Nickname as given name?

A mama who I did a consultation for recently had a great question:

I was wondering if you are willing to share your opinion on choosing a nickname for baby’s full name? I am starting to lean towards the name Alexander- but it’s so long! 4 syllables! I prefer shorter names, especially with our longer last name. I like the idea of naming baby just Alex, but am looking for other opinions. If you are willing to share your thoughts, I would love to hear them!

It was so funny for me to receive this email because I had JUST been thinking about this (bestowing a nickname instead of a full formal name)!

So since she asked for my opinion, I’ll give it, but just know that I’m in NO WAY saying that parents who disagree are wrong!

In general, I prefer the full formal name — I like the idea of the child having options — if he decides he’s just not an Alex later in life, having the full name Alexander would allow him to change to Xander or Sander or Sandy or Zan/Xan and though I think all of you (and me!), as parents and namers, might feel disappointed if one of your children decided he didn’t like the name you intended him to go by (Alex), the fact that he could choose a wide array of nicknames stemming from the full name that *you* chose might soften the blow. I also like how a full name looks on a diploma and a wedding invitation — traditional nicknames as given names (or even just choosing to have a nickname put on a diploma or a wedding invitation) always feels incomplete or even (depending on the name) a bit irreverent to me. I like for a person to have a name appropriate for use in formal and solemn occasions, even if he or she always goes by something different in every other area of life.

However, there are some traditional nicknames that aren’t cutesy and do still provide options and I would put Alex in that category. An Alex can be a lawyer or a doctor or a writer or an athlete, no problem, and he could still shorten it to Al if he felt more like an Al, or AJ if his middle name was James, or Ace if he wanted to be a little more offbeat. I’ve always felt like Kate is similar — a Kate could still go by Katie or Kat or Kay or Key if she wanted, and I think it works fine across an array of professions. Then there are the traditional nicknames that have been used as given names for so long that they’ve lost their nicknaminess — Molly, Nancy, Jack, and Harry come to mind immediately.

I’ve also been liking the idea that a child given a nickname as a given name could still embrace the traditionally associated long name as their own — so given-name Alex could choose to go by Alexander, given-name Maggie could choose to go by Margaret or Magdalene, given-name Katie could choose to go by Katherine or Kathleen, given-name Gracie could choose to go by Grace or Graciela. It’s no different, really, than Margaret choosing to go by Maggie, right? It’s sort of like “reverse nicknaming” or “the opposite of nicknaming.”

And sometimes, despite a parent’s best efforts to give all the options and avoid any future professional embarrassment, the child hates the name anyway and legally changes to Buttercup! Or insists on Slugger going on his diploma or wedding invitation. There’s just no predicting something like that! I read a while ago about a guy who was given a nickname in college — I think it was something like Maverick, something that could conceivably be a given name — and he came to identify with it so strongly that he goes by it exclusively now with everyone but his family, and even put Maverick on his wedding invitation, partly because it felt more like him, and partly because he was worried his friends wouldn’t know whose wedding they were being invited to!

So anyway, back to the question! I think Alexander’s a great name — papal, saintly, and pan-European — every language seems to have a variant of Alexander, and I’ve seen it used with long last names with no problem. But “just Alex” isn’t terrible (not that it matters whether I think it’s terrible or not!). Alex has a long history of use as a given name on its own for boys, and though I initially worried about its use among girls — I know some girls named “just Alex” — I looked it up in the SSA stats and Alex is clearly much more predominantly male:


And of course an Alex can take any of the Sts. Alexander for patron.

What do you all think? Do you prefer formal names as given names, or are you okay with nicknames as given names? Are there any exceptions to your rule? That is, do you prefer formal names in general, but there’s one nickname that you love so much you could see yourself bestowing it as is? Do you have any thoughts regarding Alexander vs. Alex specifically? I’d love to hear any stories you have, either about yourself or people you know!


56 thoughts on “Nickname as given name?

  1. My husband is an Alex. And I think it fits him perfectly. Sometimes people try to make his name more formal, which always cracks me up. I like formal names, but I think they can be a mouthful sometimes. I think a shorter first name (like Alex) with a longer middle name could be a great combo!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My husband and I have had that exact same conundrum when deciding names for our little girl on the way (not that we have decided, but moved on to a different conundrum). We both loved Ginny, after my husband’s grandmother (Virginia) but I really disliked Virginia as a name. We thought of Genevieve as an option to get us back to Ginny and honouring his grandmother, but I didn’t like the sound of it in French (I’m French). In the end, I was adamant I didn’t want to give a nickname for a name, so we moved on to disagree about other options 😂 (Funnily enough my current favourite, Mathilde, is being refused on nickname grounds, as my husband is not keen on people calling her Tilly – I mean, Tilly is the sweetest, I can’t fathom the man sometimes!!!)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am an “old-timer” and was born in the height of the nickname craze in 1973. NOBODY was called by their full name unless they were in very deep trouble.

