Help us name our baby!
October 11, 2014 9:46 PM   Subscribe

We're having a baby next week and need help picking between two names. Looking for advice and experience relating to full names vs. nicknames .

We're expecting our first child--a girl--early next week, and still haven't finalized a name. The middle and last names are settled, but we're stuck between two options for the first: Penelope/Penny and Eleanor/Ellie. The problem is that we both like Penelope more than Eleanor (and it flows better with the middle & last), but we also both like Ellie a lot more than Penny. We could just go with Ellie, but we like the idea of there being a more formal name that she can use when she's getting sworn in as President of Earth or what have you.

Neither of us go by shortened versions of our names, so the question is for those of you with experience or advice on nicknames. Should we prioritize the "full" name, or pick the one with the nickname we like and just always use the nickname?

Alternatively, we realize that the "el" sound appears in Penelope so we could technically name her Penelope and call her Ellie, but we're not sure if that will cause the hassle of her always having to explain why her nickname is so far off from her real name. Any experiences with similar situations are also welcome.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (39 answers total)
posted by stray at 9:49 PM on October 11, 2014

Name her Penelope and call her Ellie. I think that's a good choice and super cute. She's not going to have to explain her nickname, who does that?
posted by lunastellasol at 9:49 PM on October 11, 2014 [53 favorites]

Pick the name where is still available and then prepay for that domain registration for 20+ years. Your kid will thank you someday.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:51 PM on October 11, 2014 [8 favorites]

Penelope/Ellie. It's really not even just the "el" sound, it's pretty much the entire "ellie" sound already in Penelope. I don't think it's any sort of stretch at all.
posted by jaguar at 9:52 PM on October 11, 2014 [15 favorites]

Do you like Nellie? I mean, I think you can use whatever nickname you want and Ellie for Penelope makes way more sense than many common nicknames, but I do think Nellie is slightly more intuitive.
posted by lwb at 9:53 PM on October 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

My full name is Elizabeth and I've never, ever used it, not even in my professional life. If you're going to call her by a nickname from Day 1, chances are pretty good that as long as it's appropriate/not too hard to spell/somewhat unique that's what she's going to use for the rest of her time on this planet, so pick the nickname you like! Congratulations!

[on preview] Hellz yeah! Name her Penelope and call her Ellie! There's no reason that can't work and Penelope has an "el" sound in it too.
posted by WidgetAlley at 9:53 PM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Would it help to know that there are a lot of little Ellies running around? Penelope/penny is adorable and would be much less common. Penelope's nickname could also be Nel or Nellie.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:54 PM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just name her Penelope and call her Ellie. We call both my kids nicknames derived from their *middle* names!
posted by Andrhia at 9:57 PM on October 11, 2014

I think it's also worth remembering that she may very well decide to go by the long version of her name at some point, or by a different nickname version of her long name, so I would go with the long name that you like the best.
posted by jaguar at 9:58 PM on October 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

yeah, I could totally see Ellie coming from Penelope, but if you're not feeling it, there are other names that could be shortened to Ellie: Elizabeth, Elaine/Elaina, Elsa, Stella, others, I'm sure.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:58 PM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think if you love Penelope and Ellie, you should go with that.

Many people have nicknames that are completely unrelated to their formal names (including my father, who never bothers to explain - he just says "it's a family thing" if anyone asks).

It's true that there are tons of Ellies running around playgrounds these days - but the great thing about it being her nickname rather than her formal name is that she can always choose to go by Nellie or Penny or Pen (I quite like Pen, actually) if she's one of three Ellies in her 5th grade class.
posted by leitmotif at 10:00 PM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

my parents gave me an easy to shorten name and called me by one of the available nicknames. i decided to use my long name when i was in my late teens. i really liked having the easy option.
posted by nadawi at 10:13 PM on October 11, 2014

My mother always called me by my full name and insisted that family members do the same. First day of kindergarten the teacher asked what I wanted to be called. I never, ever go by my first name or first + middle. The only time I even think about my first name is when dealing with my license or legal stuff. Nobody ever calls me by my given name...including my mother.

