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!