Manic Monday: Nicknames can make you crazy (if you’re a genealogist)


Sitting around on the dock this weekend, a group of us began discussing nicknames. Some examples in my genealogy:

  • My great-great-grandfather went by “Reese” or “Reason”.  It took Mother a few years to find that his full name was William Reason Powell. Once she did it greatly helped her research into that part of my father’s family, though we have yet to prove who WRP’s father was.
  • My grandfather went by “Toxie”, again his middle name.  My dad went by J. T. This was because of the plethora of men named James in the Powell family: Ancestors, cousins, uncles, etc.
  • My given name is Mary Elizabeth, but only computers know that.  Someone who calls my house and asks for “Mary” has been sold my name by the DMV, a credit card company, or some other computerized list. “Libby” or “Libbi” is a common nickname for Elizabeth, and most people call me that.
Sometimes nicknames become a given name. Some of the nicknames for Elizabeth are often used this way, for example “Lisa”.  I read somewhere that “Elizabeth” has more nicknames than any other name. Some of them are:

  • Bess
  • Bessie
  • Bessy
  • Beth
  • Betsy
  • Bett
  • Betts
  • Bette
  • Bettina
  • Betty
  • Bitty
  • Elsa
  • Else
  • Elsie
  • Libby
  • Lisa
  • Lise
  • Liza
  • Lizzie
  • Lizzy
In other languages, Elizabeth is translated:

  • Elise
  • Lisette
  • Babbette
  • Else
  • Isabel or Ysabel
  • Belita
  • Elisa
  • Eilis
  • Ealasaid
  • Elspeth
And that’s just one name! The permutations of nicknames seems to be endless.
In our discussion we wondered how Sally became a nickname for Sarah. Or Polly for Mary. Then there are nicknames given in childhood that never seem to go away, and are the only reference used in a family…you know who you are!
So in your genealogical wanderings, if you come across a letter, diary, newspaper article referring to a  “Madge”, look for an official record naming “Margaret”.  On the other hand, it may be that the parents didn’t know that is a diminutive, and perhaps registered their daughter as such. It’s something to consider.

About Libbi

Writer for 30 years. Genealogy a hobby for about 40 years. Yes, I'm in my 50's, I learned about genealogy at my mother's knee!
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2 Responses to Manic Monday: Nicknames can make you crazy (if you’re a genealogist)

  1. Amy Crooks says:

    Great article. Nicknames are enough to drive you crazy some times. Most of my young life I always assumed that because my mother and I are red heads and her father’s name was Rusty that he was also a red head. When I began my search for our family my mother corrected me and told me that was a nick name (no one knows where from) and that grandpa actually had jet black hair. His real name was Von Joseph Roe. Go figure.

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