Tell me about the name "Nina"
April 25, 2016 1:19 AM   Subscribe

Is the name "Nina" only a nickname?

I'm asking this question for my closest friend. She's always loved the name Nina (I do too!) for her future daughter (she's due in May) but she's gotten feedback that it's too insubstantial for a girl, and more of a nickname.

Do you think this is true? She wants a strong, not too popular name that will carry into womanhood (and will travel well) but now isn't sure Nina fits the bill. And if it is a nickname, what is it a nickname for exactly? Any ideas?
posted by EtTuHealy to Grab Bag (42 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
According to Wikipedia,
Nina is a feminine Russian name derived from original Georgian form Nino. Being a Christian name, it dates back to Saint Nino.
The name Nina may originate from the old Slavic word Ninati, meaning "dreamer" or "dream".
Other origins for the name Nina include - Native American, Spanish, English Croatian, and Indian. In Europe it is a short form of names such as Marina and Katharina. Another meaning: mother in Swahili; flower in Old Greek, and fire in Quechua.
posted by misteraitch at 1:25 AM on April 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

In Mexico and US Latin-American cultures, "nina" is what you call your godmother. I always called my godmother nina and my godfather nino.

Since it sounds like 'niña' or 'nena' as well which is used to refer to little girls, it doesn't sound like a strong name in Spanish but more of a diminutive.
posted by vacapinta at 1:32 AM on April 25, 2016

I think Nina is lovely. Names go in and out if fashion so fast and so randomly anyway and I don't really understand why Nina would be considered more insubstantial to an English speaker than Anna or Jodie or Peta. I think a pretty, meaningful name is better than being the 110th Olivia in the playground.

I know a young Oli (boy) and Popi (girl). I think both names are charming, suit the kids, and no one has raised eyebrows as far as I know.

If it really worries the friend she can always give a more substantive middle name as a backup.

Mangled quote, but the people who matter won't mind, and the people who mind don't matter.
posted by arha at 2:03 AM on April 25, 2016 [9 favorites]

To answer the nickname question, the parents of the Oli and Popi thought that naming the kids something other than what they were going to actually call them wasn't right for them.
posted by arha at 2:12 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I know several Ninas where it isn't short for anything, and they are all wonderful strong women. I also know a Nina where it is short for Yannina.

One advantage of the name is that it is easy to pronounce for speakers of just about any language, and so she can live nearly anywhere without having her name be mangled or seen as weird.
posted by lollusc at 2:53 AM on April 25, 2016 [8 favorites]

My mother-in-law is named Vicki, just Vicki, not Victoria. So it's not unheard of to name your baby with something most people would consider a nickname.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:58 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have a colleague called Nina and it's not short for anything. She's about 30.
posted by intensitymultiply at 3:05 AM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

I know a lot of awesome, strong Ninas. Saying Nina is just a nickname is absurd.

If you want strong, awesome Nina credentials, how about Nina Bang? She was the first female minister in a national government. That happened in 1924 in Denmark. And Nina was her given name.
posted by kariebookish at 3:09 AM on April 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

It's definitely a stand alone name in Italian and a beautiful one.
posted by lydhre at 3:10 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I know a 5 year old Nina. It's a great name.
posted by kitten magic at 3:13 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I know a 5 year old Nina and a 40 year old Nina — it's a full name for both of them, and they're both pretty damn lovely people.
posted by ZipRibbons at 3:22 AM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Definitely a valid name in Italian, and I think it's great. Elegant, easy to spell, and pronounceable in just about any language.
posted by Pizzarina Sbarro at 3:23 AM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

A short, unpreposessing name lets the bearer find her own way to be impressive.
posted by amtho at 3:37 AM on April 25, 2016 [8 favorites]

I have an aunt named Nina. She's in her 50s and it very much suits her. In fact, my mom has always been jealous that her sister got the "pretty" name. I've never heard someone say it's not substantial but I think that's ridiculous.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 3:51 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Makes me think of Nina Simone --- definately a strong and pretty name.

And while it is a nickname for some people, it's the whole name for others; there's no •assumption• it's a nickname.

(Also, I work with a Billy --- it's not short for William or even Bill; his legal name is Billy. A name is only a nickname when it's a stand-in for something else.)
posted by easily confused at 4:00 AM on April 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have never heard of Nina as a nickname, only as a full name.

