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These short days of winter seem like the perfect time to cover names which are diminutives, nicknames, pet names, and short forms of names, but can also be used as full names.
Annika is a Swedish diminutive of the name Anna, so it’s one of those cases where the pet form of the name is longer than the name itself. The name became well known in the English-speaking world through Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking books, because Annika is the little girl who lives next door to Pippi and is one of her friends. There are several variants of the name, such as Anneka and Anika, although while Anneka is said exactly the same way as Annika (AN-ih-ka), Anika is pronounced a-NEE-ka, and is also an Indian name. Annika has charted since the 1970s, and peaked in 2010 at #165; it’s now #196. Although in regular use, it’s never become popular. I think it’s pretty; in fact I wish this had been used as my own nickname!
Elsa is a short form of the name Elisabeth. This name reminds me of the 1930s, as there were several prominent Elsas active during those years. One was stylish Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, who was Coco Chanel’s greatest rival in pre-war Paris. Another was bohemian actress Elsa Lanchester, who studied under Isadora Duncan and played the “Bride of Frankenstein” on film. American hostess Elsa Maxwell threw lavish parties for the rich, including a scavenger hunt in Paris which disrupted the entire city. In fiction, Elsa is the heroine of Wagner’s opera, Lohengrin, and the pretty and fashionable young mistress in Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse. The name may also remind you of Elsa the lioness, from the non-fiction books and movies, Born Free and Living Free. Similar to fashionable Elsie, but with a sophisticated European twist, this name has gained more attention since Chris Hemsworth married lovely Spanish actress Elsa Pataky. Elsa is #297 in Victoria.
Heidi is a short form of the name Adelheid, the German form of Adelaide. This name became well known in the English-speaking world due to the best-selling children’s book, Heidi, by Johanna Spyri; the story of a curly-haired young orphan girl growing up in the Swiss Alps with a gruff, hermit-like grandfather. Although it was translated into English in the late 19th century, the name Heidi only became famous after the 1937 movie was released, starring Shirley Temple. Heidi first charts in Australia in the 1940s, and ranks in the 1950s, debuting at #527. The name skyrocketed to peak in the 1970s at #74. Heidi dropped out of the Top 100 in the 1980s and sunk to #213 in the 1990s – the band Killing Heidi probably didn’t help. It climbed again, and was Top 100 in 2010, then fell the next year. Last year it was one of the fastest-rising names for girls, rising to #76 nationally. It is currently #87 in New South Wales, #85 in Victoria, #72 in Queensland, #57 in Tasmania and #55 in the Australian Capital Territory. This is a spunky little name which just won’t give up – it keeps climbing up and down the charts as if they’re the Alps, but like little orphan Heidi, our hearts can’t let it go.
Jinty is a Scottish pet form of Janet, a variation of French Jeanette. One prominent person with this name is British historian Dame Janet “Jinty” Nelson. You may also have heard of the Scottish-born Australian artist and designer, Jinty Stockings. There used to be a British girl’s comic called Jinty, much loved by readers for its bizarre storylines which dealt with dystopian futures, school bullies with mind control, mermaid mothers and the like. There is also a steam locomotive named Jinty in The Railway Series on which the kid’s TV show Thomas and Friends is based; small tank engines were once nicknamed “jinties” by railwaymen. I saw this name in a birth notice a while ago, and was charmed by its jauntiness. Although it’s not a common name in Australia (I found only one woman named Jinty in Australian historical records and that may have been a nickname), there’s something vaguely Australian-sounding about it. Perhaps it’s partly because it sounds like Jindy, the affectionate name for the town of Jindabyne, which comes from an Aboriginal word for “valley”.
Lola is a short form of the name Dolores, taken from a Spanish title of the Virgin Mary, Maria de los Dolores, meaning “Mary of Sorrows”. The title refers to the Catholic devotion, the Seven Sorrows of Mary, reflecting on sad events during Mary’s life as the mother of Jesus. Despite this serious meaning, Lola is usually thought of a fun and even sexy name, and this can be attributed to Lola Montez. Born Eliza Gilbert in Ireland, she was beautiful and exotic-looking, and billed herself as a “Spanish” dancer. Her routines were considered salacious, and she was even more famous as a courtesan, being the mistress of Ludwig I of Bavaria. Lola toured Australia in 1855 where she enraptured audiences but attracted controversy; her beauty manual is illustrated by Australian cartoonist Kaz Cooke. After Ms Montez, Lola was a bad girl name, inspiring songs about showgirls, girls from bars in SoHo, and girls who get what they want. Lola was #203 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1930s at #74, leaving the Top 100 the following decade. It was off the charts between the 1960s and 1990s, returning in the 2000s at #393, coinciding with the publication of the Charlie and Lola book/TV series, where the name got a new image as that of a lively little girl. Lola has been Top 100 since 2010, when it debuted at #97. It is currently #75 nationally, #86 in New South Wales, #59 in Victoria, #61 in Tasmania, #92 in Queensland, and #62 in the Australian Capital Territory. Cute yet alluring, it’s hard to resist the charms of this retro name.
