Where does li’l come from?
Li’l has been in use for many years, having developed alongside the rest of the English language through regional dialects and other linguistic influences. In American English, it’s often associated with rural or Southern communities. One of its earliest recorded appearances was in the title of the song “Li’l Liza Jane,” which dates back before 1900 as a field melody sung by enslaved African-Americans. Another use of the word was in the title of a satirical American comic called Li’l Abner, which was about rural Southern life. It was first published in 1934 and ran for 43 years. More recently, the 2009 TV show Parks & Recreation featured a miniature horse character, named Li’l Sebastian.
In recent years, li’l (often spelled lil) has found popularity within the hip-hop community as a prefix for rappers’ stage names (e.g., Lil Wayne and Lil’ Kim). By 2017, there were more than 50 musicians whose names begin with li’l, lil, or lil’.
Who uses li’l?
Li’l can be used as a descriptor for height or age. It’s often applied to the beginning of a name or title, or used regularly as an adjective. Its abbreviated form usually suggests humor, affection, or cuteness. It may also imply that a character is rural or Southern.
In hip-hip, a lot of rappers choose to name themselves “Li’l ____” for a number of reasons. Some, like Lil Wayne and Lil’ Kim, use lil to allude to their short stature. Others, like Lil’ Romeo, use lil in reference to their age (since maturing, this particular rapper has dropped the Lil’ and just goes by Romeo). These names often begin as nicknames created by friends.
“My lil rockstar.....
#cjsingh #familyfun #daughter #proud #rockstar #lil #master ##sunday#fun”
CJ Singh Facebook (October 2, 2016)
“So yesterday someone said something they shouldn't and I addressed it. Being the craft queen I am.. I made them a lil plaque to remember ❤️”
Queen queen @quenblackwell Twitter (May 6, 2017)
“But now, hip-hop is dominated by li'l people - in stature and in age. 'It's a youth movement. The market is dominated by 13- to 18-year-olds,' Martinez says. 'They're buying the records, the advertising and the material. Plus, everybody knows a Li'l John-John or a Li'l Somebody from their neighborhood.'”
Kelley L. Carter, “Li'l teens the big shots of hip-hop,” Billings Gazette (April 12, 2002)