'She wants a strong, not too popular name that will carry into womanhood' - I think Nina should serve her well. Your friend loves the name, it's a real name, who cares what other people think. (Also this is why if I ever have a child I will not tell people the name before they are born.)
posted by like_neon at 4:02 AM on April 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

Anyone can find a reason to not like any name. When we settled on names for our kids, we chose not to share them for the very reason that anyone would be able to find a way to judge it. It's much harder to be critical of a name to the face of someone who bears that name, especially if that someone is a newborn wrapped up like a hobbit.

Nina is a wonderful name for your friend's child if your friend and Nina's other parent (assuming there are two) think it is and, quite frankly, no one else gets a say.

Names are just one area in which parents and parents-to-be are told they are doing it wrong by others, so let me just say, that there's nothing wrong with Nina or, really, any other names. People make something of their own names, too, over the course of their own life time. Sure, your friend is giving her the name, but quite a bit of the rest will be up to the child herself.
posted by zizzle at 4:05 AM on April 25, 2016 [12 favorites]

Nina's a great name, and one I've mainly heard as a standalone name - I wouldn't be surprised if you told me it originated as a nickname, but I'd be hard-pressed to figure out what it's a nickname of.

There are lots of girls' names currently in style that originated as nicknames but work perfectly well as standalone names (Nora, Ada, Lena). Nina fits very well in with those without feeling trendy.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:07 AM on April 25, 2016

I hadn't realized that Nina was ever a nickname for a full name. I've always known it as a full name, and some of the history posted above is quite lovely. If your friend digs the name, then she should go with her gut and use it. From what I understand, motherhood is full of people telling a mother that she's doing something wrong, when it's really just a matter of personal preference and she's doing everything just fine. Good luck to your friend and little Nina!
posted by katemcd at 4:23 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

i knew a nina. she rocked, frankly.
posted by andrewcooke at 4:39 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nina is a full name, and I think it's a beautiful one. I'm Russian, and I've known several Ninas, it was quite a popular name some time ago (not so much now). I've never had any negative connotations like that the name was "insubstantial" somehow.
posted by Guelder at 4:49 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I really agree with everyone else about it being a lovely name, but if she does want something similar with that gets away from the "nina/niña" issue, Anita is nice too. Basically though, I'm convinced that people will make up random crap to say about unborn babies' names. When I was pregnant, I was really feeling Ursula for mine and do you think I wanted to hear everyone griping about a sea-witch? Nope. Now it's the little one's middle name and even my grandmother only called it "...unique." Everyone else has gone straight to Le Guin, or held their peace.
posted by teremala at 4:55 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

There's an NPR correspondent named Nina Totenberg. She has never seemed insubstantial to me.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:59 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nina here. I love my name and if your friend loves it for her daughter, I'm sure her daughter will be awesome and fierce. It's a wonderful name. Also, I've been called many things, but insubstantial has not been one of them. Sure she can name her something else but then what's the point?
posted by lunastellasol at 5:19 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

My great Grandmother was named Nina, but she pronounced it NINE-uh. She came over from Sweden.
posted by Ostara at 6:40 AM on April 25, 2016

Great name. Also Nina Persson of the Cardigans wears it very well.
posted by freya_lamb at 6:43 AM on April 25, 2016

I have two coworkers named Nina who are both great people and also don't have it as a nickname.
posted by naturalog at 6:47 AM on April 25, 2016

Why does a name sounding "insubstantial" matter, and what does that even mean in the first place?

If the mother is worried that Nina will have trouble with her resume because her first name sounds flimsy (which seems like the only legitimate concern), I would say that giving a "strong" first name, using "Nina" as a middle name and then calling the child "Nina" would work. But name trends change so much, and honestly names that are given to girls always become feminized and start to sound flimsy anyway because patriarchy. "Aubrey" was a male name, for example, but people think it sounds like "Audrey" and now it's a girl's name; all those Pipers and Harpers and Taylors and so on once had boyish names and now have girlish names. Names that sound weird if you know their meaning lose the meaning over time with cultural drift. I've known several Ledas and no one but me remembers the swan; I know several Lorelies with solid professional careers; I know a Medea. I used to interact with a woman named Winsome who was a quite successful financial person.

Also, remember that Nina may hate the name and go by something else; my birth name is....extremely feminine and wildly unsuitable, and I have not used it in many years.
posted by Frowner at 6:50 AM on April 25, 2016

Your friend needs to not do this. There is no name everyone will like. When my sister named my niece, not a single person in my immediate family liked the name she chose. Now we don't even think about it; we just accept it and love it as part of her full personality and identity.

