An ancestor having a nickname can prove to be a handicap during your research. A nickname is a substituted for the proper name of a person. It is often considered desirable, symbolizing a form of acceptance, but can sometimes be a form of ridicule. Some nicknames are given by the parents, grandparents or later by school friends. That nickname could last a few years or a person’s lifetime.
Nickname originally was a 1300s Old English term was ekename, meaning eaca “an increase”, related to eacian “to increase”. It also was a shorter version of the person’s proper name, which is the most popular type of nickname. When slaves were held in America, many slaves took on a nickname used among themselves and their master never knew it.
Many nicknames can be based on a person’s chosen profession; such as ‘Bones’ for a medical doctor or ‘Chief’ for someone in authority – a fire chief, police chief. Then a nickname can be based on a person’s appearance. A popular one is ‘Red’ for someone with red hair, or reddish complexion.
For the shorter version of a given name, it can be Rick, Dick, Ricky and Hick or the name Richard; or Fanny, Fannie, Fran for Frances; Ed can be for Edward, Edmond, Edgar, Edwin; then there is Jeff for Geoffrey, Jeffry, Jeffrys and Joe, Josie, Jo for Joseph, Josephine and Joanna. These can be some of the hardest to get straight when doing the research. One example is the Harry, generally the nickname for Henry. But the parents could have name the baby ‘Harry’ and never Henry.
Some given names have a long list of possible nicknames. The ancestor just might have used a few different ones over their lifetime. For Elizabeth here are just a few: Eliza, Elisa, Elly, Betty, Bettie, Lib, Libby, Liz, Lizzie, Lisa, Liza, Beth, Bess, Besse, Bessie, Bessy,and Betsy.
So be careful when researching and learn the various forms a name can have. Do a Google search on what you think was the ancestor’s birth given names and keep a list of the variety of nicknames. That way you are prepared if one shows up in a record, document, journal, etc.
Here is a partial list of nicknames.
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