Baby name consultation: Formal name with nickname or nickname as given name for first baby?

Can you believe this Sunday is Palm Sunday?? Lent is racing to an end, and I’m so looking forward to Easter. Many prayers for you all for a strong Lenten finish, from me and also, I’m sure, from St. Anne! (Be sure to check out my Instagram, as I just shared a special post about our dear St. Anne, patroness of Sancta Nomina.) Please enjoy this consultation by Theresa Zoe Williams!

Mama Abbey writes in needing help naming their first child. She says,

My husband … likes strong names. He is also of the opinion that they should have a formal name and then a nickname … My mom was of the opinion that your name should be your name. Her name is Sandra, but everyone has always called her Sandy. My sisters’ names are Liz, Marlee and Lexie. Each of us girls have middle names that are named after grandmothers or great-grandmothers.”

Abbey’s husband (Anthony called Tony) likes the names “Duke, Finnigan and Russell (Rusty) for a boy. For girls he likes more whimsical names like Misty or Trish.” Abbey says, “I like more old fashioned names but also like names with meaning or reminds you of someone like a family name.” Her shortlist includes:

  • Irene
  • Bea
  • Tilly
  • Caeli
  • Mary
  • Finnegan
  • Patrick
  • Adam
  • Blaise
  • Cal/Caleb

They would like to include a family name in their child’s name. Abbey writes,

I had a special connection with my great-grandmother. She died when I was in college but we spent a ton of time with her growing up. Her name was Irene Matilda Malli Hlubek. I’ve thought I would use Irene for a girl but I’m not sure what the middle name would be. I was thinking of Irene Malli, as it’s different from Irene Matilda. But I’m looking for boy/girl name ideas just in case.”

Tony and Abbey’s parents are grandparents are Perry Arthur, Polly Ann, Dennis Lee, Sandra (Sandy) Meredith, Salvatore Mercurio, Lois Adele, William Charles, Patricia Louise, Karen LeAnn, Meredith Macel, Maurice Kenneth, and Gary Lee.

Names they cannot use include Lily, Mya, Nic, Levi, Cruz, and Reid.

So much great information! I’ll start by giving some thoughts on names they like that don’t quite feel like the one.

Duke- Very dated, very Western, doesn’t have a nickname. This feels more like an informal name you’d call a child with a formal name that doesn’t naturally have a nickname or go to a nickname you like. Unique, though! So I kept that in mind when searching for other names.

Finnegan/Finnigan- They both had this on their lists so I’m inclined to say this is a winner! It’s a little unusual but shortens to the absolutely spectacular and in vogue Finn. Love this name for them a lot. Finnegan Salvatore or Finnegan Lee honor family really well, too.

Russell nn Rusty- Very dated but sweet. I love Rusty as the nickname for this instead of Russ.

Patrick- Classic, cannot go wrong name. It’s strong, it’s sweet, it will never go out of style. It can shorten to Pat or Paddy but I prefer the whole thing! Patrick pairs so well with so many of their family names, too.

Adam- Very classic, underused but not uncommon name. I like this for them a lot, other than that it doesn’t have a natural nickname.

Blaise- Great name, maybe they’d also like the spelling Blaze to get it away from the saint and into an action? Blaze reminds me more of names like Duke and Rusty, too. Only thing is this doesn’t have a natural nickname. This name and Duke gave me an idea below.

Cal/Caleb- Love this. I think this is a great name for them. Very balanced, right in the sweet spot they’re looking for.

Misty- Very dated, never popular, but very fun!

Trish- Interesting that this traditional nickname for Patricia showed up as a like for the husband who tends to like formal names with good nicknames. Dated but interesting!

Irene- Classic, criminally underused, sweet connection to family. I would say that this is a winner in the first or middle spot for them based solely on the family connection. I think that can’t be beat.

Bea- Sweet short form of Beatrice or Beatrix, both great names. I like any of these for them. I think this name combines the formal and nickname necessity with the classic but whimsical qualities. They couldn’t go wrong with this.

Tilly- A traditional nickname for Matilda, which is a family name. I love this. Fun and whimsical, family name, classic and strong, sweet. This is another one that basically checks all of their boxes.

Caeli- A little adventurous! This opens up their style a bit past strong, sweet, and classic but I like it. Caeli Irene is very sweet.

Mary- It doesn’t get more classic and sweet than this. Mary also pairs well with most of their family names, too. I think this is a great name for them. It doesn’t have a natural nickname really but they can do things like Mar, Mare, or Mamie or something related to whichever middle name they choose.

On to new suggestions! Let’s start with the boys.

1. Callahan

Meaning “bright-headed,” I thought of this name because Abbey liked Cal as possibly a nickname for Caleb. I thought maybe they might like this longer form, too. It is a surname name and that steers its feel away from classic and more into Southern or preppy vibes, though.

