How do you get Peggy from Margaret?

We recently answered a few questions about how certain nicknames/name forms came to be associated with their full forms over on FB. These comments seemed to generate enough interest that we figured we’d expand on them here in a couple of posts.

First up is a question that has probably puzzled a lot of English speakers at some point or another — just how did Peggy come to be a nickname of Margaret? Or Dick from Richard, Bob from Robert, Ted and Ned from Edward, etc.? In this post we’ll focus on Peggy and Margaret, but the same pattern of development happened for all these names. (We’ll make use of the terminology for nicknames that we introduced here).

So, how does Margaret become Peggy?

Margaret is the radiconym; take it and cut the name down to the first syllable, and you get Marg. In certain dialects, that r is going to be very lightly pronounced, giving us Mag. Magge (pronounced with two syllables) can be found in England as early as 1200, and not much later after that, you can find that hypocoristic form augmented with a diminutive suffix: Magota 1208 (this is a Latin form and would’ve been Magot in the vernacular). (We’ll give you three guesses as to why this name is no longer popular today….). By the end of the century, there are examples of the -a- shifting to -e-, e.g., Megge 1254, 1275, 1279, etc. You can also see it in Megota 1309 (also Latinized).

So that gets us Meg. From there, Peg is straightforward: It’s a rhyme.

The shift from something like Magge, Megge, or Pegge to Maggie, Meggie, or Peggy comes in the 16th C with the Great Vowel Shift — what used to be an unstressed schwa sound shifts to \ee\. And then eventually the spelling caught up, but that happened late enough that we don’t have any specific data. (Yet.)

References

Reaney & Wilson, s.nn. Dick, Dicken, Dicketts, Madge, Maggot.

Withycombe, s.nn. Edward, Margaret, Robert.

18 Comments

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18 responses to “How do you get Peggy from Margaret?

  1. Are you doing another post on Richard, or should I follow the logic on how Richard evolved into Dick. Richard is a family name, so I was curious.
    Your blog is very interesting.

  2. Pingback: Nicknames of Richard (in English) | Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources

  3. Peggy

    I was always told that Peggy(Peighi) was the Celtic or Gaelic version of Margaret.
    Peggy

  4. Peggy Yakimov

    I was given a much more interesting explanation. The Irish girls who came to England as maids were often deployed in the laundry of the gentry, and many of them were named Margaret. The 3 legged pole they pounded the clothes with was called a Peggy or a Dolly, and so many of the Irish Margarets were then called Peggy or Dolly because of the work they did as laundry maids. This is so much more fun than the name morphing from Maggie, don’t you think? Peggy

    • It’s a great story, but it doesn’t really fit with the history of how (and when and where) the names were used!

    • Robin

      It’s not an accurate explanation of how the nickname came about, regardless of how much “fun” it is. It’s just another etymological urban legend that sounds interesting but doesn’t actually have any basis in fact.

    • Takuto

      It is still possible that the rhymed consonant shift happened the first time because there was a Meggy and a pole called peggy around… isn’t it? From somewhere the “p” has to be derived.

  5. Patricia F Youngdale

    Is the name “Pegoty” in David Copperfield also a result of this progression?

  6. Patricia F Youngdale

    I meant “Pegotty.”

  7. James

    Am looking for an appropriate nickname for my wife who is called Margaret

    • There are many, many nicknames for Margaret — it was a popular name throughout pretty much all of Christian history, and so naturally gave rise to many different nicknames. Margie, Maggie, Meg, Peg, Peggy, Megan, Greta, Gretchen, Gretel are all nicknames of Margaret, but you can also get things like “Pearl” (from the meaning of the name) and “Daisy” (from the identification of the Old French form Marguerite with the French word for the flower.)

  8. I had an aunt whose brothers liked calling her Maggot. Nice boys. (*eye roll*)

  9. Diego

    Magrat Garlick should be mentioned here, along with her daughter Princess Esmerelda Margaret Note Spelling of Lancre.

  10. Bob Carswell

    My great aunt Peg was definitely Margaret Scott Carswell, using surnames from my ancestry for her middle and last name. Her brother was William Jobson Carswell who came to Canada as a young accountant in 1908. Working as a travelling companion to wealthy old ladies she lived the entirety of WWII in Tasmania having been trapped there while on a trip. All these names go back to her family ancestry through her father, Reverend James Carswell and are believed to be distantly connected somehow with Sir Walter Scott, the writer whose son Walter Scott married a Jane Jobson. Margaret Scott Carswell was born in Newcastle where her father began his ministry, married a daughter of a church supporter, he age 29, she age 17 and subsequently built a church, he eventually retired to Bournemouth. Their daughter, my great aunt Peg born in 1886 never married and cared for her parents until her father died in in 1925, 8 years after his wife, the former Sarah Elizabeth Jobson in Bournemouth having lived in Glasgow, Newcastle, Rothesay, Edinburgh, and for 2 years on the Isle of Aldernay along the way to recover in the salt sea air from 15 years breathing in the coal based smog of Newcastle. Last photo I have of Aunt Peg as we referred to her, was taken by my late cousin on a visit with her in Newcastle in 1969 when she would have been 83. I only met her once in my life in Montreal when she entertained the family at a luncheon at the new Queen Elizabeth Hotel when I was 14-1/2 (likely the summer of 1959), I am now almost 75 and as you can see, the family genealogist.

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