She should also recognise that this is just one example of the approximately 3 million instances where people around her will tell her "Parenting: You're Doing it Wrong" and then mama up because fuck those people.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:58 AM on April 25, 2016 [7 favorites]

I know one Nina short for Menina, and one that is short for nothing (it's her full name). And it's a great name!
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:17 AM on April 25, 2016

Lots of good answers above, but if you can stand another comment, my mother in law, born in the 1920s, was named Nina (not as a nickname), and was one of the most formidable people I know. She was named for a grandmother, also named Nina (not as a nickname), who was born in 1864! It's a perfectly good and strong name with a long history of being used as a name, not a nickname. Your friend should just go for it if she likes the name!
posted by gudrun at 7:24 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

The best two tests I ever heard for naming a child are that a) you should be able to yell it down a street without feeling stupid, and b) your child should be able to walk into a boardroom at the age of 40, introduce herself or himself, and not have everybody snicker. I'd say Nina passes both tests. Not everyone will like it, but so what? As long as the parents really like it and there isn't some general negative reaction to it, it's fine.
posted by orange swan at 9:09 AM on April 25, 2016

I named my daughter Nina. It's just a lovely name. Many things about it appealed to me, not the least of which was that is is a wonderful, strong, beautiful name for a baby, a child, and also an adult. Not many names pass that test, in my opinion.
posted by the webmistress at 9:14 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wow, such great responses! (I kind of wish I'd used the name myself now!) I think her concern was just that her other name (Eleanor) is so hefty, she didn't want to saddle her kid with a lighter name. I'm going to send her this thread now . . .
posted by EtTuHealy at 9:40 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

She's always loved the name Nina (I do too!) for her future daughter (she's due in May) but she's gotten feedback that it's too insubstantial for a girl, and more of a nickname.

People have OPINIONS about any baby name, and 99% of the time the "concerns" are more like concern trolling, really. Unintentional and well-meaning, perhaps, but projecting of a bunch of baggage.

There's no winning other than to politely dismiss such concerns. It's too lightweight vs "saddling the baby with long formal name." Too common/too weird, too girly/too androgynous, not enough nickname potential/too much nickname potential, etc.
posted by desuetude at 9:49 AM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Geez my name is a similar two-syllable one (Anna), is that "insubstantial" too? ;)

Nina is a full woman's name in Corsica. I know a few.
posted by fraula at 10:43 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I literally just walked past a girl I went to high school with who is named Nina. I never thought of it as a diminutive.
posted by radioamy at 1:12 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Niña (pronounced NEEN-ya) in Spanish means "girl" or "little girl". I think it's the same in Tagalog, too.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:14 PM on April 25, 2016

My great Aunt, who is 87 this year, is named Nina. I think it's a very cool reasonable name...but I am biased because Aunt Nina is 4'-11" and the toughest woman I have ever met.
posted by Benway at 3:37 PM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

My grandmother (dad's mom) was named Nina. Like Ostara's great-grandmother, she also pronounced it NINE-uh. She came to the US from Russia when she was around 10 years old. She got a master's degree in chemistry. (Bear in mind, this was before WWII, when many women didn't even go to college, much less earn an advanced degree, especially in a scientific field.) She worked as a chemist (not a common career choice for women at that point either), although she was long retired by the time I was born. She taught me to play cards, made the best mandel bread ever, and was just generally awesome.
posted by SisterHavana at 6:58 PM on April 25, 2016

One of my favorite tools for exploring names is the Baby Names Voyager, which builds popularity graphs based on US Social Security Administration data. It shows that Nina's greatest popularity in the US was in the 1880s, when the data starts; it had a minor resurgence in the 1970s, and another more minor one recently. Certainly Nina has been considered a "real" legal name for a long time.

There's a general trend now for turn-of-the-twentieth-century names. This is much more obvious with Eleanor, your friend's other choice, which was hugely popular around 1900 and has peaked again recently. Ella, which spiked to #14 for US girls' names in 2009, shows a similar but more impressive pattern. (I wouldn't name a child Eleanor, but my own given name falls off the bottom of the Baby Names Voyager chart right around the time I was born, so I'm definitely biased against popularity.)
posted by yarntheory at 7:20 PM on April 25, 2016

I don't think you get any more substantial as a person than Nina Simone. And Nina Paley (creator of Sita Sings the Blues) seems to have done pretty well with it too.
posted by MsMolly at 9:49 PM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

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