2. Jacob

This classic name can’t be beat. Its popularity shows, as it currently sits at #15, but that just means it’s enduring and classic and people recognize that! I love that this can shorten to the very classic Jake or to the more fun and whimsical Coby. That gives this name options, something I think they both will appreciate. Jacob pairs well with many of their family names, too, to give it some more significance.

3. Elijah

I initially thought of the name Eli, which I think suits them so well, but then thought they might like the longer form Elijah to go along with it. Elijah is currently #4 and Eli is #60, meaning they’re popular, enduring, and right in style now while having that classic, strong feel.

4. Blake

This is the “compromise” name I came up with after seeing Duke and Blaise on their lists. I think this fits both of those vibes perfectly making it feel really them! It’s short, sweet, a little out of the norm (it currently sits at #209, meaning they’re not going to hear it everywhere but everyone will know the name), but classic and strong. Blake Lee, Blake Anthony, Blake Salvatore, and Blake William are all amazing.

5. Benjamin

I love this classic, strong name with nickname potential. Beyond Ben there’s also Benji and Bennett (Bennett began as a short form of Benedict, but I think it could work here, too). Another great thing about Benjamin is that it pairs well with basically any family name they have!

On to girls!

1. Esther

This sweet “old lady” name came to me when they said they love Irene. Meaning “star,” this name is classic, strong, and sweet, and can shorten to Essie or even Star. Alternatively, they may like Stella, too, which is more popular right now (Esther is at #153) and a little more in style. I like Esther for them, though, and they could always call her Stella! Esther Irene is swoon-worthy!

2. Frances

I was trying to think of very classic girl names with lots of nickname potential that were a little off the beaten path and that’s how I came up with Frances. It currently sits at 416 making it clunky cool, which I think is their sweet spot for girls. Nicknames can include Fran, Franny, Fanny, or Frankie! Frances Irene and Frances with just about every name they like or is a family name go really well together. I think this is a can’t miss name for them.

3. Blythe

This came up as a style match for some of the names they like and I thought it was just whimsical enough to include! Meaning “cheerful” this name is out of the top 1000 meaning it’s uncommon and rare but not unheard of! I love this cheery little name for them but it doesn’t have any natural nicknames. That’s the only downside I can find!

4. Charlotte

Now this name is really popular, currently ranking at #4 but I don’t think that should deter them. It’s a classic, sweet name with fun nickname Lottie! Charlotte pairs well with almost all of their family names, too, making it a great name to work with. I love this name for them.

5. Nellie

I felt really drawn to this fun, classic nickname for them but couldn’t decide on a long form I thought they’d like best. Traditionally, Nellie is a nickname for Helen (at #424), Eleanor (at #22), and Ellen (at #804). Nellie can totally be used on its own, too! This name was totally inspired by the name Tilly on their list. Eleanor Irene is swoon-worthy, as is Eleanor and Helen with most names on their list or in their family. I think this hits their sweet spot of classic, strong, and sweet and a little bit fun, whimsical, and unusual.

These are my thoughts. What do you think?

I’m back on hiatus from doing consultations (though check back from time to time, as I hope to open up a few spots here and there as I’m able), but Theresa Zoe Williams is available to help you! Email her at to set up your own consultation! (Payment methods remain the same.)

For help with Marian names, my book, Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys: Over 250 Ways to Honor Our Lady (Marian Press, 2018), is available to order from and Amazon (not affiliate links). It’s perfect for expectant parents, name enthusiasts, and lovers of Our Lady!

4 thoughts on “Baby name consultation: Formal name with nickname or nickname as given name for first baby?

  1. That’s interesting about Nellie. I had always thought it was short for Cornelia.
    Irene is really nice, especially for the family connection.


  2. I love Caeli! I’m rooting for it 🙂 Maybe Caeli Meredith?
    I think Misty could be a Marian choice: Misty Rose for the Mystical Rose!
    And Matilda nn Tilly sounds perfect. Or Iris Matilda – a little twist on Irene.

    Another thing I noticed is they can use Beatrice as a formal name and call her Bea (mom’s choice) and Trish (dad’s choice).
    Maybe Beatrice LeAnn – honoring a lot of Lee’s and Ann’s in this family!

    I think Finnegan is a winner, but I love Duke, too.
    Maybe they’ll like Archie? Or Logan? Or Graham. It sounds short, but it’s a complete name.


  3. There are such great suggestions here!

    I love the above idea of Beatrice nn Bea or Trish! Definitely getting a mid-century vibe, which reminds me of Judith (how cute would a little Judy be!), Annette (Annie, Nettie), and Susan (Suzy, Zuzu).

    Also, I had to come suggest Peter nn Rocky (from Peter’s meaning) as the one I know has a brother named Blaise. They’re such “cool guy” names, which I also get from Duke, Finnegan, etc.


    • Mom of a little Edith here- we exclusively call her Edith (she does call herself “E” which is cute), and it’s made me think that maybe Judith could actually work on a little girl! I mean, maybe not for our family, but for someone!


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