" and people just did that to my dad. I also wonder if it's a generational thing--ppl's names lacked the variety of today and I think that would make ppl more likely to use and be creative with nicknames. Today, it's more common for a person to ask to be called by his or her full name (William instead of Bill), so ppl would be less likely to use nicknames anyways, first or last name.

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    Please use proper English, in deference to the nature of our site; "ppl" is unacceptable. Please note that EL&U isn't a discussion forum: we're not interested in personal opinions. Instead, we're looking for detailed, authoritative answers supported by evidence, preferably hyperlinked to a published source. For further guidance, see How to Answer and take the EL&U Tour. :-) Apr 2, 2021 at 0:10

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