Learn English Language Fluency - British Names
So it’s cold and frosty in the UK today, but no snow and definitely not a white Christmas, so I guess the weather reporter
got it wrong again. No surprise there. As for today’s learning English language lesson on language fluency, I thought I would do one to help explain how we shorten people’s names in the UK.
English speakers are always looking for ways to make our English language shorter. So why wouldn’t we shorten people’s names? Sometimes we do this to give people nicknames sometimes we do it as a way of showing we are close to a family member or someone we love. Sometimes we do it because the original name is just too complicated!
At the end of this English language lesson, you will end up with a rather strange list of short names which you will probably have heard. A mapping of longer, less used English names which you would never have guessed were the origins of a shorter name.
What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
⭐ Quote from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
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Transcript: Learn About English Language Shortened Names
Hi and welcome to this latest podcast from Adept English. We are here to help you learn English language by giving you just the right type of material to practise your understanding on. So you can learn English for free with our podcasts.
As ever, listen to this podcast a number of times until you know all the words. Look up any words that you don’t know and then experience listening with full understanding. That experience is really important to help you ‘think in English’.
British names with shortened forms
So we’re still in the festive season – it’s now between Christmas and New Year, so people in many parts of the world are still on holiday. Let’s do something relatively easy today then. How about a podcast on British names? British names and their shortened forms, which can be very confusing if you’re not familiar with them.
Multicultural British names
Of course, when I say ‘British names’, then there are lots of people in the UK whose names reflect other cultures, other religions and the origins of their family. People like to reflect their family traditions when they name their children and the UK is very much a multicultural society.
So it’s often the case that somebody’s name will indicate to you something of their origin, something of their family history. So there are for example lots of people in the UK with names like Harpreet or Arvinder, which tends to mean that their family are Sikhs. And obviously if someone has a name like Tasneem, Faysal, Iqbal or Saba, then they’re probably from a Muslim family.
And of course, people who originate from other parts of Europe have names which are specific to their country or their culture. So if someone is named Philippe or Giselle then probably there’s a French connection, or Miguel, Diego or José mean a Spanish connection.
It’s interesting – most of the popular Spanish girls’ names have been adopted and are not unusual in English speaking countries. But anyway, my point is that Britain is such a multicultural society that when you say ‘British names’ that means lots of names of different origins.
Traditional British names – Bill, Bob, Kate and Liz
But I guess if you say ‘traditional British names’, then these would be names that have been around in Britain say 300 years or more, from when the world was less mobile. And these are often the names that are shortened – that have shorter forms, which don’t always look much like the full name. So they can be a bit confusing.
So we’re all familiar with the name Elizabeth? It has a different pronunciation of course, in different countries, but Elizabeth has been a British name since….well, at least the time of Queen Elizabeth I. Shortened forms for Elizabeth can be ‘Beth’, ‘Liz’ or ‘Lizzie’, ‘Eliza’ or even ‘Ellie’ if you choose. And there’s ‘Lilibet’ of course!
A photograph of a background of autumn leaves in the frost, as the weather in the UK turns cold.
If you think of the traditional names that were used by British kings and queens, they often have shortened forms. So William can also be Bill or Billy. Robert may be Bob or Bobby. Catherine spelt with a C or Katherine spelt with a K – there are lots of ways to spell this name.
Sometimes it’s Kathryn, K-A-T-H-R-Y-N – and there’s even a form Kathleen, which can have a K or a C at the start. And rather like Elizabeth, if your given name is Katherine, then you have lots of choices in what you can be called. So you could decide you want to be known as Kat, or Kate, Katy, Cath or Cathy. And these names are quite distinctive, so once you know someone as Katy, then calling them Kath or Kate or Kathy just seems wrong! Or even Katherine seems wrong too!
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Crazy short forms which don’t look like their origin!
Back to the names…..
So some of the older shortened name forms are completely illogical and are so unlike the original name that it doesn’t make any sense! Examples of this might be Ted or Teddy for Edward. But of course Ted or Teddy can also be short for Theodore like Theodore Roosevelt. And someone called Edward can also be known as Ned, N-E-D. What about Dick? D-I-C-K is short for Richard. Even more peculiar, Peggy, P-E-G-G-Y is short for Margaret, M-A-R-G-A-R-E-T and Nell or Nellie is short for Helen. Mmmm.
Some of the so-called shortened names are actually the same length or longer than the original. So Sally is a shortened form of Sarah, S-A-R-A-H and Nancy, like Nancy Reagan is a short for Anne. That makes no sense at all! Polly was also originally short for Mary, even though it’s one letter longer!
Of course, in the UK you are free to call your child what you like. So these shortened forms of names are names now in their own right. So for example Molly or Moll, used to be short for Mary too, but now is a name in its own right. Most people called Molly were christened that, or have ‘Molly’ on their birth certificate.
Short name forms from ‘across the pond’
If we’re going ‘across the pond’ as we say, then common American shortened names include ‘Hank’, H-A-N-K for Henry and Chuck, C-H-U-C-K for Charles. These are really American names – you’d probably only come across a Hank or a Chuck in the UK, if they were American. For Henry, our shortened form is Harry, like Prince Harry and for Charles, we’d probably go with Charlie, which also works for the girl’s name Charlotte. But Charlotte can also be Lottie too.
Short name forms that make sense
So Sally is a shortened form of Sarah, as I mentioned, even though it’s the same number of letters! And Jack, J-A-C-K is a shortened form of John, J-O-H-N – that’s madness, isn’t it?! But many shortened names are actually shorter and do bear some resemblance, do appear similar to the name of origin.
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So for Barbara, you might hear ‘Babs’, B-A-B-S, or for Dorothy, you might hear ‘Dot’ or ‘Dottie’. Joseph becomes Joe and Jacob becomes Jake. Deborah becomes Debbie or Debs and Fiona becomes Fi. Examples of shortened boy’s names from my own family Oliver becomes Olly, Benjamin or Benedict becomes Ben and Daniel becomes Dan. Joshua becomes Josh, Peter becomes Pete. And for girls, Megan becomes Meg and Victoria becomes Vicky.
There are lots of these shortened name forms, but hopefully I’ve run through the ones which are surprising, the ones which you couldn’t guess. And of course, names from other cultures have shortened forms too, not just traditional British ones. So for example, Rajesh will be shortened to Raj – that’s the name of one of my neighbours.
Anyway hopefully I’ve helped you with some of the peculiar, not very logical shortened name forms which you come across in traditional British names. Learn English language, learn English vocabulary and learn about British culture at the same time! What could be better than that?
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.