Hey y’all, I’ve been thinking about the origins of words, yet again! This time, it was stemmed from my brother, Nick. As a child (and, let’s be real, still now as an adult) I was positively delighted that my brother Nicholas had the ultimate nickname, because he was literally Nick! That was as good as it got in my mind. But it also made me wonder, on the other hand, how anyone could have a Nick-name that wasn’t Nick. What kind of sense is that?
Today, I’ve resolved this puzzling mystery that’s plagued me all my life. 🕵️♀️
Origins of “nickname”
When did it first get used?
Mid 1400s as a noun, as a verb in the 1530s
What does it mean?
literally “a second name,” also a familiar name. Interestingly, it’s also in particular to reference a derisive or insulting nickname
What did it come from?
“an eke name” became “a nekename” became “neke name” became “nickname”
So what the heck does eke mean? It comes from Old English eaca which means “an increase”, or loosely “an additional” which would make an eke name mean “an additional name.”
The letter N has this funny habit in English of getting smushed from the end of the preceding word onto the beginning of the next word. We have a few letters and sounds that do that, particularly the slippery the. So, with the gap between “an” and a intial-vowel-sound word, it was inevitable that we got kind of lazy and made it “neke name” and then just decided to change the word to match what we actually said. And THAT is how language actually works. 😂
I find it really fascinating and quite a reflection on human society that even when this word first came around it was particularly to reference insulting names given derisively. Bullies have always been a thing, I guess, and who doesn’t love the irony of referring to a really giant buff guy as Tiny?
But, really, there are no rules
Go with your heart on nicknames. And maybe try to stay away from the derisive ones. And also stay away from 95% of these ones, because who wants their nickname to be Vinegar or HVAC?? 😂
Common nicknames that still confuse me
- Jeremy = Jezza (ex. Jeremy Clarkson)
- Richard = Dick (A personal sentiment from the original creator??)
- Alexandra = Sasha, or Sashenka (in Russian, I really don’t understand their nicknaming language rules but Sashenka is pretty cute)