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It’s been more than a year since we had a list of short form names, and as this is a huge growth area, it’s time for another.
Short form of Adelaide and related names. It has been an independent name since the Middle Ages, and was used by royalty and the nobility; an example is the Ada who was reputedly the sister of Charlemagne. There is also a 7th century St Ada, who was a French nun and abbess. Ada was especially popular during the 19th century, and a famous namesake from this era is (Augusta) Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, a daughter of Lord Byron and his only child born in wedlock – nearly always known as Ada Lovelace. Ada was a gifted mathematician who produced an algorithm designed to be used by a machine; in effect, the first computer program. A famous contemporary example is Australian actress Ada Nicomedou. Ada was #40 in the 1900s, and left the Top 100 in the 1920s; it was off the charts by the 1950s. Ada made a comeback in the 1990s at #845, and is currently around the 300s. Fitting in perfectly with the trend for short simple names like Ava, and for traditional old-fashioned names like Elsie, this is a hip retro short form that not too many people are using.
Short form of Isabella, and other names ending in -bella, such as Annabella or Arabella. However, many people connect it to the Italian word for “beautiful”, and understand it that way. Bella has been an independent name since the Middle Ages, and has had particular use by Jewish families from Russia and Central Europe – two examples are American feminist Bella Abzug, and writer Bella Rosenfeld, the wife of Russian-French artist Marc Chagall. A famous Australian namesake is actress Bella Heathcote, best known for her role on Neighbours a few years ago. Bella first joined the charts in the 1990s at #541, rising on the heels of Isabella, which began its impressive ascent in the 1980s. Bella entered the Top 100 in 2002, debuting at #99; it peaked in 2010 at #41, and is currently #48 nationally. Like Isabella, Bella’s success is often attributed to the Twilight series, although as you can see, it was rising and even popular before the first novel was released in 2005. Stephenie Meyer’s Bella Swan (an irritating character name because it describes the story’s outcome) probably did help though, if only by increasing visibility.
Short form of the Greek name Demetria, the feminine form of Demetrius, which is derived from the name of the agricultural goddess Demeter. The goddess’ name is often translated as “earth mother” or “barley mother”. Demi is also sometimes connected with the French word demi, meaning “half”, to suggest “small” (as in half-pint). This name has a big dose of star power, thanks to Hollywood actress Demi Moore, and from a generation younger, pop singer and actress Demteria “Demi” Lovato. The name is usually pronounced duh-MEE, but English-speakers sometimes prefer it to be said to rhyme with Emmie. Demi is around the 500s in Australia, and is rising in the US, but falling in the UK, so international trends are at odds on this one.
Short form of any name starting with El-, such as Eleanor, Ellen, Elizabeth, or Eloise, and long used as an independent name. It is well known from British pop singer Elena “Ellie” Goulding, and a favourite in the world of fiction. Fictional namesakes include the dainty little girl in The Water Babies, Ellie Linton, heroine of John Marsden’s Tomorrow When the War Began, Eleanor “Ellie” Arroway, brainy heroine of Carl Sagan’s Contact, adventurous Ellie Frederickson from Up, the woolly mammoth from the Ice Age series, and strong matriarch Eleanor “Miss Ellie” Ewing, from Dallas. Ellie joined the charts in the 1980s at #349, and was in the Top 100 as early as 1993, at #98. It managed to get in again a decade later in 2003, at #72, and has remained fairly stable in the bottom half of the Top 100 ever since. Currently it is #56. Ellie fits in perfectly with popular names like Ella, and is well-used without being overly common or rising alarmingly.
Unisex nickname that in the case of boys is a pet form of Francis, Francesco, Francisco, Frank, or Franklin, and in the case of girls, of Frances, Francesca, Francisca, or Francine. Famous male Frankies include American crooner Frankie Valli, British comedian Frankie Howerd, American actor Frankie Muniz, who played the title role in Malcolm in the Middle, and Australian kick-boxer Frankie Georgi. A famous female Frankie is British pop singer Frankie Sandford, and the name has been chosen for their daughters by several celebrities, including Drew Barrymore, and in Australia by rugby league star Johnathan Thurston, weather presenter Sara Cumming, and news presenter Rebecca Morse. In the US, Frankie only charts for boys, while in the UK, it charts for both sexes, but is only popular as a boy’s name. In Australia, Frankie is a unisex name, and significantly more common for girls. The reason for its increasingly feminine image here is no doubt because of the hip women’s fashion magazine, frankie.
