1.6 Hypocorism. Another derivation of the name is formed when a person intentionally creates a variant spelling by systematically forming a hypocorism, known in England as a pet form. The rule often simply involves the addition of a diminutive suffix. The hypocorism is a shortened or phonetically altered version of either the given name or sometimes the surname. In America people loosely called it a nickname. However, this latter term strictily refers to something a little more general. Simply put, a nickname it is any single-word alias, i.e., any moniker not originally assigned to a person by a legal act. The Latin name for such a name is vulgo, which means ‘among the common folk’, since the language of legal documents, Latin, was not the common tongue of the people.

The linguistic term “clipping” refers to a morphological process involving the removal from a word of a syllable, syllables, or a part of a syllable. The meaning and/or the use of the word comes to be altered in certain ways from the full form. Hypocorisms may make use of clipping, meaning that certain parts are taken away from the original. When the first part of the name is lost we call the process “procope,” from the Greek, “to cut the front.” When the last part of the name is lost we call the process “truncation.” from the Latin, “to cut off the end.” The third possiblity is to lose a portion of the middle, in which case the process may be called “syncope.” More examples of these phenomena are given below in the discussions on combining and blending as strategies for inventing new names.

Notice that syncope may simplify two consonants to one, but most often it omits a vowel between two (voiced) consonants. In the latter case it occurs in the middle of three, four, or five syllable names reducing their total number of syllables by one. The last example demonstrates that the elaboration which occurs when a name is latinized may be the inverse of the process of truncation. The suggestion is that a hypocorism may be latinized, so that the form Tonia is both a hypocorism and another standard resulting from coining a new name.

Clipping can be found in names used in the Germanic area of Europe as early as the Middle Ages. Even today the same spelling as that of a pet form has often been given a child as its official name. Thus Hans may be a form of Johannes, which longer form would appear in the official records for the person, or it may be the only given name the person may ever have carried. When the nickname is an alias, it may give a clue to the official name. However, in the case of Bill Jackson, while the nickname Bill would suggest that his official given name might be William, if he carried a nickname like Jack at work (perhaps because there were already some other Bill working in the same place), its form cannot easily suggest his surname. Many different surnames might give rise to the same nickname.

Thus the name Brad might be a shortening of Bradley, Bradford, or even Brady. Other masculine forms are: Al, Gil, Jay, Phil, Ty and Wil. Sometimes though the full name belongs to people of a particulary gender, as in these examples, it could as well come from names of either gender, e.g. Chris, Jo, Kay and Dee.

This variety of derivation results in a single syllable name; often appropriate for adding a diminutive suffix to. Hence, we have Joey, Chrissy and Willy. There are therefore some pet forms for which the stem isolate itself is not attested: Ellie, Lanny. Because this particular kind of derivation was quite popular among the early Germanic tribes, perhaps a case could be made for some of these unattested names having been formed in that time period. More likely, however, is the possiblity that the direct process of forming the hypocorism itself was preserved into the modern period, without the requirement that there be a stem isolate attested. Historically, the nickname might be derived by regular systemic rules. The output of one rule, whether it might be a nickname or not, might become the input of the next rule. Here are some possibilities:

0drop initial H (“h”-dropping)
1adrop final syllables (truncation)
1bdrop initial syllables (anacope)
1cdrop initial and final syllables (anacope + truncation)
2replace initial W with B (bilabial fricative with stop)
3replace initial H, R or nothing before a vowel with N or reduplication of middle consonant
4when following A drop R from final consonant cluster (“r”-dropping); front A to E (or Æ)
5replace initial M with P (feminine names) (nasal with non-nasal)
6replace medial R with LL (sonant substitution); medial Z or S with K (stop substitution)
7aadd diminutive Y (IE) to end (usually with rule 1a)
7breplace medial TH with TT or TS
NN with NS, LL with LS (feminine names) (emphatic “s”)

These rules could describe the following nicknames, as well as many not attested.

(Standard) name1a1b1c234567a7b
Robert or Robin“Rob”“Bob”“Bobby”




Ellen or Helen or Eleanor
Ann or Agnes or Annis“Nan”

Daniel or Dan“Dan”“Danny”
Samuel or Sam“Sam”“Sammy”
Albert or Robert“Bert”“Bertie”


There are many ways that different languages have of forming hypocorisms. When such names are brought into English, their hypocoristic nature may sometimes be retained, but usually the name is taken as a new name. This is even the case as the language evolves, so that a later generation may lose sight of the original hypocoristic use of certain spellings. It may be argued that the latinization involving an “a”-ending has a hypocoristic sense to many English speakers. On the other hand, a hypocorism may participate as the stem in the intentional creation of a new name.

Compound given names are sometimes created from the full name of some famous or highly respected individual. This notable name may then be clipped so that only part of the name remains as in Spanish when “Guadalupe” stands as a short form of “Maria de Guadalupe.” In English sometimes a process of abbreviation, whose extreme resutls may be bare initials, will form a set that becomes a given name in its own right. Common examples are T.J., and B.F., which originally stood for Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin as given names. These shortened names are pronounced teejay and bee-eff, respectively, the latter becoming “Biff” immediately. In this way a full name, which is borne as a single given name, is used in the creation of a novel hypocorism. As with other hypocorisms the origin of the short form may be lost sight of so that eventually a new name in its own right emerges. There is a similar situation when the comparative adjective III (the ‘Junior’ of a Junior) becomes the nickname Trey. The phenomenon of “initial-speak” is well hidden in the name of Edgar Bergen’s puppet, Elmer Fudd, whose silly antics might remind one of the antithesis of the person dignified by the stream of letters LL.M.R., Ph.D after his name (perhaps “legum magister reficiendum philosophiae doctor,” i.e., “master of laws to be restored, doctor of philosophy.”