nicknames: clipping+s, -zza

It's conference season on campus, so there are lots of people walking around with nametags. One can often guess the nationality of delegates by the first names. I saw a nametagged Clay the other week, and thought 'That's got to be someone from the southern US'. Since I didn't have the satisfaction of hearing him speak, I went back to the office and googled his full name. Sure enough, he's from South Carolina. I asked a couple of English people, and they'd never heard of the given named Clay. Nancy is another name that is usually attached to an American. In the other direction, while the US has Nicoles, it doesn't have many women named Nicola. Here, everyone's bound to know a couple of them, who will undoubtedly spell their nickname differently (Nikki, Nicki, Nicky), just to confuse you.

Of course, there are Josephs and Julies and Barries and A(l)lisons on both sides of the Atlantic. What differentiates them is their nicknames. I've known a few Allisons in the US, but none is regularly called Alli, but here, where it's usually spelt Alison, most are known to at least part of their social circle as Ali.

Both AmE and BrE use -y (or -ie) as a diminutive and marker of affection, as in Jenny or Maggy. But BrE (and some other Es) also make a lot of use of clipping (i.e. shortening) a name and adding -s. Some examples:

Julie/JuliaJools (or Jules)
(David) BeckhamBecks

In AmE, the Friends character Phoebe was called Phoebs, but other than that I can only think of (the rather old-fashioned) Babs for Barbara. I can't help but see Madonna's UK nickname (spread by now to the US), Madge, as being related to the phenomenon. After a voiced consonant, the -s is pronounced [z], and it's a short jump from [mædz] to [mædʒ]. Jos is another common BrE clipping, but in this case the s (pronounced as unvoiced [s]) is not added but retained from Joseph. I'd never heard Jos till I met two here, both now 15. One now opts for the 'cooler' Joe.

My old university in South Africa, University of the Witwatersrand, is commonly known as Wits, which led many of my American correspondents, unaware of the diminutive -s, to address my mail (BrE prefers post) to "University of the Witswatersrand".

Another common personal nickname, via a different history, is Bazza or Baz for Barry. One also hears Shazza for Sharon and Mozza for Maurice or Morrissey, etc. (Click the link at the start of the paragraph for more examples.) Tabloid newspapers seem to like to dub people with -zza names, for some reason, but I do know of an unfamous Baz(za), a Shazza, and a Mozza, though the names are only used in very informal settings. In Bridget Jones' Diary, the character Sharon is nicknamed Shazzer, which is pronounced like Shazza.

[This paragraph added 10 July:] While some of the tabloid names make a -zza out of sibilant sounds--e.g. Gascoigne-->Gazza, Prescott-->Prezza, what's interesting to me here is how the -zza ending is added to the first syllable of a name whose second syllable starts with an /r/. I'm investigating this--but if you know anything about it, leave a comment!]

On the other hand, there are lots of American nicknames that are foreign here, including Bud(dy), Chip, Trip, Muffy, Buffy. Not that these are very common in the States, but they are really American.

Postscript (12 July): When I posted this, Better Half said "But those aren't nicknames." In my reading today I discovered the better term for reduced 'pet names' based on a person's given name: hypocoristics. So I guess BH is right. Don't tell him--it'd upset the whole balance of know-it-allness in our house.


  1. didn't they used to call Paul Gascoigne "Gazza", as well?

  2. Yep, that's the main one in the Wikipedia article that you can link to from my entry.

  3. I knew an Ali growing up (in New England), though that was short for Ashley rather than Allison. Also, come to think of it, her father was British, so I guess that takes her out of the running as an example of typical American naming practices.

    Question about Jos - is o the same as in Joseph? I've always wondered where the male version of the name "Joss" comes from (e.g., Joss Whedon); maybe it's related to Jos?

  4. According to Think Baby Names, Joss is traditionally short for Jocelyn (which like many -lyn names was originally applied to males. These days, it can be short for Joseph. But Joss and Jos are pronounced differently: the 'o' in Jos is pronounced as in Joseph. It's just Joseph without the eph.

    I think clipping+s names are catching on in the US--with Phoebe in Friends being one example--but I thought of another example and forgot it today...

    I do sometimes call my American goddaughter Mads (for Maddie/Madeleine), just because Mad isn't a nice thing to call people.