French nickname for any name with a G sound, such as Georgine or Ghislaine. Its most famous namesake is the charming Parisian schoolgirl in Colette’s 1942 novella, Gigi, who is being trained to be a courtesan by her family. Their plans go awry when the gamine Gigi attracts a wealthy older man, and becomes his wife instead of his mistress. It has been turned into a musical and a couple of films, including the 1958 Hollywood production starring Leslie Caron as Gigi, which is surprisingly faithful to the book, except for discreetly upping Gigi’s age from twelve to around sixteen, and adding songs like Thank Heavens For Little Girls. Gigi’s name is short for Gilberte, by the way. In Italy it is a male nickname, short for Luigi. An Australian with this name is actress Gigi Edgely, who has starred in Farscape. A flirty French Lolita, Gigi is currently a hip girl’s name in the style of Coco. It was recently chosen as a celebrity baby name by swimmer Geoff Huegill.
Short for any name with a mil sound, such as Millicent, Mildred, Camilla, Emilia, or Amelia, and is also spelled Milly. You can see Millie as a vintage charmer, all bonnets and hoop skirts, but there’s also something a little Swinging Sixties about it, thanks to My Boy Lollipop, sung by Millie Small, and the 1967 film Thoroughly Modern Millie, starring Julie Andrews. It has a very Australian connection as Millie the Echidna was one of the official mascots for the Sydney Olympics (her name is short for Millenium). Millie was #196 in the 1900s, and left the charts in the 1930s. It returned in the 1990s at #501, had a definite upsurge after the 2000 Olympics, and in 2011 was only just outside the Top 100, its highest point ever gained. It fits in perfectly with popular names like Milla and Mila, and is right on trend for sprightly vintage names, so it feels as if popularity must be just around the corner for suddenly modern-again Millie.
Unisex nickname for either the boys’ name Stephen or Steven, or the girl’s name Stephanie; these are Greek in origin, and mean “crown”. Stevie has been an independent name since the Middle Ages, and although you might think of it as very modern for girls, it’s been a female name since the 18th century. Famous male Stevies include Stevie Wonder, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Australia’s first international pop star, Stevie Wright. A famous female one is English novelist and confessional poet Stevie Smith, whose real name was Florence, and who gained her nickname from a perceived resemblance to jockey Steve Donaghue. However, the most well known female example is singer-songwriter Stevie Nicks, and it is no doubt her popularity in the 1970s and 1980s which made Stevie seem more feminine. In Australia, Stevie can be only be found in current use as a girl’s name, and it’s around the 300s. While writing this, I realised what a musical name Stevie is – look at all those namesakes from the world of pop and rock!
Short form of Teresa or Theresa, a rather mysterious name, because the various meanings suggested for it are always Greek, but the name itself is of Spanish origin. Nobody has been able to explain this to my satisfaction. Tess has a very famous literary namesake, the beautiful, tormented title character of Thomas Hardy’s rural tragedy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Tess Harding is the celebrated journalist trying to cope with marriage as well as a career in rom-com classic Woman of the Year (1941), with Tess played by Katharine Hepburn in her first outing with Spencer Tracy. Another Tracy connection is the adorably-named Tess Trueheart, eventual wife of comic strip detective, Dick Tracy. Tess Mcleod is one of the sisters in Australian drama series McLeod’s Daughters, played by the popular Bridie Carter. Last year comedian Dave Hughes welcomed a daughter named Tess Clementine, voted the most popular celebrity baby name of 2013. Tess joined the charts in the 1980s at #352, and peaked in the early 2000s at #209. Simple yet strong, pert and practical, Tess is a short and stylish choice.
Short for Matilda, this can also be spelled Tillie. Apart from being a short form of a patriotic name, Tilly has a notorious namesake in Australia. Tilly Devine was an infamous figure of the Sydney underworld between the two world wars, who became known first as a prostitute, then as a brothel madam and gang member. Her wealth was legendary – she owned real estate, luxury cars, gold and diamonds, threw lavish parties, and always travelled first class. Operating out of Woolloomooloo, Tilly was known as the “Queen of the ‘Loo”, and in the 1953 travelled to London for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Tilly’s story, and her violent gang war with rival vice queen Kate Leigh, was covered in Channel Nine’s drama series, Underbelly: Razor. Tilly is around the 100s in Australia, so not rare at all, while Tillie does not chart. It is something of a puzzle as to why Millie is preferred to Milly, but Tilly preferred to Tillie. Tilly is a sweet and spunky short form in line with British name trends, with an Australian identity all its own.
Thank you to Brooke for suggesting the name Millie be featured on Waltzing More Than Matilda.
The public’s favourite names were Ada, Tess and Millie, and their least favourite were Frankie, Stevie and Bella.
(Photo shows New Zealand actress Chelsie Preston Crayford as Tilly Devine in Underbelly: Razor)