When my brother and his wife were choosing a name for their first child, they used a rather curious criterion – it had to be a name that couldn’t be shortened (they eventually settled on Mark). According to my Italian wife, this is a specifically English obsession. With a few common exceptions (“Renzo” for “Lorenzo”, for example), Italians just don’t do this. So why do we feel he need to call someone “Dick”, “Dickie”, “Rick” or “Rich” when their birth certificate plainly states “Richard”, for example? Maybe I’m lucky that my name doesn’t easily shorten.
When discussing this on a recent car journey we also got onto the subject of the use of surnames, and how common it is to call someone by their second rather than their first name. I’d find it a little odd if someone were to call me “Litton”, but maybe it’d be ok in certain circumstances. It has jokey, laddish feel to me, and the only situation in which I can imagine it would become the norm is if you’re in a group of people several of whom share the same first name.
And I’ve always felt weird about middle names – what are they for? I know that some use them to preserve a name from a previous generation, but it’s not as if we actually use them for anything, is it? And why do some people shorten them to just an initial? It’s “J.R.R. Tolkein”, not Jonathan Ronald Reuel Tolkein, and yet “Arthur C. Clarke”, not “A.C. Clarke”. I usually leave my middle name out altogether (unless specifically asked for it on a form, for example), and reduce my first name to an initial when signing something
When I was at school there was a (mercifully brief) craze for the “-azza” suffix. Garrys became “Gazza”s, Darrens and Davids became “Dazza”s, Kevins and Kerrys became “Kezza”s. Even further back, when I was in short trousers, there always seemed to be someone around whose nickname was “Smurf”. I knew one – his real name was Simon, funnily enough, and the only reason I could see for the nickname was that he was unusually short for his age.
Well, that and his unnaturally blue skin tone…