Nickname History

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

What does the word tawdry have in common with the name Ned? Care to hazard a guess?

Ned is, in a way, a misunderstanding. According to folk etymology, the name derives from the common usage of Mine Edward as an affectionate form of address. The usual nickname Ed gradually became Ned, as the N sound carried over to the beginning of the name.

Tawdry is an adjective meaning “showy but cheap.” For example, Mitt Romney seemed to find George Santos’s behavior at the State of the Union Address tawdry. He reproached the beleaguered Congressman in the Capitol last night for trying to hog the limelight instead of modestly sitting in the back row.

This unpleasant word tawdry derives from the lovely name Audrey. It takes its initial consonant from the word Saint. Saint Audrey’s lace was sold as cheap ribbon necklaces in the English town of Ely, where Saint Audrey was the patron saint. Pilgrims purchased them in the town fair long after they went out of style, and they were considered gaudy and cheap.

Say Saint Audrey a few times and you’ll hear tawdry, just as chanting mine Edward eventually sounds like my Ned. The nickname Nell supposedly derived similarly–from mine Eleanor or mine Ellen.

The word nickname itself has a similar etymology! The original word, ekename, first appeared around 1300, with eke meaning “an added on piece.” Ekename, with its initial vowel, would be preceded by the article an. You would refer to Ned, for example, as “an ekename.” The final N of an became attached to the word following. By the 1600s, ekename had become nickname.

Do you have a nickname? Do you like it, or do you consider it tawdry?

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9 Responses to Nickname History

  1. Kathy says:

    Did you all notice the photo?

  2. Kathy says:

    Roger–You could have been Rog, right? (Pronounced “Rodge.”) It seems like someone must have called you that, no? I have been “Kath” to certain people and felt it was an affectionate name.

  3. Kathy says:

    Doreen–You’re very welcome!

  4. Kathy says:

    Paula–I think it’s the fashion now, or it was in the recent past, to give your child names that no one could make a nickname out of, so you were ahead of your time. I always thought it was kind of controlling and grumpy to try to prevent your kid from getting a nickname. You could have been Pauly, I guess. but people would have assumed you were “Polly.”

  5. Kathy says:

    Joanne–JJ and Jo are sweet nicknames. Fun that you have had these eras in your life.

  6. Joanne says:

    This is so fun. I had a couple nicknames (and I’m wiĺing to share). It was “JJ” all through childhood, “Jo” in HS and college, until I finally became “Joanne” as an adult. Getting together with friends from different eras is like an archeological dig.

  7. Paula Zinsmeister says:

    Roger, I can relate to not having a nickname….throughout middle and high school, all of my friends had nicknames. We affectionately called Kathy “Kath”, Bonnie was “Bon” and Diane was “Di”, etc. No one, including me, could come up with a nickname for me and I felt left out. The best we could do was “Paul” but that would have been a bit confusing.

  8. Doreen says:

    I love these lessons in language! Thanks, Kathy

  9. Roger Talbott says:

    There are some people and some cultures, I think, that believe a nickname is a requirement for success. My maternal grandmother believed this. My mother, Willa, was known everywhere as “Billie.” I was surprised to discover in early elementary school that there were boys named “Billy.” Oddly, in her mother’s house, my Mom was always called “Willa.” Her older brother, Edwin, was always, “Ned.”
    My brother, Andrew, is Andy. Sister, Sandra, is Sandy.
    My sister Christine is anything from Chris, to Christie, to Chrisy. She has had a fraught relationship with her nicknames at times, but now seems to be at peace.
    Now that you have explained how “Ned” came to be, I suspect my sister, Nancy’s, name is a form of “mine Anne”.
    My name never produced a nickname. This explains all the failures of my life.

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