What I am saying to you is that you can pick your favorite name but the kid may veto it in ways you didn't predict/don't expect.

Your name choices are delightful, either name should serve your daughter just fine. (I prefer penelope/ellie.)
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 10:20 PM on October 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Alternatively, we realize that the "el" sound appears in Penelope so we could technically name her Penelope and call her Ellie, but we're not sure if that will cause the hassle of her always having to explain why her nickname is so far off from her real name.

Do that. It's fine. My sister is Suzannah; we call her Frankie.

Also, just FYI, you can decide on a name or set of names now but then decide it doesn't suit her when she arrives and you meet her. That's a thing that can happen and that's fine too.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:30 PM on October 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

We actually went with a nickname like your Penelope/Ellie idea and we've been happy with it so far. We use the nickname so much that I think our young daughter doesn't really get that we're calling her by her nickname, so if that is important to you you might work in both names when talking to your daughter. I also find it minorly annoying that her nickname is a different initial. I'm not sure why I care since we're aren't a monogramming sort of family, but throwing it out there as a data point.

I do encourage you to go with a "formal" name, it isn't necessary, but it's nice to have for resumes or being elected Empress of Everything. And yes, if that was important your daughter could change her name legally, but why make it more complicated than it needs to be? I have a friend whose dad put down the nickname on the paperwork at the hospital and she would have preferred to have the option of the more formal version of her name, but not enough to go out and change it, so that may be influencing my opinion.

Oh, and I actually think Penelope/Ellie works, but then I guess I would think that!
posted by dawg-proud at 10:49 PM on October 11, 2014

i know a few little girls beautifully named "Elle" who are nicknamed Ellie . Do you like ELLE more than Eleanore? but then again, Penelope is adorable. I know of one baby just born named Autumn Penelope and I think that is beautiful. Me thinks you can't go wrong!!!!!!!!! Congratulations, wishing the three of you a lifetime of joy. p.s. you can also wait until you meet her in person to see if she seems more Penny or Ellie to you!
posted by Lylo at 10:49 PM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

My name is Melissa, but I'm called Meg, because MEG are my initials. No one hesitates over this, and I really never have to explain it much - people roll with whatever name you choose. I introduce myself as Melissa at work, and somehow people end up calling me Meg or my last name; I introduce myself as Meg elsewhere, and it's never been an issue.

So go with Penelope/Ellie if that works for you - it sounds great! What a wonderful name combination! It gives your daughter SO many options, which she'll appreciate in twenty-odd years.
posted by punchtothehead at 11:00 PM on October 11, 2014

Some people carry their childhood nicknames forever, but as I got older I just started using my actual name. Not that I don't like my shortened nickname or adults don't use it, but for some reason it just felt practical to use the name that is my actual legal name. It seemed easier and it felt like a grown up thing to do. So if you like Penelope and you like Ellie, then just do both those.

I know people with nicknames that are relevant but not common for their full names and people who go by their middle names. I'm not sure how much of a hassle it really is. I mean, I use my actual full name and no one can ever spell it properly, even though I think it's pretty simple -- it's always something. I say, the "ell" sound and the "ee" sound are already in Penelope, so your kid can be nicknamed Ellie.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:20 PM on October 11, 2014

Pick the name you like better! It's likely to last her longer.
posted by undue influence at 11:39 PM on October 11, 2014

We wanted to name our son Will, but also wanted a 'formal' version for him to use, so since we didn't like William we went with Willem.
By age 6, due to the profusion of Will's in his daycare/classes/social circle and due to his personality, he was called 'Willem' much more than 'Will'. And by age 7 he was either Willem or Wim, which is the Dutch shortened version of his Dutch name, and also much easier for people to use in Japan.
I am sharing all this to say that often we think we know how our kid's name is going to go and it just doesn't sometimes. My brother's name is Brendan but at 5 he decided he wanted to be called Ben - and so it was for about a decade (only my Mum calls him that now).
Go with what you like, be prepared for it to go a different way, and enjoy your new baby girl ")
posted by Megami at 11:46 PM on October 11, 2014

I'm Katy legally. I wish I was Katherine.