  5. "I think clipping+s names are catching on in the US--with Phoebe in Friends being one example--but I thought of another example and forgot it today... "

    I hear college-age women named Julie/Julia called "Jules" by their friends here in the U.S. all the time. Also, I know at least two American Al(l)isons (and one Alexandra) who go by Ali.

  6. Hi, Lynneguist: Delightful blog, but how would you account for Captain Nancy of "Swallows & Amazons" fame? Inquiring minds, &c.

  7. I didn't say that all Nancies are American, just that there's a good chance that if you meet one today, she will be. Another fictional British Nancy is Nancy Sykes, from Oliver Twist. But both of these examples are pretty old, and name trends change a lot. And fictional characters are often given unusual names, in any case, so aren't the best examples.

    According to Think Baby Names (see link above), "Nancy is a very popular female first name, ranking 12 out of 4275 for females of all ages in the 1990 U.S. Census. " Unfortunately, TBN has no stats for BrE (though for some names they do), and I can't find an equivalent 'of-all-ages' stat for the UK. But I'll bet you anything it's not particularly close to 12th!

    Since both my mother and my best friend are named Nancy, I've heard the comment more than once that it's an American-sounding name.

    Of course, anyone can be named anything, so we're talking trends here, not absolutes. As for the nicknames, I do think that some of the BrE tendencies have been adopted in the US--but they didn't start there and are not as widespread there. I had a good friend Julie in high school, and we called her Ju, which was a bit awkward as it sounded like Jew, but Jools never occurred to us. Here it is so entrenched that some people (a member of Better Half's family and one of my Oxfam managers and the musician Jools Holland, for instance) use it as their professional name, as a Robert might be Bob. I've never seen an American author whose by-line is 'Jools' or even (abbreviated) 'Ali' (though I'm sure someone will come up with a counterexample to shame me!).

  8. Jools/Jules strikes me as a very middle/upper class name? Maybe because I'm thinking of Jools Oliver (one of those yummy mummy types). I'm really into indie music, and the lead singer of New York band is called Julian Casablancas, but he's often known as Jules... Although that might also be a class thing?

    I think you'd get Bazza/Gazza/Shazza in Australia too. And, being into indie music, I nearly always call Morrissey 'Moz'. Or 'Mozzarella' or 'the Mozfather' or any other ridiculous name which takes my fancy :D

  9. Well, two of my Jools/Juleses are definitely not upper class. (But it could always be aspirational!)

    Julian Casablancas has a Spanish dad and a Danish mother and went to boarding school in Switzerland, so it's very possible that he didn't get the nickname Jools from Americans.

  10. which like many -lyn names was originally applied to males

    Ah, this may be the missing link (and it also explains why I always get so confused about the gender of Evelyn Waugh). The only thing is that I've known of two Josses, and I'm relatively certain that neither is actually named Jocelyn (I think you'd be hard pressed to find a modern American male who is), so I wonder how it got here from there. I should find the one I actually know in person and ask him the origin of his name. Joss Whedon actually spent a significant portion of his school years in England, so I thought maybe it was a bastardization of a British nickname or something...

  11. Joss Whedon, if I am not mistaken, has said that he named himself after the Chinese word "joss" meaning good luck. His birth name was Joseph. Although his time in the UK could also have influenced his choice...

    I went to college (university in the UK) in Southern California, and I knew several Al(l)isons who spelled their nickame "Ally" (but never Ali - which I would think would be pronounced by most Americans as in Mohammad Ali.) Ally Carter is the pseudonym of a US writer of young adult fiction.

    Back in Los Angeles, my friend's daughter is Julia but we all call her Jules; same for another friend's daughter named Juliana.

    Another naming trend I've seen in LA is people of all cultural backgrounds adopting the Spanish language custom of creating a diminuitive by adding ito/a. We call another friend's daughter, Robyn, Robinita. However, I imagine that this nickname will probably be dropped once she reaches the age of seven or so, or is no longer so "ita."

  12. Just to throw a fox in the henhouse, my nickname used to be Muffy. Not because of a shortening of my name, but because I wore big, fluffy earmuffs all winter to prevent ear infections.

    You might be interested to know that the nickname was derived from a television commercial where a 'typical' yuppie couple were introducing their family "Muffy, Buffy, Biff and Biff Junior." However, I had always heard, and this is just anecdotal, that Muffy was indeed a diminutive of Muffin, used as a term of endearment. A nickname of a nickname! How's that? :)

    Here's one to add to your list: I have a friend Caroline from Wales who goes by Cazz.

