Nicknames

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Nicknames

Post by hsargent » Thu Jul 01, 2010 2:52 pm

The compound word ekename, literally meaning "additional name", was attested as late as 1303.[3] This word was derived from the Old English phrase eaca "an increase", related to eacian "to increase".[4] By the 15th Century, the misdivision of the syllables of the phrase "an ekename" led to its corruption into the form "a nekename."[5] Though spelling has changed, the pronunciation and meaning of the word have remained relatively stable ever since. (from Wikipedia)

So how on earth did we associate these nicknames?

William ...... Bill
Robert ...... Bob
Richard ..... Dick
James ..... Jim

These are all males names.

The female nicknames seem more logical

Elizabeth .... Liz or Beth
Jennifer .... Jen or Jenny

There are probably more.
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Re: Nicknames

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Jul 05, 2010 9:03 pm

Harry, Here's something from WikiAnswers. I have no idea how reliable it is since their are no references, authors, or dates provided, and the links appear to be dead. However, the discussion looks reasonable to one who is completely ignorant of the subject matter.

I'm posting this with trepidation as a starting point. Since I don't no beans about this sort of thing, it could be excellent or maybe it's total bullshit. Erik, Phil, zmjezhd and others who are more knowledgeable about this sort thing may be able to comment yah or nay.

If the whole thing or parts are wrong, they can always be deleted.
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Why is Bill the short name for William?
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I've always had the same question too. It does seem rather strange doesnt it? I thought I've share something I've come across as an American in Moscow, Russia.
Sometimes my lower intermediate level Russian students have spelling mixups when spelling English words on paper. In the Russian and English alphabet there are many letters that resemble one another but take on completely different sounds. Just to name a few examples example: The letter "P" is an "Rr" sound in Russian, English "H" an "Nn" sound in Russian, English "x" an quick breathy "H" sound in Russian, "C" always a hard "Ss" sound in Russian.
I found that when you spell "William" shortened to "Will" in Russian) since it's not a name that rolls of the tongue so easily in the Russian language) Using the Russian alphabet, the "W" is replaced by a "B". In the Russian alphabet and the Russian "B" is closest to the English "W" sound.
So maybe there was a letter exchange that led to the nickname for Will or William to become what we pronounce as "Bill" this way. After all it is a common name in Europe and they are neighboring countries.
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The previous answer below clarified what I think too. I also want to add this wikipedia entry that correlates and adds to the explanation of the previous entry :

"Russian (русский язык, transliteration: russkiy yazyk, Russian pronunciation: [ˈruskʲɪj jɪˈzɨk], meaning 'Russian language') is the most geographically widespread language of Eurasia, the most widely spoken of the Slavic languages, and the largest native language in Europe. Russian belongs to the family of Indo-European languages and is one of three living members of the East Slavic languages. Written examples of Old East Slavonic are attested from the 10th century onwards." \

William ...... Bill
Robert ...... Bob
Richard ..... Dick
James ..... Jim

William has several variants: Bill, Billy, & Will - the name is of Old English origin and means: helmet protection.

This nickname William to Bill is best understood by comparison with a whole HOST of nicknames that originated at about the same time, but there may also be a good PHONETIC explanation for it:

LETTER-SWAPPING

Will(iam) > Bill was, in fact, part of a great 13th-14th century TREND of swapping some other letter for the original first letter of a name. Other names resulting from this process include: Polly from Molly, Bob from Rob (from Robert), Hick and Dick (from Richard), Hodge from Roger.

For other forms of "letter swapping" to create nicknames, and a variety of other methods by which English nicknames developed see:
http://www.geocities.com/edgarbook/names

Notice that many of the original names from which these nicknames were formed were NORMAN FRENCH names. It appears that the changes were part of the English adapting them to their own language.

Apparently ONE impetus in the letter swapping at that particular time was a dislike amongst the native English for the harsh Norman French "r". (Note how many nicknames made substitions for r's -- not only at the beginning of words [Richard, Robert], but in the middle of them -- Mary > Molly, Sarah > Sally/Sadie, Dorothy > Dolly; Harold/Harry (> Hal).

Also note some of the 'swapped in' sounds that were commonly used - esp. D, B and H.

see also this article on the nickname "Hick"
http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mdic

PHONETICS

Now SOME of the changes in the sounds of these nicknames (including such things as the R > L in Mary > Molly) began with sounds that were RELATED to the original sounds in at least SOME of the names. That may well be the case for "Will(iam)" > "Bill".

Note that the consonant "W" sound is formed by placing your two lips together (called a "bi-labial" sound), and so is "B" (as also P). The main difference between them is that in the B the airflow is completed STOPPED to pronounce it, while "W" does NOT stop the air.

(There are examples in many other languages of this sort of W > B shift, even in the language as a whole. One ANCIENT example, for what it's worth, is from the ancient Semitic language of Babylonia [called Akkadian]. The word for "man" [or 'gentleman'] was originally "awilum". But in some later dialects it become "abilu(m)".)