Also, as the parent of a 6 year old, it seems like regular school friends and teachers will have no problem. once a week for 30 minutes swim instructor will use the name on the registration form, which will often be her full legal name. And she will deal and then she'll be old enough to correct them or just go with it.
posted by k8t at 11:48 PM on October 11, 2014

Name her Penelope, call her Ellie for short, but be prepared that when she's older she might prefer to go by something else. I can understand parents having a preference for nicknames but it crosses a line if they're going to impose it on their child once they're old enough to have preferences of their own.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 12:14 AM on October 12, 2014

Pick the name where is still available and then prepay for that domain registration for 20+ years. Your kid will thank you someday.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:51 PM on October 11 [1 favorite +] [!]

The yearly domain registration fee is $5-$10 so just $80-$160 total for 16 years - well worth it if you can snaggle her name!
posted by humph at 1:05 AM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

We all have our opinions, but my experience (and that of my friends with adult children) is that it doesn't matter what you think sounds best -- at some point your daughter will decide what she wants to be called, and that's what she will be called.

My son is named Thomas, called Tommy, until at a fairly young age he just started saying "Tom" every time we said "Tommy." We soon learned. And now, in his 40's, he uses "Tom" exclusively, on all legal paperwork, etc. "Thomas" has disappeared. My daughter, on the other hand, has tried various versions of "Elizabeth," moving back and forth from "Beth" to "Betsy" back to "Elizabeth." She's currently "Betsy" but I'm ready to be flexible. (Secretly, to me she's still "Precious" as in "Precious Princess.")
posted by kestralwing at 3:16 AM on October 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have a six month old Elena and we call her Ellie 99% of the time. We had constraints, though, we needed a name that worked both in Italian and English. We did want a full name for her so that if she wants to switch when she's older she can do it with no hassle.
posted by lydhre at 3:48 AM on October 12, 2014

Nicknames for Penelope:

You have lots of options and once you get to know your little girl, you can decide what nickname suits her personality best.
posted by travelwithcats at 4:35 AM on October 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

It seems like most people end up kind of hating something about their given name, and while both of those names are fine I somehow imagine a kid would find less to hate about Eleanor than Penelope. Penelope sounds more old-fashioned to me.

(Of course I have zero experience naming babies, and it still trips me out how what I think of as "old people" names, like Jacob, have come back around again. So maybe Penelope is like THE baby name for 2015, and I'm just out of the loop.)

I have long maintained that the best name for a girl is Elizabeth. That way she can choose between Liz, Liza, Lisa, Elise, Eliza, Ellie, Lise, Beth, Betsy, Becky, Betty and probably a dozen more variations. There's probably gonna be SOMETHING in there she'll like! Give a kid a lot of options, and what's she got to resent?
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:09 AM on October 12, 2014

I was a little tomboy and I would've loved a cool boyish nickname like Pen. However, the common nickname for my first name is a diminutive (ends in -ie) and from early on I corrected anyone who used it. I'll only accept it from my sister. And my sister is a Katherine and she put up with Katie until junior high, when she announced one day she would only respond to Kate going forward.

I'm just saying - nicknames don't always work out.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:09 AM on October 12, 2014

Pick the name and nickname you like and don't stress too much about it.

Another nickname option for Penelope is Pelly or Pellie.

