Hypocorism: What’s In A Name & Nickname?

In the early 90s, I received a call from a friend, who is late now. She was frantic. She wanted me to approach the American Embassy on behalf of her cousin who had been denied a return entry visa to the US – a country he had been legally residing in for several years. I was working in a diplomatic mission then and she felt I could use my ‘contacts’ in the diplomatic community to swing this.

What was her cousin’s problem? The main purpose of his coming to Nigeria in the first place was to pick up his old school documents – results, transcripts, etc. Now in going back, he met a brick wall. All the documents he came for had ‘Augustine’ as his first name but he had been living in the US as ‘Austin’. His immigration documents, including passport, was issued to ‘Austin’ but same surname as in the school documents and others. I suppose he was trying to fully normalize his stay in the US and he needed to provide back-up documents and he came with all the confidence; and why not? He was popularly known as Austin by friends and even within his family before he left these shores so he procured his passport in that name, not minding the fact that Augustine was the name he used for Common Entrance into secondary school and also for admission into the university.

The Embassy refused him entry visa, insisting he was attempting to use someone else’s school documents to gain an advantage in whatever he was processing in their homeland. They even went on to disprove his contention that Augustine and Austin were the same or that the latter was a shortened form/nickname derived from Augustine. According to the Americans, the short form of Augustine is Gus; Austin is a different name on its own, hence we have the current US Secretary of Defence Gen. Lloyd J. Austin, or Stephen Fuller Austin, known as the “Father of Texas”, the 4th Secretary of State of Texas, after whom Austin, Capital City of Texas, is named. In these two cases and others, Austin is even their surname.

That was the reason for my friend’s frantic call to me. Of course I could not do anything.

It was a huge lesson and I know that even now, some people still adopt wrong derivatives or short forms for their names. If your name is William or Williams and you start calling yourself Will or Willy, you may get into this kind of trouble because the usually acceptable short form of William is Bill, like Bill Clinton or Bill Gates. The same way Jack is for John, Bob is for Robert, not Rob or Robby, Dick is for Richard, not Rick or Richy. And all these have been derived from the English names of people. There are exceptions, of course.

This nicknaming or pet naming is called Hypocorism.

A hypocorism is a name used to show affection for a person or object. It can be a diminutive form of a person’s name, such as Bill for William or Bob for Robert, or it can be unrelated such as Molly for Mary.

A hypocorism is a shorter form of a word or given name, for example, when used in more intimate situations as a nickname or term of endearment by friends, family and loved ones. The English form nicknames in a variety of manners.

Robert ‘Bob’ Marley

Therefore the nickname for Anthony is Tony, Mike for Michael, Max for Maxwell, Joe for Joseph, Alex is from Alexander, Barb is from Barbara, Deb is from Deborah, Sam goes with both Samuel and Samson; Beth, Betty, Lisa or Lizzy for Elizabeth, Fred from Alfred, Chris goes with Christopher or Christian, Hank or Harry are short for Henry, Chuck from Charles, because the popular Charlie can sometimes be regarded as derogatory; Margaret has a batch of nicknames like Peggy, Meg or Maggie; Ted is for Edward like Ted Kennedy. Ted is also a popular nickname for Theodore, which makes it one of the only nicknames derived from two different first names. Eddy or Eddie may be regarded as different names, like Austin and Augustine, and not a short form for Edward. Jim is derived from James.

Sally is nickname for Sarah, especially in England, just as Molly, is a common nickname for Mary. If you decide that May is good for you in place of Mary, you may run into a bend sometime, because May is also regarded as a name on its own.