  13. The Muffies I have known have the real names of Susan and Martha, but were called Muffy by their families from the outset. I don't know how you get from Susan to Muffy, but it helps to come from a preppy background.

  14. My great-niece Allison is called Ally. Or maybe Allie? I don't think I've ever seen it spelled. But they're very far from British.

    I have an office mate who clips everyone's name. Fortunately, she doesn't add the -S. It's just Mar and Suze and Kare and Nance... Hmmm. It's just the women's names, come to think of it. Though since the guys are Lee and Todd and JR and Ted, it wouldn't be easy!

  15. I think the British just like to come up with nicknames (or pet names) for everything - I've heard prezzies for presents and piccies for pictures.

    A Danish friend once told me that there was a trend in Denmark to give children "American" names like Tommy or Johnny, where those were the given names instead of Thomas or Jonathan. I wonder if the same is true in England - I know one Jennie from England whose first name is just that, not Jennifer.

  16. And here I thought making diminutives from people's names was an Aussie trait! Here in the office (in Western Australia), we have a Bazza (Barry), a Jezza (Geraldine), a Noelsie (Noeline), a Jules (Julie), a Sash (Sascha), an Ash (Ashley), a Rosie (Rose-Anne), a Jackie (Jacqueline), a Rik (Hendrik), a Deb (Debra), a Di (Diane), several Jens (Jenny), a Rhino (Ryan) (I guess that's a nickname really) an Ali (Alyson) and a Kathy/Cathy (one of each).

    BTW, as a professional editor, your blog fascinates me. I've read it many times, but this is the first time I've posted. We deal with BrE, AmE and AusE here -- it does get a little confusing at times, since the three are quite distinct.

  17. Welcome to the conversation, Bruce!

  18. What has died out completely is the creating of new "rhyming" nicknames of the sort that geve us William -> Will -> Bill, Margaret -> Maggie -> Peggy, Richard ->Rick -> Dick and so on.

    Incidentally, Lynne, it was Sikes in Oliver Twist, not Sykes ...

    1. Also (extremely late to the party), as I recall, Nancy was Bill Sikes's girlfriend, not his wife; no surname is given for her.

  19. Thanks for the correction -- Apologies for the error!

  20. My 'Allie' is short for Alison, and confuses most people down here, as they are used to 'Ali' being the standard nickname. Especially as my Alison has one L, but my Allie has two! It is invariably misspelt when someone goes to write my name.

    I find it strange/interesting how Australians seem to shorten things and put an o or an a on the end, whilst NZers put an ie or y. Eg the Salvation army are the Sallies in NZ, but the Salvos in Australia.

  21. I've heard Gabs for Gabriela or Gabrielle a few times in the US.

    Macca for Sir Paul or anyone else is nonexistent here.

  22. I also would add that I have known two people called Al(l)i - an Alexandra (Ali) and an Allison (Alli). I think your individual experience led you to an erroneous conclusion on that one.

  23. One Amer name that sounds hysterical to non-Amers is “Randy”. I guess it’s up there with the unfortunate surnames of Wanker and Pratt. I did meet a shy optometrist once, surname Meek.
    Our eldest son had the affectionate nickname “cheeky”, then “wriggles” due to the movements he made when excited. He is named “Jamie”, but officially certified as “James”. Jamie is always-or-usually a female name in US. It is making inroads as a girls name in NZ, too. Our 18 month-old, Daniel, is known as “Boo-boo”. Not sure if that is the same spelling as Yogi’s mate (buddy).
    On a different note: where did Ass vs. Arse come from, svp?
    Also, in Kramer v Kramer, the v is pronounced “versus”, whereas as BrE civil court cases, the v is pronounced “and”: Latin origin?

  24. Please use the 'search blog' feature to find ass/arse. Feel free to use the 'contact lynneguist' link to request new topics.

