A WASP by any other name
February 4, 2016 9:15 AM   Subscribe

I want to learn more about upper class naming conventions, most obviously the British aristocracy but anything on the topic more generally would be interesting. Ideally I'm looking for a book or article that explains how some of the ridiculously prolix naming conventions came to be, and how you end up with people named, for example, Admiral of the Fleet Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, [string of post-nominal letters] (born Prince Louis of Battenberg) aka Lord Mountbatten, aka Dickie.

Actually I'd be curious to know more about how one ends up with a WASPy nickname too. Richard isn't even one of his names! How do you get Dickie?

Aside from the full formal form of address which social context determines which form of address one uses? How one would address a formal letter to someone with a name/title like this is not what I'm asking (that's easy to look up).
posted by Wretch729 to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Richard isn't even one of his names! How do you get Dickie?

You read the wikipedia article, yeah?
Young Mountbatten's nickname among family and friends was "Dickie", although "Richard" was not among his given names. This was because his great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, had suggested the nickname of "Nicky", but to avoid confusion with the many Nickys of the Russian Imperial Family ("Nicky" was particularly used to refer to Nicholas II, the last Tsar), "Nicky" was changed to "Dickie".
posted by zamboni at 9:38 AM on February 4, 2016


I can't speak to foreign nobility, but on the East Coast of the US, the shortest answer is: you have to honor all the grandparents, so that gives you a lot of names (including first names that sound like surnames). Then you either receive a nickname, like Trip or Trey, as a kid (if they don't want to call you Hamilton Clarence Carlisle III) or maybe a more silly-cutesy-funny one from your friends in prep school. Incidentally, I went to school with a group of guys who called each other Dickie--none of them was a Richard, but "Dickie" came up at some point and struck them as funny so they kept it. I think a lot of WASPy nicknames begin that way.

I can't think of any more masculine examples off the top of my head, but some women's prep school names I know are Bunchy, Kitty, and Bootsie. They were each called by those names--informally, by friends, grandkids, and other family members--until old age. To everyone else, they were Mrs. Hamilton or Mrs. Smith.
posted by witchen at 10:05 AM on February 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


About the nicknames, what witchen said. The nicknames tend to be either the family name you were called as a baby when someone mispronounced your name, something that was given to you in prep school or college, or a standard nickname for your given name. Elizabeth, for example, has about a dozen common nicknames (Bitsy, Betty, Betsy, Libby, etc).

Here in the bluebood-Boston neck of the woods, I often meet people with these nicknames. Amazes me - definitely a cultural trope.
posted by Miko at 10:52 AM on February 4, 2016


Yeah, same story. My wife's side of the family is from New England (and not at all WASPY) yet still, every male in her family carries both sides of the family's names; gotta include everyone. First born males are basically all the same first name, and maybe their middle name is from the mother's family, if they're feeling progressive.

Basically, everyone on that side of the family carries the name 'John' as their first name; there's like 4 generations of 'Johns' so everyone gets a nickname that's decidedly not tied to the name 'John.' It isn't their legal name…it doesn't show up on birth certificates, but it was really surprising to me that the nickname can show up on medical records, school records, drivers licenses. I haven't asked about passports.

Its mega confusing, and this is just in the popular world, not in royalty or anything.

For this several generation born and bred Oregonian, this whole naming convention was a rude awakening to the difference in cultures between the NW and the NE when we just decided to give our kid a name that didn't fit those conventions. Kind of a huge deal, and it was considered a huge disrespect that still gets brought up.
posted by furnace.heart at 11:03 AM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


In the England of yore, a not-so-rich man who married a richer or better connected woman might take her name. I doubt if happened, but I never heard of it happening in the US, at least not for status reasons.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:24 PM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Children whose mother was from an extremely "old," well-connected family would sometimes be given hyphenated last names, especially if the name seemed to be dying out or there was a rich relative on that side whom the parents wanted to please. (Sometimes it was an outright condition of inheritance.) Before hyphenated names started to be used in the name of feminism, they used to be strongly associated with the ruling class.
posted by ostro at 1:05 PM on February 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


It isn't their legal name…it doesn't show up on birth certificates, but it was really surprising to me that the nickname can show up on medical records, school records, drivers licenses.

furnace.heart, how in the world can it not be a legal name if it's on the drivers license?? I'm well and truly puzzled.
posted by yohko at 2:14 PM on February 4, 2016


Best answer: In the British upper classes, double-barrelled names often came about when several landed estates were united in one family. So, for example, in the eighteenth century, when Henry Drax married his cousin Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Edward Ernle and granddaughter of Thomas Erle, his descendants renamed themselves Erle-Drax. In due course the family estates were inherited by Ernle Elizabeth Louisa Mary Grosvenor Burton. She married her cousin, Lord Dunsany, and took his family name, Plunkett, in addition to her own. All four lines of family inheritance were then united in her son, Admiral Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax.

