5

My question can be split in two parts:

  • Is this a pattern, how common is it, and how natural does it sound?
  • Is it more specific to feminine names?

Here are examples:

Barbara - Babs [1]
Elizabeth - Bess [1]
Florence - Floss [1]
Teresa - Tess [1]
Bridget - Biz [/z/, but still] [2]
Rebecca - Becks, Becs, Bex [3]
Agatha - Agnes* [4]
Alexandria - Cass* [4]
Jessica - Jess [4]
Philadelphia - Puss [4]
Prudence - Puss [4]
*EDIT: Agnes is a separate name; Cass is from Cassandra (as pointed out in the comments).

The most interesting cases are Babs, Becks, and Puss, because the ending "s" is emergent--it does not come from the middle of the word, neither is it a remnant or product of a similar sound.

There are a few masculine examples (Ross, Chris, Wes), and also Moss, whose gender I am not certain about. Hence the second part of my question.

Somewhat related questions:

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  • 1
    Fitting male names also include Gus (August, Augustus), Joss (from Jocelyn or Joseph), Jez (Jeremy), Chaz (Charles), Les (Leslie, Lester), Baz (Basil, Sebastian), Jax (from Jackson), Bez (from a surname), Oz (also from a surname). Some of my friends call me Gabs (based on my initials). David Beckham is called Becks. Charles Dickens was called Boz. Boz Scaggs is also a well-known singer. So I'm going to say this is more of a form of familiar address rather than a feminine form. Jul 8, 2021 at 21:54
  • 2
    @GArthurBrown, I think you're right. One wonders what other patterns would emerge with a complete list of proper names and nicknames. It would be pretty long and the names would likely end in every possible phoneme. Jul 8, 2021 at 23:32
  • 1
    If you're including Biz for Bridget then you should probably include Shaz for Sharon and Kaz for Karen or Kay (although Kaz is the same length as Kay and sometimes becomes Kazza).
    – nnnnnn
    Jul 9, 2021 at 0:43
  • 4
    Cass is from Cassandra. Agnes is not a derivative of Agatha. Jul 9, 2021 at 0:44
  • 1
    'Mags' for Margaret is common.
    – Mitch
    Jul 9, 2021 at 2:01

1 Answer 1

7

This is the suffix ‑s, of which the paywalled OED says:

A shortened form of the hypocoristic diminutive suffix ‑sy suffix², added to the same classes of words, as Babs, Toots; ducks (see duck n.¹ 3c), moms.

Moreover, they point out that its voicing follows the same rules used when making plurals or possessives.

This suffix does not affect stress and does not add a syllable. It is pronounced as a terminating consonant on the preceding element and is consistent with the voicing of the immediately preceding sound, hence e.g. ducks Brit. /dʌks/, U.S. /dəks/ but moms Brit. /mɒmz/, U.S. /mɑmz/.

As for the referenced ‑sy suffix, this one they explain in more detail:

Hypocoristic diminutive suffix added to (i) proper names, as Betsy, Patsy, Topsy, also in the form ‑cy, as Nancy, (ii) common nouns, as babsy, ducksy, mopsy n., petsy, popsy n. (popsy-wopsy). In adjectival formations expressing a degree of mocking contempt, as artsy-and-craftsy, artsy-fartsy, backwoodsy, bitsy, booksy, folksy, itsy-bitsy, teensy, etc., the suffix may be considered to represent a nursery form (cf. ‑y suffix⁶), or the plural (or even a singular ending) in ‑s + ‑y suffix¹.

And for its pronunciation, they note:

Primary stress is retained by the usual stressed syllable of the preceding element and vowels will be reduced accordingly.

As for your second question, there are a few male uses like Chubs or Pops, or as the OED mentions, popsy-wopsy, which is bit mocking. But those don’t start out as a longer name and get cut down.

For male nicknames that actually appear to use this suffix because it isn’t just a shortening that cuts off at just the right place like Tristram > Tris, Dexter > Dex, Basil > Baz, Alexander > Lex, Caspar > Cass all do, you do have cases like Charles > Chaz, Quentin > Quince, Reginald > Rex, Robert > Bobsy, Laurence > Lars, Julian > Jules, Patrick > Patsy.

But there really aren’t at all so many as there are the female shortenings such as you mention.

7
  • I'm sure this is right for many of the examples but I also think there is more than one way to get to the -s dimunitive and note that many of @GArthurBrown's examples of male diminutives already have the -s in the same place in the long form, and that where this not the case it's not too hard to find an alternative source (e.g. the abbreviation Chas. is no different from Bros., Becks may suggest itself because of Rebecca > Bex). I suspect OP is right to suggest that you get the hypocoristic suffix more often with female names.
    – rchivers
    Jul 9, 2021 at 0:02
  • @rchivers Where I'm from pops is more common than moms as a diminutive. Jul 9, 2021 at 0:33
  • @rchivers Some of the OP examples are mistaken as well. Cass is from Cassandra which has the -s in the same place. Agnes is not a derivative of Agatha. Jul 9, 2021 at 0:39
  • 1
    @tchrist yes, sounds plausible to me. I don't know the etymology or whether the -s has any shared ancestry with -ette, -ito, -inho etc (and maybe that wouldn't settle the question anyway).
    – rchivers
    Jul 9, 2021 at 2:08
  • 1
    The "-sy" or "-y" suffix is also used in the UK as a familiar form of one-syllable surnames, particularly in team sports where the players are formally identified by their surname. For example among current UK international cricketers, Woakesy, Stokesy, Woody, Leachy, etc). Of course "real" surnames ending in -y or -ey are also common.
    – alephzero
    Jul 9, 2021 at 11:57

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