  25. I'm an American studying linguistics in England. In a phonology lecture a few weeks ago, the lecturer touched on this subject as a tangent, unsurprisingly from a phonological perspective. He wrote the name "Karen" on the board and asked the English students how they would shorten it if one of them wanted to make a nickname for Karen. There was a silence, and then one of the students spoke up with "Kaz". He said yes, that that was what he was looking for, and pointed out where this odd /z/ came from. It's normal to shorten two-syllable names to the first syllable, which is fine for Philip or Stanley, but if that would leave a name ending in /r/ there is a problem in non-rhotic varieties of English. Non-rhotic English doesn't allow /r/ word-finally, but dropping the /r/ would leave */kæ/, which is not a well-formed syllable in most (maybe all) varieties of English. A monosyllabic word requires a bimoraic syllable (to oversimplify slightly), and /æ/ is a single mora. It needs a consonant to provide the second mora; the /z/ therefore completes the syllable. He then commented that in a rhotic English the situation would be handled differently and asked me to shorten "Karen." I replied something sounding like "care", since /r/ at the end of a word is fine in my English. I should have asked him how he would do it, since he speaks a rhotic English himself, but I didn't.

    Excellent tangent to an excellent lecture. In fact, just the other day I remembered this while watching an episode of _Only Fools and Horses_, and I was abruptly enlightened as to why the character Derek Trotter is called Del or Delboy.

  26. In Australia, Gaz" or Gazza is short for Garry/Gary. Also, Chaz for Charles/Charlie. Is it the same in the UK?

  27. I love Jill's explanation, although why choose "z" rather than some other sound? But with respect to Chaz: it may come from a different source, the antique abbreviation of "Chas." (Compare "Thos." as in "Thos. Jefferson.")

  28. One of the only successful nicknames I've ever had dates from my childhood in Worthing and was 'Ez' (for Ella)

  29. Nancy (or Nan) originated as a nickname for Anne (cf Nell for Eleanor, Ned for Edward). It later became an independent name, but, as you say, is very uncommon in the UK nowadays.

  30. Just wanted to address in a rather jumbled fashion three points that you mentioned. Is Nancy still a popular name in the States? I myself am a big fan of hypocoristic s, shortening friends' names to Kels (Kelly), Jules (Julia), and Wills (William). And, there is a girl at work who I've never heard called anything but Allie/Ally.

    I wonder if you could do a followup piece talking about the diminutive -ster? (ie Chuckster, Mikester, etc.)

  31. -ers is an old-fashioned / posh approach to nicknames. I (Richard Gadsden, in case it doesn't come through as my name) caught a nickname as "Gadders" when I had an ex-public school friend. This would fit with "Blowers" (Henry Blofeld) "Aggers" (Jonathan Agnew) and "Johnners" (Brian Johnston) from TMS, which perpatuates that style of naming.

  32. An american Ally - Allison Marie "Ally" McBeal

  33. So late, but I've been clicking links and reading through your archives all day and finally have to comment.

    I (AmE) know two Allies (one Allison and the other Alexandra) and one Ali (Alison). I get confused by the spelling Ali (thinking it should be aLEE after Muhammad) and Ally (thinking it should be like the noun), but that's probably mostly me.

    I also know a woman, Jax, short for Jacqueline and, of course, pronounced the same as Jacks. There is also a female character named Jax in a series of books by Ann Aguirre, but my friend Jax says she's only known other male (but still rare) Jax/Jacks'.

    Jules (preferred in AmE over Jools, I think) is gaining a lot of popularity over here, but I don't know about the other forms.

    I find nicknames that skip letters interesting. For instance, I know an Amelia/Mia and an Elspeth/Eppie. What's going on there?

    Also how spelling can denote gender: Jessy, Jessie, & Jessi are all women, but Jesse is a man.

  34. I'm 13 and I got interested with this because I saw a friend tweet, addressing Harry Styles as "Hazza" so I researched about it.

    I think that the names with or without an /r/ after the first syllable and that has a nickname ending with -zza  are common amongst the Brits or people from England, UK, Australia or whichever. I have two people for example.
    The first one is Corin Storkey from the reality TV show "The Beauty and The Geek Australia Season 2". I remember watching an episode wherein Corin's partner were to answer what his high school nickname was, and there she answered "Cozza" which was correct.
    The second person, as I've mentioned, is Harry Styles; a member of the boy group singing sensation from the UK, "One Direction". Harry's fellow group member, Liam Payne was the one who gave him the nickname "Hazza" and the one who calls him that, but now, also their fans are calling Harry that as well.

    I don't know, I guess this is just me. All these are just according to my observations. 

  35. My given name is Melinda nickname Mindy, I was almost never called by my given name. So I have a tendency to hate nicknames.