My own personal guess is that in some handful of key cases there was a very obvious phonetic shift to some of these sounds (such as P, B, D, H) for some names. THEN those sounds were "borrowed" to swap in other names where no phonetic shift took place. (Note, that's just my GUESS, based on what I've seen happen in other sound shifts in other languages.)

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Re: Nicknames

Post by Erik_Kowal » Mon Jul 05, 2010 11:08 pm

I found that when you spell "William" shortened to "Will" in Russian) since it's not a name that rolls of the tongue so easily in the Russian language) Using the Russian alphabet, the "W" is replaced by a "B". In the Russian alphabet and the Russian "B" is closest to the English "W" sound.
So maybe there was a letter exchange that led to the nickname for Will or William to become what we pronounce as "Bill" this way. After all it is a common name in Europe and they are neighboring countries.
This is a highly fanciful explanation for how William got shortened to Bill.

In the first place, the author produces no direct evidence for his theory.

Secondly -- and notwithstanding the scholarly track record of our own Ken Greenwald -- it takes a native-born American to describe England and Russia as 'neighboring countries' and then go on to infer the existence of a mechanism by which William might somehow be transmogrified to Βилл and thence to Bill.

The third and most conclusive argument against the author's theory is that the usual Russian-language Cyrillic transliteration for William is Уильям (whose equivalent letters in the Roman alphabet transliterate approximately as Uil + soft sign + ya + m; the function of the soft sign is to soften the sound of the consonant that precedes it.). It thus lacks the Cyrillic letter Β (= Roman letter V) that is crucial to the writer's argument.

Out of curiosity, I ran Google searches on all the possible Cyrillic variants of William or Bill that I could think of, the results for which are as follows:

Уильям --> 3,130,00 hits (most of which appear to be in Russian)
Уилям --> 284,000 hits (most of which appear to be in Bulgarian)
Уиллиам --> 67,800 hits (most of which appear to be in Bulgarian)
Уиль --> 18,400 hits (most of which appear to be in Russian)
Уилл --> 869,000 hits (most of which appear to be in Russian)
Уил --> 148,000 hits (most of which appear to be in Bulgarian)
Βильям --> 0 hits
Βилям --> 0 hits
Βиллиам --> 0 hits
Βиль --> 0 hits
Βилл --> 0 hits
Βил --> 4 hits distributed among 2 Chinese-language sites.

QED, I'd say.
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Re: Nicknames

Post by Phil White » Mon Jul 05, 2010 11:15 pm

The Wiki article on nicknames, especially the section Abbreviation or modification seems to cover most bases. Very often, multiple mechanisms appear to apply ("William" is abbreviated to "Will" is modified to "Bill").

The suggestion of "letter swapping" from the Cyrillic alphabet suggested in what Ken quoted is, frankly, bollix.

Some sound shifting between related consonants may take place, but most consonant changes seem to be between unrelated consonants. It's certainly not systematic in any way.
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Re: Nicknames

Post by Phil White » Mon Jul 05, 2010 11:16 pm

Erik beat me in debunking the Cyrillic theory. My debunking is at least concise.
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Re: Nicknames

Post by Erik_Kowal » Mon Jul 05, 2010 11:21 pm

My debunking is at least thorough.
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Re: Nicknames

Post by Ken Greenwald » Tue Jul 06, 2010 1:19 am

Erik and Phil, Thank you gentlemen. A good lesson on why you shouldn't believe everything you read in the funnies.
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Re: Nicknames

Post by russcable » Tue Jul 06, 2010 4:26 am

hsargent wrote: The female nicknames seem more logical.
How about:
Peggy for Margaret (Margie to Maggie to Meggie to Peggy?)
Sally for Sarah
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Re: Nicknames

Post by Bobinwales » Tue Jul 06, 2010 9:36 am

Are these nicknames? Are they not diminutives?

I once knew a bloke who answered to the name of Cinderella, because his workmates and the foreman could never find him after 12. Another was Napkin because he was always on the bum. (translation: Napkin – diaper, on the bum - begging money). Now, surely they are nicknames.
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Re: Nicknames

Post by Phil White » Tue Jul 06, 2010 12:15 pm

I would have gone along with you, but had a quick look in the Collins Unabridged before wittering.
Nickname
1. a familiar, pet or derisory name given to a person, animal or place: his nickname was Lefty because he was left-handed
2. a shortened or familiar form of a person's name: Joe is a nickname for Joseph
Collins English Dictionary, 2003
As far as my usage is concerned, however, I generally restrict the word to meaning 1 and use "diminutive" for forms that have a diminutive ending (Colin, Robin, Joey, Harry, Betty) and "abbreviated form" or "short form" for other forms like Bill, Will, etc.

It actually becomes slightly problematic when a person's official name is historically a nickname. My mother is "Betty" on her birth certificate, but people still insist on trying to make her "Elizabeth" on official forms. "Colin", "Robin", "Harry" above are all abbreviated forms to which diminutive endings have been added ("Nicholas -> Col -> Colin, Robert -> Rob -> Robin, Harold -> Hal -> Harry"), but are now perfectly normal in their own right. This means that in some cases Harry or Betty, for instance, can be called a nickname and in some cases not. Robin and Colin, on the other hand, are today always proper names and not nicknames.
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