Mimi is a short form of all the Mary names – Mary, Marie, Maria, Miriam, and so on, although in practice it is used as a nickname for almost any name with an M sound in it. Some famous Mimis include Miriam “Mimi” Macpherson, actress Miriam “Mimi” Rogers, singer Mei “Mimi” Choo, and children’s author Mimi King. Mariah Carey is called Mimi by her family and close friends. Sometimes it is used as a pet form of certain male names; an example of this is Mislav “Mimi” Saric, who plays soccer for the Adelaide Raiders. The most famous fictional person of this name is Mimi from Puccini’s opera, La bohème; Mimi’s real name is Lucia, so Mimi can be used as a generic “cute” nickname. Mimi has an Australian connection, because in the Indigenous folklore of Arnhem Land, the Mimi are a race of spiritual beings who are often referred to as “Australian fairies”. Mimis are extraordinarily long and thin, and live in rock crevices. They taught humans how to hunt, cook and paint, and are usually harmless, but can be mischievous. The name Mimi is pronounced mee-mee, and seems to be rarely chosen as the name on the birth certificate. That seems unfair, when many brief, and perhaps insubstantial, names are highly popular for girls.
Nellie is a pet form of Nell, a medieval short form of names such as Helen, Ellen and Eleanor. Australia has had two famous performers with this name. One of them is Dame Helen “Nellie” Melba, the charismatic operatic prima donna who reigned at London’s Covent Garden during its golden age. During her career, she was invited to sing for many of the royal heads of Europe, and was mobbed by fans, just like pop singers are today. The other is Eleanor “Nellie” Stewart, a beautiful singer and actress who made her name playing Nell Gwynn in Sweet Nell of Old Drury; after that she was always known as “Sweet Nell”. She starred in Sweet Nell, one of Australia’s earliest films. Nellie was #31 in the 1900s, and left the Top 100 in the 1930s. It hasn’t charted since the 1950s – coincidentally or not, that was the decade the enduring children’s song Nellie the Elephant was released. This vintage name is now a very hip choice, and I’m sure we will see more of it. It is currently #494 in Victoria.
Pippa is a short form of the name Phillipa. It gained fame in 1841 when Robert Browning published his play-poem, Pippa Passes, which has the famous lines, God’s in His heaven/All’s right with the world! The Pippa of the poem is an innocent young silk-winder named Felippa, nicknamed Pippa. Pippa seems to be more readily accepted as a full name in Britain and Australia than elsewhere, and I used to think of it as a “soap opera” name, because there were two Pippas in Home and Away, and actress Pippa Black had a leading role on Neighbours. However, since 2011 we’ve all connected the name to Phillipa “Pippa” Middleton, who became an immediate sensation after appearing at her sister Catherine’s wedding to Prince William. The name is already Top 100 in Victoria, where it is #73, Queensland, where it is #84, and Tasmania, where it is #93. Other states to follow? Probably.
Romy is a German short form of Rosemarie, although it can also be used as a male name, possibly short for Romeo or Roman. The most famous person with this name is probably German-Austrian actress Rosemarie “Romy” Schneider, who gained fame in France during the 1960s and ’70s. In the 1990s, the name got some publicity with the release of ditzy gal-pal comedy, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, with the role of Romy played by Mira Sorvino. The name has been picked up by several celebrities, including cricketer Ed Cowan and his wife Virginia Lette, who welcomed their daughter Romy last year. Suzi Catchpole from Australian website Babyology lists Romy as a name with “swagger and sass” – it’s certainly very hip at the moment, a cool twist on popular Ruby and Rose. The name is pronounced RO-mee, like the first two words in the sentence, Row me to the shore.
Although Willa can be used as a short form of Wilhelmina and other names, it is actually a full name in its own right (so it’s slightly cheating to include it). It is the English form of the medieval French name Guilla, a feminine form of Guillaume – the French form of William. Famous people named Willa include novelist Wilella “Willa” Cather, New Zealand actress Willa O’Neill, and singer Willa Ford, whose real name is Amanda Modana – her stage name comes from her original surname, Williford. Another Willa is young actress Willa Holland, who has starred in The OC and Gossip Girl TV series. The Alternative Guide to Baby Names lists Willa as an Aboriginal name meaning “wife”, but the author doesn’t say which language it is from; in a language from the Melbourne region, willa means “possum”. There are so many place names here that begin with or contain Willa-, such as Willa-Willa Ridge near Adelaide, and Willa Willyong Creek near Broken Hill, that the name does have a rather Australian feel to it. Willa has been gaining in popularity, not only riding the success of its brother name, William, but providing a hip alternative to popular Willow. It is #468 in Victoria.
POLL RESULT: People’s favourite names were Elsa, Pippa, and Willa, and their least favourite were Heidi, Mimi, and Jinty.
(Picture of silver coin in commemoration of Dame Melba from Perth Mint)