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Changes in English names of people

How do we shorten names in general? For example, Almond → Al, Michael → Mike.

I remember seeing a Wikipedia page on which frequently used name abbreviations were listed. I also remember that that page mentioned the technical name for this kind of personal name abbreviation. However it was quite a time ago, and I'm not able to find it now.

Can you give me information about this?

marked as duplicate by J.R., RegDwigнt May 26 '12 at 22:29

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  • 7
    Almond is someone’s name? Really? I’d prolly just call ’em a Nut and be done with it. :) – tchrist May 26 '12 at 21:26
  • @tchrist: Sorry about that. I'm not very familiar with English names. – hkBattousai May 26 '12 at 21:29
  • 3
    From the related links: Changes in English names of people, which gives us the term "hypocorism" and several more lists of nicknames – jwodder May 26 '12 at 21:38
  • @jwodder: Oh, you hit the spot! "Hypocorism" is what I was looking for. Thank you. – hkBattousai May 26 '12 at 21:58

In general – and I cannot stress this enough: you asked for general, so I'm giving you general – multisyllabic names are often shortened to the first syllable(s). Hence: Jon (Jonathon), Rob (Robert), Will (William), Mike (Michael), Dave (David), Tom (Thomas), Doug (Douglas), Chris (Christoper), Alex (Alexander), Sue (Susan), Chris (Christine), Meg (Meghan), Nance (Nancy).

Sometimes, a name takes on a more informal tone by adding a -y suffix – although this transfiguration can serve to shorten a longer name, lengthen a shorter name, or keep a name the same "length": Cindy (Cynthia), Becky (Rebecca), Johnny (John), Tommy (Tom), Polly (Pauline), Candy (Candace).

Some common names have some rather odd exceptions, many of which have already been pointed out. I'll list Bob (Robert), Bill (William), Jim (James), Maggie (Margeret) and Jack (John). The last one maybe shouldn't even count toward your question, because it doesn't shorten the name.

Elizabeths can go by Liz, Beth, or Betty.

There's no set pattern, though, and it's generally best to go with someone's given name until they tell you otherwise.

  • 3
    Elizabeth and Margaret have many, many short forms. – Hugo May 26 '12 at 22:25
  • @Hugo et al.: I'm well aware of that – I even have friend named Elizabeth who has gone by E all her life. Obviously, this answer could've gone on for a very, very, very long time; I've only scratched the surface here. I threw Elizabeth in near the end of my answer simply to serve as an example to show how elusive it is to give a "general rule" for nicknames; I never intended my list in include all the sundry form of Elizabeth, nor did I want to bother even trying to provide an exhaustive answer. – J.R. May 27 '12 at 0:05

There is no rule. You just have to learn them. In fact, not only must you learn them, the only way to do that is by asking the person themself. People are very picky about their own names.

  • One William might be a Bill, while another could be Willy. Or Billy. Or Will.
  • A Michael might be Mike, or Mikey, or Micky, or Mick.
  • A Charles might be a Charlie, or he might be a Chuck, or he might be a Chaz.
  • A Richard might be a Rich, or a Richie, or a Rick, or a Ricky — or he might be a Dick. Not one you want to get wrong.
  • Maybe John is just John and not short for Jonathan. And whether Jonathan goes to John or Jon, or nothing at all, you never know. Or maybe he’s a Johnny. Or a Jack. Or a Jackie.
  • A James might not have a shortcut at all, or it could be a Jim or Jimmy, or Jamie or Jaime, or even a Jamesy. And sometimes he’s a Jay.
  • But other times Jay is really Jason or Jacob, or Jakob. Or Jeremiah. And not all Jakes are Jacobs.
  • An Alexander could be an Alex, or a Lex, or an Al, or a Sasha.
  • A Gaylord might be a Gay, but he might not.
  • A Forest can be a Fay.
  • An Albert could be an Al, or a Bert, or a Bertie.
  • A Gertrude might be Trudy, but she might not.
  • A Thomas may be a Thom or a Tom, or even a Tommy.
  • A Nicholas might be a Nick, or a Nicky, or a Nico.
  • A Neil can be a Nick.
  • Then you have all the seemingly unrelated fun ones like Margaret getting “shortened” to Peg, or Diego to Jaime.

Sure, there are common ones, but you really have to ask the person. There just is no other way to know what they prefer to be called.

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