Hypocorism Names

Glossary of grammatical and rhetorical terms

Name tags placed on a table top

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A hypocorism is a pet name, nickname, or term of endearment — often a shortened form of a word or name. Adjective: hypocoristic. It derives from the Greek word meaning "to use child-talk."

Robert Kennedy notes that many hypocorisms are "​monosyllabic or disyllabic, with the second syllable bearing no stress" (The Oxford Handbook of the Word, 2015).

Examples and Observations

  • "Mikey, Mikey, come on. Our parents are worried. It's dinnertime. Why don't we go home?"("Chunk" to his friend Michael "Mikey" Walsh in The Goonies, 1985)
  • "Oh, Slothy. I may have been bad. I may have kept you chained up in that room, but it was for your own good."(Mama Fratelli to her son Lotney "Sloth" Fratelli in The Goonies, 1985)
  • "If you call your granddaughter 'Toots,' you are being hypocoristic."(Roy Blount, Jr., Alphabet Juice. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008)
  • "Now, children, I want you to tell me your names again, and I want you to speak just as distinctly as Mary Chapman did. And I want you to speak your real names. You must not say your baby-names, such as Jimmie, for James; Lizzie, for Elizabeth; Johnny, for John. The first row, stand!"("Teacher" in The National Music Teacher by Luther Whiting Mason, 1894)
  • "Born a slave on March 15, 1843, on the Gray plantation in Noxubee County, Mississippi, the infant was given a slave name, Richard Gray. Around the plantation, though, the overseers called him Dick, short for Richard."(Juan Williams and Quinton Dixie, This Far by Faith: Stories from the African American Religious Experience. William Morrow, 2003)
  • "'Kitsy,' she encourages, like she's trying to teach a parakeet to ask for a cracker. 'It's short for Katherine Isabelle. My grandmother is Itsy, short for Isabelle, my mother is Bitsy, short for Elizabeth Isabelle, and my daughter is Mitsy, short for Madeleine Isabelle. Isn't that just adorable?'"(Wade Rouse, Confessions of a Prep School Mommy Handler: A Memoir. Harmony Books, 2007)

Hypocoristic Forms of First Names in the Modern English Period

"Most first names of any currency had recognized hypocoristic forms. Some names attracted only one or two main forms; others had several; and there was scope for a fair degree of free inventiveness. In the first category, and all dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, were: Di (Diana); Frank and Fanny (Frances); Jim (James); Joe (Joseph); Nell (Helen); and Tony (Anthony). Other names attracted a larger number of hypocoristic forms, mainly because they were commoner names . . .. Examples are Aggie, Nessa, Nesta (Scots) and Nest (Welsh) for Agnes; Doll, Dora, Dodee, Dot and Dolly (modern) for Dorothy or Dorothea; Mey, Peg, Maggie (Scots), Margery, Maisie, May and Madge for Margaret; and above all the many names deriving from Elizabeth. These include Bess, Bessie, Beth, Betsy, Eliza, Elsie, Lisa (modern), Lizbeth, Lizbie, Tetty, and Tissy. It will be noted that all of these are girls' names, and they seem to have been far more prone to hypocoristic formations in the post-medieval period than boys' names. Some hypocoristic forms became independent names, like Elsie, Fanny and Margery."

(Stephen Wilson, The Means of Naming: A Social and Cultural History of Personal Naming in Western Europe. UCL Press, 1998)

Hypocoristics in Australian English

The use of hypocoristics for common nouns and proper nouns is a notable feature of the speech of many Australians.

"Occasionally there are pairs. Sometimes one form, usually an /i/ form, is seen as babytalk: [Roswitha] Dabke (1976) notes goody/goodoh, kiddy/kiddo, and compare jarmies-PJs/pyjamas, and kanga (babytalk)-roo/kangaroo. However, sometimes different hypocoristics have different denotations, with the /o/ form more likely to denote a person: herp 'reptile,' herpo 'herpetologist'; chockie 'chocolate,' chocko 'chocolate soldier' (Army reserve); sickie 'sick leave,' sicko 'psychologically sick person'; plazzo 'plastic nappy,' plakky 'plastic' (adjective). But often there are no clear differences: milky-milko/milkman, commy-commo/communist, weirdy-weirdo/weird person, garbie-garbo/garbage collector, kindie-kinder/kindergarten; bottlie-bottlo/bottle merchant, sammie-sandie-sangie-sanger-sambo/sandwich, preggie-preggo-preggers/pregnant, Proddo-Proddy/Protestant, pro-prozzo-prostie-prozzie/prostitute. Speakers who use more than one hypocoristic may assign to them the meanings proposed by [Anna] Wierzbicka. But if a speaker uses only one of the possible hypocoristics, for them the hypocoristic may have a general meaning of informality, and not the proposed fine-grained differences. This remains to be explored."

(Jane Simpson, "Hypocoristics in Australian English." A Handbook of Varieties of English: A Multimedia Reference Tool, ed. by Bernd Kortmann et al. Mouton de Gruyter, 2004)

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Hypocorism Names." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/hypocorism-names-term-1690846. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). Hypocorism Names. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hypocorism-names-term-1690846 Nordquist, Richard. "Hypocorism Names." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hypocorism-names-term-1690846 (accessed March 26, 2023).