Weekend Post: Girlish Nicknames on Boys

Tiff Needell, from wikipedia.org

Last week we talked Boyish Nicknames on Girls, and Anna suggested that we make it a two-parter and look into Girlish Nicknames on Boys. It’s certainly a trickier subject to attack, since there are parents who will refuse point-blank to use a name once it goes to the girls on the grounds of bullying. Since I view the future as unpredictable timey-whimey, I don’t particularly view this argument as having solid grounds on which to abandon names you love.

I see nothing wrong with using slightly more feminine names for males, only the other day I was thinking about the plus sides of using Piper as a male name, and still thinks the lads can rock the name Harper. Personally, I know that if I ever were to use the name Cassius, he’d end up being referred to as Cass or Cassie. And Jenson? I’d rather use the cheery Sunny than the slightly less-upbeat spelling of Sonny.

Tiff Needell and Ruby Walsh are two sportsmen who go by less-than-masculine nicknames, but that hasn’t hurt their careers one bit. Tiff is a former racing driver who came into this world as Timothy, whilst Ruby started off life as Rupert and is a jockey.

Some say that not gender-specific names breed confusion, and I can’t argue against that. It does. I was given the book Housewife on Top last Christmas, or was the one before that? It could even have been a cheeky christmas/birthday present, come to think of it. It’s the third book in the series, so how was I to know that Helen lived in the appartement below a gay couple. Especially when they were called Paul and Sally. I spent much of the book wondering why Sally appeared to think she was a guy, and why Helen had the hots for her, and then it dawned on me that Sally was short for Salvador.

Then we have my brother, Jack – who is more often than not referred to as Jackie/Jacqui or even Jacqueline. This is because, like me, he has curly hair which grows faster than is really natural. There have been times in our childhood where his hair has been roughly the same length as mine – I kid ye not, so there must be people out there who think I have three sisters. Or a sister and two dwarfs for siblings, since the two ‘legit’ sisters are frequently referred to as Happy and Dopey.

There is some overlap between male and female nicknames. Allie can be short for both Alexander and Alison, and I wouldn’t bat an eyelid if you call little Charlotte or Charles by the name Charlie. There are times, though, when a little less vagueness in gender of the name occurs. Like Olly is more likely to be short for Oliver than Olivia, Ruby is more likely to be a female name than short for Reuben. I won’t lie, the idea of using Ruby in this capacity intrigues me. It especially works when you think that the German word for Ruby is rubin, which sounds like a cross between the names Robin and Reuben.

Speaking of our favourite O- names: Oliver and Olivia are top of the pecking order in England&Wales. Both could shorten to Olly, both could also shorten to Liv. Steve Tyler of Aerosmith has a daughter named simply Liv. In a similar vein, William could easily shorten to Lil; Daniel to Nell; Samuel to Mel. I also know of a Lenny whose name has morphed over time to Lainey.

One name that has been growing on me as of late is Beck. Normally given as a short form of Rebecca, he could easily transfer over to be associated with Becket(t), or maybe even Benedict. My sister informs me that there is a male character named Beck in the tween show Victorious.

Speaking of the box, there was a man named Jody on the news this morning. The name Jody is a legitimate short form of Joseph – although most men named Joseph seem to prefer to go through life as Joe instead.

The name Scout is emerging as a female choice, thanks to my sister’s favourite book, To Kill A Mockingbird, but he still has potential for the lads. I have a friend who suggested him as a short form of Sebastian. It’s certainly an eclectic option, but worth a look into.

Let’s end the post on a bold suggestion: Cleo, which I’ve genuinely been thinking about of late. It starts off with a French play, L’Avare, which has a male lead character called Cléante. The name is roughly said as CLAY-ohnt, so maybe say it CLAY-oh, not CLEE-oh? The name itself could possibly come from Cleanthes, which itself could come from the Greek kleos, which means glory and is also exactly where we get Clio from.

Not such a crazy idea after all.

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13 thoughts on “Weekend Post: Girlish Nicknames on Boys

  1. namemuststay

    And of course you just had Mal! WHich also makes me think of Kelly -> Kell. Like the book of Kells, and even though Kelly is supposed to me a masculine name it trends female, but Kell is perfectly manly is a lot of ways!


  2. Woah, Cleo is very bold on a boy! I like it though.

    Some famous girlish-boys:

    Jackie Wilson, the singer
    Sal Paradise, the narrator of Kerouac’s “On the Road”
    Jody Tiflin from Steinbeck’s “The Red Pony”
    Ally Caulfield, the dead brother in “Catcher in the Rye”
    Cass, title character from the 2008 UK movie
    Jess Margera, heavy metal drummer

    I love Cass and Jess as nicknames for boys, dislike them on girls.


  3. I reckon girls’ nicknames on boys can be very effective, particularly for quirky characters — to work, it has to be something the boy himself embraces, though. I know someone, for instance, whose nickname is Ethel (his real name is a very ordinary name for someone born in the 70s). It works. I have also come across a Salvador ‘Sally’ too. Again, it worked.

    Given there are so many ‘unisex’ names, and that it’s not uncommon to find a boy’s nickname on a girl, what’s the issue with a girl’s nickname on a boy? In fact, I think it’s very healthy, a sign of true gender equality finally starting to break through! Huzzah!


  4. When I was little I used to think Tiff Needell was “Tiffany Dell” as that’s how it sounded to me. Mind you, this is the girl who named her boy doll-baby Bobbie after a girl on Home and Away — thinking it was a girls name, but wanting to use it on the boy! I narrowly missed a lot of strange looks for that one.

    This is a nice post. It makes a nice twit on the “Boyish nicknames for girls” posts.


  5. Ceew

    I have to confess to loving the Laurie/Laurence (of Little Women fame) nick/name combo. For full names, I like Courtenay (hypothetically, anyway), but my husband completely vetoes that one (I love the nn Court, for some reason, and it does take the name away from the “girly” focus, but still no joy in that argument!)


  6. I know a male Lawrie (pronounced Laurie and short for Lawrence) who is in his fifties. I also read somewhere about someone who heard a young boy being called to by his mom as Cassie (I think this was in Aus). Like NookofNames said though I think boys in general can be more sensitive to having what is perceived as girlish sounding names/nicknames and so its better if they embrace it/feel comfortable with it rather than having it forced upon them and causing them embarrassment.

    One that I have seen that hasn’t been mentioned yet is Mandy and that also reminds me about Sandy being used on guys too.

    Then there are a lot of shortened forms of names that are much more gender neutral and whether you think of them as male or female might depend on your own experience, like Sam, Alex, and even Lou 🙂


  7. Ceew

    I only know one Laurie, and she’s a girl. I do know at least one (female) Lori.

    Here’s another one for you… what about Sasha? Or is this going to be another “it’s only a boy name” one?

    And good call on the Sam, Alex and Pat – don’t forgetthe Chris and Pats of the world!


    • The only Sasha I know is female, who has roots in the Arab world, I believe. I like the idea of Sasha as a short form of Alexander, but since I’ve never really had any interaction with Russia, it seems a little unnatural for me. I’m all for seeing more of ’em however.


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