    For some crazy reason, my parents named me Cindy (which I think peaked in the 50’s or 60’s because I have never met another Cindy my age), rather than Cynthia or Lucinda, etc. I have always, always been embarrassed by my name!

    I was always a very serious person, and would have preferred a full name. In earlier years, I wished my name were Cynthia, but now that I am older and Catholic, I would love it to be Lucinda, as a nod to Mother Mary the Lady of the Light.

    In order to console myself, last summer I named my baby Lucia (loo CHIA).

    Alex is a great name, and popular, too! But, I would hesitate against a first name as a nickname, as it leaves few options for the boy to show his personality.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I hesitate about nicknames as full names. I love having the official name of Grace and then being called Gracie by close friends and family. I like that when professors call my name it sounds super official and that on anything that’s academically published I have a nice, official name. That might just be me, but I would really hate Gracie being on my official records or my diploma, like you were saying with wedding invitations.

    I like to think about which would my future child like more (most likely) having more options or having less, and I feel like having more options is better than having less.

    That being said with Alex, I used to babysit for a just Alex and I don’t think it was a big deal for him. I would just expect a lot of people would assume that his full name was Alexander and things might get confusing sometimes because most Alexs are most likely Alex-full-name-Alexander.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I know some people firmly in the formal name camp and many others in the “name them what you’ll call them” camp and I fall somewhere in the middle. I just think people should choose names they love. I think projecting that they might dislike their name and need another option seems a bit…unnecessary. They could hate both Jonathan and Jon, so I’d lean toward choosing a great name and explaining why you chose it.

    I have a Theodore who mostly goes by Theo, and a Henry who goes by Hank. But I have a nephew who is “just” Gabe (his mom strongly dislikes Gabriel and he has 2 Gabriels in his class, so he’s happy with Gabe). I also have a niece who is “just” Maggie. They considered Magdalen but it’s a mouthful with their last name. They figure she can go by Meg if she feels she grows out of Maggie, but knowing her personality she’ll be happy to stick with it.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. We have a Jack, not a John or a Jackson. I semi pushed to name him John but my husband really just did not like that at all. (And strictly by coincidence our first son’s name is the last name of a high school boyfriend and his first name is John so our first two kids would have had his full name 😂😂😂). My husband David is not Dave, and all of our 4 kids so far go by their full first name on their birth certificate including our daughter who has an easily nicknamed long name. I feel like this is one of those hot topics on name sites, and people can get a bit uppity about it BUT real life is real life and preferences come into play and compromises are made. With that said, I really do like Alexander nicknamed Alex and thankfully Alex is actually in Alexander you know? But if you do go with Alex I think it will be a non-issue. Also, just in general, I feel like boys think less of their names than girls (I hesitate to say this bc somebody will chime in and say their husband hates his name, BUT in general I still think it’s true). Your Alex and my Jack are less likely to grow up and question their name choices than similarly named girls are, but of course, formally named daughters may wish for a cute short nickname instead. 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love all of this! You articulated several key points really well. I especially like this: “I feel like this is one of those hot topics on name sites, and people can get a bit uppity about it BUT real life is real life and preferences come into play and compromises are made. “

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I can go either way with this…We have “just” a Leo. People ask me all the time what his full name is! When deciding names for our second son I was torn between several formal names with nn as well as several names that were more nicknames! In the end, it’s whatever feels most right! But I definitely can agree sometimes “just” a nickname for a name is perfect and Alex is a great example of that!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That must be frustrating! It’s my understanding that Leo has historically always been a standalone name, as well as a nickname for Leopold, Leander, etc. After all, there were thirteen Pope Leos!

      People also sometimes ask me what my name (Dixie) is short for. Thing is, I cannot fathom what it could possibly be short for! Dixorina? Dixthea? Dixadelphia! A weird twist on Richard? It makes me laugh.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. My Graciela is almost exclusively called Chela, but we wanted the longer formal name for all the reasons you mentioned, wedding invitations, etc. Nickname options was one of the main reasons we chose her name, along with her middle, Elizabetta. There are so many options for her to choose from if she ever feels like she needs a change.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I have a story: last year I was leading an outdoor education session with a group of sixth graders, and a ginger kid named alex was causing trouble, so I gave him a stern “ALEXANDER”. He got super upset cause his name is just alex, the other kids started calling him alexander as it was a funny joke, and I felt pretty bad about the whole thing. That being said, I’m generally not against nicknames, but love having a longer name which comes with a bunch of options. (4 syllables is not that long where I come from, english just has the shortest names!).

    Liked by 2 people

  10. My husband has a long name and despises the nickname that he grew up with because it is not his full name. He thinks that everyone deserves to be called by their full name, and therefore, nicknames are banned in my family. One problem this creates for us is that he thinks that using a nickname as a full name is a great idea. And while I think that Kate is an acceptable option, one of the names that he has suggested is Nate, and I’m just not ok with that. It sounds unfinished as a full name.