Nicknames often come about in very grand families where the eldest son uses a courtesy title. In Anthony Powell's sequence of novels A Dance to the Music of Time, one of the characters, Lord Erridge, is the son of the Earl of Warminster. In due course he inherits his father's title, but everyone carries on calling him 'Erridge' and one of the other characters remarks: 'I don't even know what Erry's Christian name is. Perhaps he hasn't got one.'

In the British royal family, the custom of giving children a long sequence of Christian names seems to have begun with Queen Victoria, who had firm views on what her grandchildren's names should be. In 1865, when her second grandson was born, she wrote to the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII):
My dear Bertie .. I fear I cannot admire the names you propose to give the Baby. I had hoped for some fine old name. Frederic is, however, the best of the two, and I hope you will call him so; George only came over with the Hanoverian family. However, if the dear child grows up good and wise, I shall not mind what his name is. Of course you will add Albert at the end, like your brothers, as you know we settled long ago that all dearest Papa's male English descendants should bear that name, to mark our line, just as I wish all the girls to have Victoria at the end of theirs! I lay great stress on this; and it is done in a great many families.
(The baby was eventually named George Frederick Ernest Albert, and grew up to become King George V.)

For further reading, see Stephen Wilson, The Means of Naming: A Social History (2004). Adam Kuper, Incest and Influence: The Private Life of Bourgeois England (2009) is also relevant to the upper-class custom of consanguineous marriage.
posted by verstegan at 2:22 PM on February 4, 2016 [10 favorites]


how in the world can it not be a legal name if it's on the drivers license?? I'm well and truly puzzled.

Yeah, I called bullshit on it once, and asked for proof. But there it was, nickname was de-facto legal name on his drivers license, but this was in fact not the name on his birth certificate. I have no idea.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:39 PM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Actually I'd be curious to know more about how one ends up with a WASPy nickname too. Richard isn't even one of his names! How do you get Dickie?

Just to be picayune, WASP refers only to Americans. British Nobs (and slobs) had Dickie as an endearment long before we came along.

Here's how Victoria of Sweden got her multiple names. Nor is it just aristos. I know decidedly middle class Europeans whose legal names number half a dozen at a go. (As well as old line back to Williamsburg WASPs whose family can't seem to break out of half a dozen for every generation, world without end.)
posted by BWA at 2:53 PM on February 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I called bullshit on it once, and asked for proof. But there it was, nickname was de-facto legal name on his drivers license, but this was in fact not the name on his birth certificate. I have no idea.

Hell, a friend of mine renewed his driver license while away at college and had his official California address located in Worchester, Mass.
posted by sideshow at 3:35 PM on February 4, 2016


I'm German on my mother's side (she and her family emigrated to America in 1930 when she was 6). Both my mother and her father had 4 "Christian" or forenames, and they were decidedly middle class, though multiple forenames tended to be more common among the nobility. This Wikipedia section on German forenames gives some information. My mother's forenames were the names of female relatives, except for her Rufname, the third of her four forenames, which was a name my grandmother just liked. When they came to America, my mother usually used her Rufname as her first name and the fourth of her 4 forenames functioned as her middle name. Here's a bit more info. on German names.
posted by gudrun at 7:25 PM on February 4, 2016


Some of those WASPy nicknames have to do with whatever generation number you are. So if you're William Henry Gates III, you wind up with the nickname "Trey," because trey = three, get it? (And yes, that would indeed be Bill Gates' nickname.) "Trip" (as in triple) is also a possibility. If you're a V, you can get "Quincy," and if you're a Jr. or a II, you can get "Chip" (for "chip off the old block"). Not sure what they call a IV.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:41 PM on February 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


That also reminds me of how common "Skip" is, a short form of "Skipper," often found among sailing/Navy officer families.
posted by Miko at 7:36 AM on February 5, 2016


As for fourth generations of the same name, the Internet is saying: "Quad," "Cort," "Ford," "Quadry," "Quade," "Cade," "Dru,"and "Ivan" [as in IV-an]. I've known a couple of Corts and Drews/Drus but I'm not sure whether this was the origin.
posted by Miko at 7:40 AM on February 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have an uncle named Skip! When my dad explained why Skip wasn't his real name (which I didn't learn until I saw it in an obituary) it blew my mind.

And I never realized about Ford. I know so many Fords, my god. It all makes sense.
posted by witchen at 10:22 AM on February 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Some of the WASPy nicknames derive from school. Many/most of American and English upper class kids go to private school, and a number go away to what we in the U.S. call boarding school, sometimes at a rather young age. It seems to me that private and particularly boarding school nicknames persist into adulthood, at least with peers/school friends. (Of course for school nicknames often you just get called a version of your last name; i.e. someone with the last name Wood might get called Woody.)
posted by gudrun at 10:26 AM on February 5, 2016


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