The following are acceptable hypocorism or nicknames for corresponding names:

  • Abraham: Abe
  • Alexander, Alexandra: Alex, Sandy
  • Andrew: Andy, Drew
  • Anne: Annie
  • Anthony: Tony
  • Arthur: Art, Artie
  • Barbara: Babs
  • Beatrice: Betty
  • Benjamin, Benedict: Ben, Benny
  • Carolyn: Carol, Lyn, Carrie/Cary
  • Charles: Chuck, Chaz
  • Christopher: Chris, Topher
  • Daniel: Dan, Danny
  • David: Dave, Davy
  • Deborah: Deb, Debby
  • Dennis: Denny
  • Dorothy: Dot, Dottie
  • Edward: Ted, Teddy
  • Edwin, Edmund: Ed, Eddie, Eddy
  • Elaine: Lainie
  • Eleanor, Helen: Nell, Nellie
  • Elizabeth: Eliza, Liz, Lizzy, Lisa, Beth, Bess, Bessy, Betty
  • Franklin: Frank, Frankie
  • George: Georgie
  • Gerald: Jerry
  • Gregory: Greg
  • Henry: Hal, Hank, Harry
  • Isabella: Izzy
  • Jacob: Jake
  • James: Jamie, Jim, Jimmy
  • Jessica: Jess, Jessie
  • Joan: Jo
  • Joel, Joseph: Joe, Joey
  • John: Jack
  • Jonathan, Jon, John: Jonnie, Johnnie, Johnny
  • Jonathan: Jon, John, Nathan
  • Joseph: Joe, Joey
  • Katherine: Kate, Katy, Kathy
  • Katherine: Katie
  • Kenneth: Ken, Kenny
  • Kimberly: Kim, Kimmy
  • Lawrence: Larry
  • Louis: Lou, Louie
  • Margaret: Peggy, Peg, Meg, Maggie
  • Matthew: Matt
  • Megan: Meg
  • Nathan, Nathaniel: Nat, Nate
  • Nicholas: Nick, Nicky
  • Oliver: Ollie
  • Peter: Pete, Petey
  • Philip: Phil
  • Philippa: Pippa, Pip or Pippy
  • Priscilla: Cilla, Priss, Cilly, Prissy
  • Raymond: Ray
  • Richard: Dick
  • Robert: Bert, Bob
  • Ronald: Ron, Ronnie
  • Rosemary: Rose, Rosie/Rosy
  • Samuel, Samantha, Samson: Sam, Sammy
  • Sarah: Sally
  • Sophia: Sophie
  • Stephanie: Steph, Annie, Stephy
  • Stephen, Steven: Steve, Stevie
  • Susan: Sue, Susie, Suzy
  • Theodora: Dora
  • Theodore: Ted, Teddy
  • Thomas: Tom, Tommy
  • Timothy: Tim, Timmy
  • Tobias: Toby
  • Victoria: Tori, Vick, Vicky
  • Virginia: Ginger, Ginny
  • William: Bill, Billy
  • Wilson: Will, Willy
  • Zachary, Zacchaeus: Zach

There are many other names with conventional hypocorisms. If you want to be called by such a nickname, make sure it is not controversial or markedly different from the universally or conventionally acceptable hypocorism. Otherwise, you may end up like Augustine whose adoption of Austin as his nickname put him in trouble.

On the other hand, there is nothing wrong in assuming a hypocorism as your real name, if you truly love the sound of the name. As long as you are consistent – if you use it as your name in school and in any document, ensure that is what is in all other documents for life. If you prefer to be called or referred to as Tony instead of the full form, Anthony, ensure that this is what you have written in all your documents. Otherwise you may get caught if one organisation decides that because you have Tony in one document while Anthony is on another, they would not recognise it.

But what is in a name? Why not just enjoy your family, friends and acquaintances call you by the nickname but write the full name in documents? Once your original or full name is in your birth certificate, passport, school and employment documents, people can call you whatever you want or like. It is better to avoid unnecessary stress.


IMAGE CREDIT: Literary Ocean, YouTube, Pinterest


Epa Ogie Eboigbe, veteran journalist, broadcaster and public affairs specialist writes on, and analyses current and historical issues with a ‘wise pen’.


One Comment on “Hypocorism: What’s In A Name & Nickname?”

  1. To think the story told here is similar to what happened to my Dad who incidentally bears Augustine is very interesting.

    In his own case, he was experimenting with his Yoruba names “unto say” he didn’t want them to go to waste so in one doc, he wrote, for example, Bayo, in another, he wrote, for example, Tele being abbreviations for Adebayo and Oluwatelemi respectively.

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