    I also know some middle age guys with full names like Ricky and Johnny, and it seems like it would be disrespectful to call them by their full name. I think that is a situation that you’d want to avoid.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I really fall in the camp of giving them a formal first name. Imagine if they became a Supreme Court justice or other sober profession. It just seems wise to have a formal name for those circumstances (or like the other Grace above mentioned, academic writing), even if they are never called that the test of the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Here’s an example that my 15-year-old pointed out: President Bill Clinton was ALWAYS called Bill Clinton, but when he was sworn in as president, and when he signed things into law, he had William to use. He truly used that name rarely, but in the very most formal occasions of his life, he’s had a more formal name. So I do think it’s a good thing to consider. Jimmy Carter is another president with a similar name situation. Always and only known as Jimmy, he was sworn into the presidency as James Earl Carter, and history will reflect his formal name in terms of laws, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I do like the versatility of the longer name. I also know someone who was given a nickname as the full name, and he frequently runs into trouble with people assuming that he actually has the longer name. When he fills out forms, he gets calls asking if he made a mistake and if it needs to actually be the longer name on the legal document. People also call him by the longer name, write to him under it, etc. I think he’s also a little embarrassed by not having the more formal name to add some gravitas behind the nickname.

    Many nicknames are great, but sometimes they just seem to fit a certain stage in life or even personality better than others, and I think it can be frustrating to feel stuck in that nickname. Susie not Susan may be cute for a little kid or between friends as adults, but what about when she’s applying for her first job out of law school? She could call herself Susan or even Sue, I guess, but would she really write that on an application or other form if it weren’t her legal name? It seems like she’d have to do a lot of correcting people.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I’m in the camp of a longer first name. My Alexandra had a wealth of nicknames she can be called and while we started with Alex and then toyed with Xandra, she ended up being most comfortable with Allie. And if the situation calls for a more mature full name than Allie, she has Alexandra to fall back on.

    We have friends who are pretty anti-shortened name. They have an An@stasia, a Genev!eve, and a M@ximilian. Their other daughter is Zelie, and when they learned Zelie was a short form of Azelie/Azalea, oh my! The look on mom’s face!!! She named her girl with a nickname!

    So if you end up have more kids and name them with longer full names (like Michael instead of Mike or Nathaniel instead of Nate or Timothy instead of Tim), will you be happy with Alex being just Alex? Or will you regret it some day?

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s SO interesting about Zelie — I wouldn’t have thought of it as a nickname, since that’s what St. Zelie’s really known as, but you’re right! Her name would be an exception for me — I don’t mind just Zelie as a given name.


  14. I waffle on this. As a rule I would be one to say “name them what you plan to call them,” although reading this blog has softened me toward nicknames in general.

    few relavent anecdotes:
    My husband’s maternal grandpa’s name was Bobby Joe. When he died a few years ago there was some family contention about what to write on the obituary, because some people had assumed their whole life that it must be a shortening of Robert Joseph.
    My hubs’s paternal grandmother is named Fred@ Sue, but she refers to herself (think Facebook)–and I have only ever known her–as Susan.
    I have a cousin named just Abby, and she is pretty much 0% an Abigail (: and another cousin whose name is Jessica, but her entire life has been called Jessie, and her mom/my aunt has “kicked herself” (her words) for 25 years for putting the formal name on the birth certificate.

    On this particular case, I would say just Alex is a-okay. But of course Alexander nicked Alex is so natural, and my personal taste tends to prefer longer names anyway…but my last name is short!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. My younger brother’s full name is Alexander, but I don’t believe he has ever used it. He seems to be Alex middle name last name, even on formal announcements and certificates.


  16. I’m torn on this one as well. I can’t see myself using a short form on a birth certificate, but some of the concerns about using just Alex would actually apply to many 1 syllable names. Alex seems just as professional to me as names like Paul, Clare or Mark (my oldest 3). It seems unfair to condemn Alex’s lack of options when many full names lack nickname options as well.

    I’m sure if we had a just Alex at home he’d quickly be pet named Lex Luther by his adoring siblings.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. It just occurred to me that Alec might solve your problem. So close to Alex, but definitely a stand alone name. And it’s so handsome! You could still claim any of the St Alexanders as a patron.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. This isn’t easy to answer, because Alex is a nickname, but it’s not a “just for little kids” nickname. I generally prefer a full name, but Alex is very similar to Felix, which is a full name, so I’m not sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. My baby twins are Jack Alexander and Charlie Thomas. Except for the fact that they’re not short for anything, they are pretty traditional names. We just don’t like John/ Jackson or Charles, and didn’t see the point of choosing names we didn’t plan on using in real life. I’m not worried that the boys won’t have options if they hate their names, because they still have middle names. They can always go by Alexander/ Alex or Thomas/ Tom. Lots of names don’t come with obvious nicknames anyway. I do think some nicknames are too cutesy to stand alone as first names — it’s hard to imagine a 40-year-old man named Timmy, for instance. But I think Jack and Charlie work well as names for both little boys and middle-aged men.

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