Tag Archives: diminutives

Nicknames of Richard (in English)

In our recent post on Peggy we gestured that you could derive Dick from Richard by a similar process. But we received a request to expand on this, so, here we are!

We’re focusing on English nicknames in this post, but you can see a selection of diminutive forms in other languages in the entry for the name. For as popular the name was, it was surprisingly nickname free, in comparison with other names of similar popularity where we have many different and disparate diminutive and hypocoristic forms attested.

So, you start off Richard and lop off the end, to create the hypocoristic form Rich. The Middle English pronunciations of the root name encompassed a pronunciation with a hard \k\, which is how you get Rick as well as Rich. Since Dick is the one we’re interested in, we’ll set aside Rich and all the diminutive forms we can get from that.

The step from Rick to Dick and Hick comes easily, as they are rhyming forms. In fact, Withycombe, s.n. Richard, notes that these were “among the earliest of this kind of rhyming nickname, the first example noted being a record in 1220 ‘quidam Dicke Smith. Dick itself was sometimes augmented with a diminutive suffix, such as -el, -et, or -on, as found in, e.g., Dicun 1206, Dycket 1296, 1219 (and it’s diminutive Dikelin 1275), all from Reaney & Wilson s.nn. Dicken, Dicketts, Diggle. Similar diminutives of Rick can also be found, with Rikelot 1191-2, Ricot 1327, and Ricun 1274 (R&W s.nn. Richard, Richings).

We will end with a curiosity: A nickname that we know is a form of Richard but which we don’t really know how it came to be such, is Hud(de). Both Withycombe and Reaney & Wilson (s.n. Hudd) reference Bardsley’s examples of one Ricardus dictus Hudde de Walkden 1346 and another Ricardus de Knapton et Cristiana hud-wyf 1379. Hudd is usually more often a nickname of Hugh.

1 Comment

Filed under dictionary entries

Why is Jack a nickname of John?

Continuing our series of posts where we answer questions we’ve received (usually via FB), here we devote a post to the question of why Jack is a nickname of John and not Jacob. After all, the only letters that Jack and John have in common are J- — not much of a connection! For answering this question, we can do no better than quote Withycombe, s.n. Jack. We’ve added a few extra comments [in brackets]:

[Jack], the commonest pet-name for John, has caused a good deal of difficulty owing to the natural assumption that it must be derived from the French Jacques and should therefore logically represent James rather than John. The problem was cleared up by E. W. B. Nicholson in a little book entitled The Pedigree of Jack and of Various Allied Names (1892). He showed that there is no recorded instance of Jack, Jak, Jacke, or Jakke ever being used to represent Jacques or James, and that no statement in favor of the French connexion has been produced from any early writer. He then proceeded to elucidate and illustrate with examples the development of Johannes [the standard Latin nominative form] to Jehan [the standard Old and Middle French oblique form] and Jan [the standard Middle Dutch form], whence, by addition of the common suffix -kin [a uniquely English suffix], we get Jankin, which as a result of French nasalization becomes Jackin [this is the same nasalization that gets us Harry from Henry], and was finally shortened to Jack. There was a similar development from Jon to Jock (the Scottish form of the name).

Not much to say beyond that! Except that we do not have access to Nicholson’s little book ourselves, and would dearly love a copy. If anyone has one they could spare…


Filed under dictionary entries

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.)


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

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


Filed under Uncategorized

Mystery Monday: Dedike

Every Monday we will post an entry that hasn’t yet been published with a view towards harnessing the collective onomastic power of the internet. If you have any thoughts about the name’s origin, other variants it might be related to, other examples of its use, etc., please share them in the comments! If you wish to browse other Mystery Monday names, there is an index.

Let’s head to Latvia! In the 13th and 14th C, names were predominantly of Low German origin, and this is clear even when the names occur in Latin documents, as our two examples of today’s mystery name do:
It is clear that this is a diminutive of something — the -ke ending is a giveaway. When the name is used by men, it is a diminutive of Theodoric, via the Low German form Dederik. However, the two examples that we have here are definitely feminine. For example, here is the entry for one of them:
Dedike in Latvia
There is no way “Lady Dedike, wife of Hinrich Westfal” could be anything but a woman. The question is: What name is this a diminutive of? Do you have any thoughts?


Filed under mystery monday

Mystery Monday: Lowko

Every Monday we will post an entry that hasn’t yet been published with a view towards harnessing the collective onomastic power of the internet. If you have any thoughts about the name’s origin, other variants it might be related to, other examples of its use, etc., please share them in the comments! If you wish to browse other Mystery Monday names, there is an index.

Today’s name is another Czech name, and the -ko ending indicates it is likely a diminutive. But what is the root name? Possibly some form of Louis? We’d be happier with that identification if we had forms of Louis beginning with Low- in this linguistic area. Do you have any to share?


Leave a comment

Filed under mystery monday

Nicknames: The English element

We have by no means exhausted the possibilities when it comes to discussing medieval nicknames, so we will probably revisit this topic again in spring! But to close out this month’s discussion of nicknames, we thought we’d take a look at specifically English diminutive suffixes.

One caveat, we’ll be focussing on Middle English diminutives, rather than Old English ones. There is a surprising diversity of Old English nicknames, but they tend to be hypocoristics rather than diminutives, and we currently don’t have enough Old English data to be able to say anything useful or interesting. So we’ll leave that topic for later and focus on two uniquely English diminutive suffixes: -cock and -kin. Both of these were in use by the beginning of the 13th C, and had mostly fallen out of use by the middle of the 15th, with their traces being left in modern surnames (think Atkins and Hitchcock) rather than modern given names.