    So, I named my kids short name to try and avoid this.
    Daughters name is Zoe (pronounced Zoee) which did not work too well because I find myself calling he Zo without the ee

    And my sons name is Ivan, and so far so good, no one not even me, has shortened it (although I can see how it could be)

  36. I see someone else has caught why Derek Trotter ends up as Del Boy, but it at least used to be more common as a general rule that names with initial -er and -ar were shorten and the r changed to l.

    There were some who referred to me as 'Jel' at school, and Terry in 'Minder' was often called Tel. I also seem to recall that Terry Venables, one time managet of Spurs I believe, was nicknamed 'El Tel', although where the spanish definite article comes from I have no idea.

    I would associate Bazza etc as Brum/Black Country.

    Hunter Davies wrote a book where the girlfriend's name was different in each section. It was only slowly that you realised that they were all variants of Elizabeth - Liz, Beth, Eliza etc.

    Above Nell for Eleanor is given (sorry writing this on a phone and I have difficulty cutting and pasting), I believe I have also seen for Elizabeth.

    Speaking of Nancy Blackett from Swallows and Amazons, I have never met a girl called Titty. Maybe I move in the wrong circles.

    Jeremy. Born early 60s London/Essex border.

  37. Jeremy Fry - I think I'm right in saying that El Tel picked up his Spanish article when he became Barcelona manager in the 80s. Of course the alliteration of his nickname can't be beaten, but Gary Neville's recent move to coach Valencia has seen him called "El Nev". I'm sure there are other similar examples of nicknames for foreign based football managers - but the closest I can think of is Steve "Schteve" McClaren.

  38. We don't only shorten names here. One of my friends at uni was called Paul by his mum to prevent shortening. He was renamed Paulie by one and all (this was Liverpool, where a lot of the nicknames have an /-e/ sound at the name because it works well with the accent). This was long enough ago certain other modern usages weren't in place, and to distinguish from another, thinner, Paulie, he was in fact "Fat Paulie" to everyone.

    About 5 years I met him and his wife for the first time in about 30 years. She still calls him Paulie. He still lives up the cognomen too, although with just the three of us there and because times have changed, we didn't use it.

  39. My father's name is Paul, and much of the reason none of my brothers is named 'Paul' (except for a middle name) is that my parents feared with two Pauls in the family, the younger would be "Paulie", which sounds just like "Polly" in our pronunciation.

  40. American here--I call my daughter Lydia "Lyds".....and I've met quite a few Al(l)isons who use the nickname, with 3 spellings represented (Ali, Allie, Ally). I still haven't met an Alley which I think is prebably a good thing, although it would be easier to be sure of the pronunciation than the Ali or Ally spellings! Hadn't heard of the -azza phenomenon before today, but it makes more sense to explain the name Chas/Chazz than does the idea that the name came from the abbreviation. No one uses the abbreviations Thos. or Jas. as names, even though they are abbreviations from the same era as Chas. Love your blog!

  41. My daughter, Mara, gets called by friends 'Mars'. A Clara, of course, would be Clarrie, not Clars, but I don't know what a Lara or Tara would be.

  42. Do you have a solid reference for when the zz/za trend began? There's a Vanity Fair article from 1998 by Richard E. Grant in which he talks about calling Sharon Stone Shazza and the same year in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the various villains have zz/za hypocristics. (like that new word btw!) I am writing a screenplay sert in the early 1980s and want to know if my character may employ this device in naming her best friend, or if it would be anachronistic. Any ideas? Cheers

    1. Well, Morrissey was called Mozzer or Moz in the early days of the Smiths, if that's any help...

  43. Despite Giddy's last remark, since Joseph can become Joe, Thomas can become Tom, I do believe that Chas could be carried through as a diminutive to 'Chazza' or 'Chaz'. There's also Charlie, of course. But I have never understood 'Chuck' for Charles.

  44. BrE. Just some often unrecognised hypocoristons (spelling?) from names used in our family. Henry becomes Harry: thing Henry V, cry God for England and Harry. Nancy can derive from Agnes as well as from Ann/Anne, as it does in our family. Incidentally, the Scottish girl’s name Senga is Agnes in reverse. Often used by mothers who want children named after themselves, but don’t want to saddle them with an old-fashioned name.

  45. I realize that this post is several years late, but I just discovered your blog. Commenting because when I saw people talking about Jules popping up in AmE more often, I immediately thought of Bend it like Beckham, which came out a few years before your post. With one of the main girls named Jules, it could certainly have caused a bump in the popularity of that nickname for Jul- names.


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