Once it is hers though, as everyone says, just be prepared that she will eventually do with it what she wants, nickname wise (or even change it later, or use her middle name). I also ditched my nickname as soon as I could in favor of my 3 syllable first name. Only a few people know and use my nickname (and my sister calls me Eonni/Unni, which is what a Korean girl calls her older sister - long backstory.)
posted by gudrun at 8:17 AM on October 12, 2014

I honestly don't understand this trend of picking out names, so that you can call the kid a specific nickname derivative that you've already pre-chosen. It's very controlling of a phenomenon that is not truly controllable. As others have pointed out, you can't count on that nickname working out with the kid. Nicknames are a force of nature.

My mother picked out my name specifically so no one could give me a derivative nickname, so people just made stuff up out of whole cloth instead. Also, I know a 4 year old Penelope right now. As far as I know, people call her Penelope.

Pick the name you like the best, instead of picking a name because you want to squeeze a particular nickname out of it.
posted by Coatlicue at 8:24 AM on October 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think Penelope is a lovely name, and you can totally use Ellie as a nickname, initially. You may find that your daughter ends up acting like a Pen or a Penny, or that she chooses to call herself Penelope or something else entirely.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:24 AM on October 12, 2014

they're both good names, no clear leader. a penelope was good enough for odysseus (and later, a houseful of others); eleanor was good enough for king henry the second. toss-up.
posted by bruce at 8:47 AM on October 12, 2014

+1 for giving a proper name. Nicknames as legal names just sound wrong to me, and especially for girls just seem unserious.

BUT, beware that nicknames are not your control.

And if you're really attached to "Ellie" as a nickname, give her the name "Eleanor" or "Ellen," especially if it would bug you for your daughter to end up being called "Penny."

We gave our kids common formal first names with very common nicknames. Our son we never nicknamed, but he picked up (the currently most common) nickname quite quickly at school; we still call him by his first name. Our daughter we call by a (not first name related) traditional nickname for a younger daughter, but she goes by her full, trisyllabic, first name in school and sports.
posted by MattD at 9:06 AM on October 12, 2014

Can I say something from a completely different point of view...when you give them a formal name, then use a nickname from birth, kids end up dealing with their legal name being in all their school records, etc. Teachers will use that legal name until corrected, and then the computerized systems used nowadays have no way for nickname to be names only. As a teacher I often have to put a child's legal name alphabetically in the computerized gradebook, but have no option to change it to the nickname. It seems like a stupid little thing, but school is just one place where you'll run I to this issue, especially in this computerized age.

I second buying the child's domain name now, and you should also set up a gmail account, etc for them in their name.

I like Ellie better than Penny myself....
posted by OkTwigs at 10:35 AM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

My daughter is Eleanor and we call her Nora MiddleName 90% of the time. No one has batted an eye at what has become a nonstandard nickname for Eleanor.
posted by SeedStitch at 10:46 AM on October 12, 2014

You could always just name the child Ellie.

Also, in my cousins' family, all four girls go by their middle, not their first, name. Is that an option?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:41 AM on October 12, 2014

My daughter's nickname is Ellie so I am biased. She has a more dignified full name in case she wants to go by that. I agree with many of the comments above, Ellie is a perfectly fine nickname for Penelope.
posted by celtalitha at 1:54 PM on October 12, 2014

BUT, beware that nicknames are not your control.

My Rebekah was very firmly nicknamed Bekah* the moment we found out we were having a girl. Maybe two people in her life have ever called her Becky, but the point is that nicknames can absolutely be in your control. We might as well have just named her Bekah, because that is very much her name but I like having something longer to say when she's in trouble. Anyway, I love the Penelope/Ellie combo. Best of both worlds.

*I actually call her Bubba as a nickname for Bekah, so I guess you should be prepared for a nickname of the nickname.
posted by Ruki at 6:03 PM on October 12, 2014

A friend of mine had a daughter not long ago and named her Penelope, but they call her Elle. I think there are more people who have to explain their name than you can imagine! I wouldn't worry too much about it. My name is Sara (obvs) but my mom calls me Jane or Janie - which has NOTHING to do with my first OR middle name.

She's your kid, do whatcha want, but I dog the Penelope a lot more.
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 6:23 AM on October 13, 2014

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