The first suffix is a bit of an onomastic curiosity; its origin is obscure. Withycombe hypothesize that it is related to Middle English cok (identical with Middle French coq), used in the sense of ‘good fellow’; however, examples of this as a word long post-date the first instances of the suffix in given names. [1] This suffix was never common, and we don’t currently have any examples in our data, but look forward eagerly to the day when we do!

The suffix -kin shows up earlier, from the middle of the 12th C [2]. The earliest examples are English renderings of Dutch and Flemish -ke(n), the masculine versions of the suffixes discussed here. Our examples of this suffix show up not only in England, but also Ireland and Wales, showing the spread and influence of English naming practices in conquered territories. Dackin is a Welsh pet form of David, while Hopkin is a nickname of Robert. From the root name John, we have Jannekin and Jenkin in England, and in Wales Siamkin and Jenkin. Simkin is a Middle English diminutive of Simon, while Willekin is a diminutive of William, found in 12th C Ireland. Our single example of this spelling of the suffix outside of England is Wolterkin, a diminutive of Walter showing up in 14th C France; the person in question is almost certainly from the Low Countries.


[1] Withycombe, E.G., The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. xxxiii.

[2] Reaney, P. H., & R. M. Wilson, A Dictionary of English Surnames (London: Routledge, 1991; Oxford University Press, 1995), p. xxxix.


Filed under dictionary entries, monthly topic

Nicknames: Latinate diminutives in -el, -et, -in, -on, -ot

In this post, we look at a collection of diminutive suffixes: -el, -et, -in, -on, -ot, and their feminine forms. Withycombe calls them French [1], and while their use in England was certainly strongly influenced by the invading Normans, the suffixes ultimately derived from Latin, and as a result can be found throughout Romance-speaking areas. These diminutive suffixes were used individually but also in combination with each other, as in the name Mathelin, a French diminutive of Matthew formed by adding -el and then -in, or in Arthurian Lancelot, formed from Lance by addition of -el and -ot.

Many common modern names reflect the use of one or more of these suffixes. For example, Marion and Alison, now often considered independent names in their own rights, derive from Mary and Alice with the addition of -on. Another familiar modern name, Colin, shows the use of -in added to Colas, a French hypocoristic of Nicholas; Col(l)ette is constructed in a similar fashion from Nicole). Harriet derives from Harry, an English spelling of the French pronunciation of Henry, while Charlotte is a feminine form of Charlot, a French diminutive of Charles; the Italian cognate is Carlotta. The same suffix added to Elias gives Eliot.

The suffix -ot was quite popular in feminine names in both England and France between the 14th and 16th C, when we can find names such as Agnesot (from Agnes), Clarote (from Clara), Em(m)ot (from Emma), Harriot (like Harriet), Margot and Marguerot (from Margaret), Mariot (from Mary), Ph(e)lippote (from Philipa). In England, Wil(l)mot was an incredible popular diminutive of Willelma in the 16th C.

In our earlier survey of where diminutive forms are the most popular, we saw that Portugal and Spain were among the regions with the lowest percentage of nicknames. What we do see in Iberia are diminutives formed by these suffixes. In Spain, the most common suffixes are -ino/-ina and -ot (for men) and -eta (for women), with examples such as Angelina (from Angela), Blanquina (from Blanche), Bernardino (from Bernard), Francina (from Frances), Huguet (from Hugh), Johanot (from John), and Loreta (from Laura). We have only two diminutives from Portugal — not enough to draw any conclusions from — and both are examples of Joaninus, an early 13th C diminutive of John.

Finally, we comment on the use of these suffixes in Italy, in particular in one data set from Imola in 1312 [2]. This dataset has 2165 men bearing a total of 734 distinct name forms, and 326 women bearing a total of 174 distinct name forms; in this data set, nearly half of the names are hypocoristics or diminutives. There are 35 distinct diminutive suffices in the data, ranging from suffixes which appear only once to one which has 105 instances. 26 are used by men, 9 by women, and one is used by both men and women. Seven of the suffixes are compound, as in the examples of Mathelin and Lancelot above. In four cases, the first suffix is -(l)in-, being compounded with -ella, -ell(i)us, and -ucius; two of the remaining three have the same second suffix, -ellus, being compounded with -in- and -con-. As a result, the data shows a strong preference for compounding with -lin- and -ellus, with only one compound suffix containing neither of these (Bertholloctus, from Berthold); and this is the only example of this compound. The penchant the Italians had for stringing together diminutive suffixes results in some rather short names having excessively long nicknames. The most amusing example of this is Ugo, an Italian form of Hugh. The root name is about as short as you can get, but take a look at the variety (and length) of the nicknames!

  • Ugetus
  • Ugucio
  • Ugutio
  • Ugollus
  • Uguitio
  • Ugutius
  • Ugolinus
  • Ugezonus
  • Ugozonus
  • Uguzonus
  • Ugucionus
  • Ugoçonellus
  • Uguçonellus
  • Ugilinellus
  • Ugolinellus
  • Ugolinucius
  • Ugolinutius
  • Ugolinellius
  • Ugunzuyellus
  • Uguitionellus

These examples put paid to the idea that the nickname is a shorter, easier-to-use form of the name!


[1] Withycombe, E.G., The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. xxxii.

[2] Uckelman, Sara L., “Given Names in Early 14th-Century Imola”, article in preparation.

Leave a comment

Filed under dictionary entries, monthly topic