Fun Facts: Nicknames and their Origins


Have you ever wondered why people named Richard get the nickname Dick, or why Margaret is called Peggy by her pals? Today, we’re looking into some of the strangest nicknames for common names and their interesting origins. So, Recline Your Mind and get ready to learn something new.

Diminutive Kin Nicknames

Hank as a nickname for Henry actually has the same origins as Jack as a nickname for John. The origins of these names comes from the word “kin,” which Normans used as a diminutive. As such, Henry-kin would have been the nickname for “Little Henry,” just like John-kin would be the nickname for “Little John”. Over time, these names morphed.

Henry-kin became Henrikin, became Henkin, became Hank. John-kin became Jankin, Jenkin, Jenk, and, eventually, Jack. This is also where the name Jenkins comes from. So, remember: Hank is Little Henry, and Jack is Little John.

Rhyming Nicknames

You know the old joke about getting “Dick” from “Richard,” but the question remains. How does one shorten Richard into Dick? The answer dates back to English rhyming slang and rhyming nicknames.

The shortened version of Richard, Rich, could also be pronounced as Rick. However, beginning a name with an “R” can be tough in some accents, so, the rhyming name “Dick” became popular over time.

The same occurred with the name William. Turning William into Will is a no-brainer, but, again, starting on a “W” can be tough. As such, the hard “B” sound comes in to help ease the name’s pronunciation.

From there, further nicknames like Bob for Robert and Peg from Margaret make more sense. Margaret shortened to Meg, which was rhymed to Peg, then extended to Peggy. Bobby, Willy, and the like also stuck, though few men named Richard tend to like the nickname “Dicky”.

Transposed Letters

The most well-known transposed letter nicknames are Sally and Molly, for Sarah and Mary, respectively. Again, these names are simply easier to say with “L” sounds instead of “R” sounds in some accents.

Through the Middle Ages, it wasn’t uncommon to replace “Ls” with “Rs” in England and France. This is also part of why “Colonel” is pronounced to rhyme with kernel instead of being pronounced the way it is written.

The Ted Problem

Weirdly, Ted is a nickname for both Edward and Theodore. Notably, those two names each share a common ancestor, though they came back together in the realm of nicknames. Ted remains one of the few nicknames in English that can be derived from two distinct first names.