Can you run for president with a nickname?

onomastics, nicknames, gingrich, romneyThe two front-runners in the Republican presidential primary are commonly addressed by their nicknames. Though we refer to the former Speaker of the House as Newt, his real first name is Newton. His rival Mitt Romney’s real name is Willard Mitt Romney.

Nicknames are very common in English. The word nickname comes from an Old English word ekename, which meant “an additional name” and dates back to the 1300s. Some nicknames have obvious roots: Kim for Kimberley, Jim for James, Nick for Nicholas. Others are a little harder to wrap your mind around. How do you get Peggy from Margaret? Bo for William? Chuck from Charles? Polly from Mary?

Learn more about how our given names influence our lives here.

But what about our current candidates? Gingrich’s first name originally meant “new town” and has been used as a surname in English for over 1,000 years. (Newton is the 367th most common surname according to the U.S. Census.) Romney’s name dates back even farther than that. You can still find Romney on a map of England. As early as the 700s, “romney” literally meant “spacious river” in Old English and came to be associated with a region of southeast England called the Romney Marsh. (Romney is not even in the top 1000 most common surnames; neither is Gingrich.)

Nicknames are often just the shortening of a name, but they may sometimes be hypocoristics, meaning an endearing pet name, like Debbie for Deborah. Another interesting trend in nicknaming: Parents have started calling their kids by unusual nicknames for common names, such as Zander for Alexander, Drew for Andrew, or Toph for Christopher.

Here are a few words to help you talk about names. A surname is commonly called a last name, and your first name is technically called your forename or given name. Onomastics is the study of proper names.

Here are a few of our other favorite given name/nickname variations:
Sally for Sarah
Teddy for Edward
Tilly for Matilda
Jack for John
Betty for Elizabeth

What are your favorite nicknames?