The Evolution of Nicknames

We named our youngest daughter Elizabeth. She will turn 9 months old later this month. She is absolutely adorable, and I say that with complete objectivity. Also, she makes me feel younger than I am. One of the reasons I like the name Elizabeth is because it has so many options: Liz, Lizzy, and Beth to name a few. We have a neighbor named Elizabeth and her friends call her “Eli.” We call our Elizabeth “Ellie.”

Nicknames are a funny thing, and their evolution fascinates me so I’ve been particularly observant of how they evolve with Ellie. My baby sister (seven years my junior) got her nickname because a neighborhood kid could not properly pronounce “Jennifer.” Our son got his nickname, “Zipper” because a friend noted that if you pronounced his initials, ZPR, that’s kind of what it sounded like.

While in Florida last month, we were among friends and family, and I happened to call Ellie by her most common nickname, “Pelicans”. There were some curious looks and it occurred to me that it probably wasn’t obvious how one gets from Elizabeth to Ellie to Pelicans.

It started in the hospital when she was just a few hours old. We referred to her as Ellie even before she was born. Once I had her in my arms, and was waiting for the nurses to bring Kelly into the recovery area, I started calling her “Ellie Belly.” That was step one.

All three of our kids were delivered by Caesarean section. One result of this is that I was on diaper duty while we were in the hospital because it wasn’t easy for Kelly to get out of bed. Anyone who has gone through this process knows that a day or so after the baby arrives, she has her first poop, a tarry, gooey substance that is difficult to clean up. With Ellie, it was my third time at the dance, and I was prepared. When the tarry mess came, I cleaned her up, and congratulated her on her efforts.

There is a wonderfully odd, and unique place in Deer Isle, Maine called Nervous Nellie’s Jams & Jellies. We’ve taken the kids there a few times. It is difficult to describe all of the eclectic sculpture art they have strewn across the property. But their jams are outstanding. Well, Nellie and Ellie rhyme, and I had this in my head while cleaning Ellie up from her first project, and I referred to the whole affair, on a whim, as “Nervous Ellie’s Poops and Jellies.” That was step two.

Somewhere along the way–alas, I don’t remember exactly when or how–I morphed Ellie into Elikins. “How’s my Elikins this morning?” I’d say when she’d wake up. That was step three. Step four, and the penultimate step in the evolution of her nickname resulting from my penchant for rhyming things, was to begin calling her “Elikins Pelicans.” Step five shortened that nickname, dropping the Elikins and at that point she became just “Pelicans.”

I don’t know how long the “Pelicans” nickname will last, but I kind of hope it lasts a long time, at least for me. Some of these things melt away, but others stick. My wife has a nickname used by her father to this day, which I am forbidden to repeat here. But I am heartened to know that endearing nicknames can stick for a long time, even if they are just between father and daughter.


  1. I also chose names for my kids based on the number of possible nicknames derived from the names. I read several posts today on your blog and learned that you have a 9-month old daughter. That explains why you are busy and not returning emails. (p.s. I have sent you an email last Wednesday.)


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