Christine Lovatt

The great thing about names is that if you don’t like yours, you can change it. Most names have another form, a shortening or nickname, which is known officially as a hypocorism, from the Greek hupokoristikos, ‘to use child-talk’.

Mary was probably one of the most popular names for girls in the past. To tell them apart, they were given nicknames such as Molly, Polly, Minnie, Mimi, Mamie and May. The name Margaret comes from the Greek Margarites, from margaron ‘pearl’. The name has many pet forms.

You can understand that Meg, Maggie, Margot, Madge, Margie, Megan, Greta and Maisie come from Margaret, even Rita from Marguerita, but some are hard to fathom – why Daisy or Peggy? I discovered that Daisy is named after the French version Marguerite, which is also the French name for the oxeye daisy. Here’s a poem about the name:

“In search from A to Z they passed,
And Marguerita chose at last;
But thought it sounded far more sweet
To call the baby Marguerite.
When grandma saw the little pet,
She called her darling Margaret.
Next Uncle Jack and cousin Aggie
Sent cup and spoon to little Maggie.
And grandpapa the right must beg
To call the lassie bonnie Meg.
From Marguerita down to Meg,
And now she’s simply little Peg.”

It seems that the names Meg and Molly morphed into Peg and Polly. There was a trend in the Middle Ages to swap the first letters of names. Ed, short for Edward, became Ted or Ned, Rick from Richard became Dick and Will became Bill. “His father calls him William, His mother calls him Will.

His sisters call him Willie, but the boys all call him Bill.” There was also a trend to turn R into L, so Mary became Molly and Sarah became Sally. Today there’s a similar trend in Australia to turn R into Z, so Barry becomes Bazza, and Sharon becomes Shazza etc. Elizabeth has Liz, Lizzie, Beth, Betty, Bess, Bessie, Libby, Liza, Lisa and of course, Lilibet, the Queen’s own nickname when she was young.

Some nicknames are hard to fathom, such as Chuck for Charles and Hank, Hal or Harry for Henry. George Orwell was born Eric Blair. He said, “It took me thirty years to work off the effects of being called Eric.” So if your name doesn’t have a hypocorism, make one up – all names were made up at some time or another.

Happy Puzzling!