Baby Names

The Pros and Cons of Calling Your Child Something Different Than Their Given Name

pros and cons of nickname vs given name"
pros and cons of nickname vs given name
Source: @alainakaz
Source: @alainakaz

It’s a story many of us are familiar with. You know someone for years only to find out the title you’ve been referring to them as isn’t actually their name. You learn that Heath’s “real” name is William, and then the questions start. Where did Heath come from? What about William—is it a family name? What’s the story here? People will go by a nickname for any number of reasons, and our curious minds often want to know the why.

For me, the person I knew for years before learning her real name was my grandma. Sounds bad, I know. But I grew up calling her Grandma Mae. It wasn’t until I was a little bit older that I learned her full name was Laura Mae, and she had gone by her middle name her whole life. Unfortunately, I never thought to ask why she didn’t go by her given name before she passed, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wonder.

That’s why I wanted to look into this very topic: using a given name versus nickname debate if you will. Including quotes from people with experience, I’ve gathered all of the pros and cons of going by a title that’s not your given name. So, if you have a little one you’re considering giving a more formal name and a nickname to, here’s the inside scoop:

Pros of Going by a Nickname

Keeping with Tradition

There’s something to be said about keeping a family tradition going. If you don’t want to be the one to break heritage but you’re not over the moon about the name, having your little one go by a nickname or the middle name of your choice may be the best of both worlds. You get to pass on a title that’s important to your family while choosing something that’s fitting for you. Plus, going this route may be less confusing if you have several people with the same name in one family.

Many families may find themselves in a similar boat as Mary Clare, who goes by her middle name, Clare. She shared, “It is a tradition on my mother’s side that the oldest daughter’s first name is Mary. This tradition goes back six confirmed generations and most likely actually eight generations. So, basically, I am named after [my] great 4x grandmother, and [the tradition] goes back to the mid-1800s… I do love the tradition, and I think that in a world accustomed to women losing their maiden name, it is a nice way of keeping the mother’s side names alive.”

“I think that in a world accustomed to women losing their maiden name, it is a nice way of keeping the mother’s side names alive.”

Honoring a Loved One

On a similar note, naming a child after a loved one is a great way to honor an important person in your life, and using a nickname gives your child something uniquely their own while the sentiment remains.

Clare shared further, “According to my mom, [Clare] was after her grandfather Clarence, but I think she just liked the name… My mom and her family are extremely proud and interested in their family history. Names play a big role in honoring our ancestors.”

given name vs nickname
Source: @thiswildheart

A Title to Grow Into

Some of the best-given names are strong, old-fashioned, and withstand the test of time. That also means they don’t always fit perfectly with a newborn baby. This is where having a sweet nickname, using initials, or going by a middle name may be more fitting for their younger years. Then, as they grow and become adults, they can choose if they’d like to go by their more sophisticated given name.

Having a Choice

On the same note, having both a given and chosen name means more options for the individual. They may identify with one more than the other, and having the option to choose between two names is a luxury not everyone has.

The Heath I mentioned earlier is a real person who had the given name of William. This was a family name that was passed down to him. However, due to personal reasons, he decided he no longer wanted to honor that person. In this case, because he was already going by his middle name, Heath, he was able to choose to keep up with that instead of transitioning to his given name down the road.

Cons of Going by a Nickname

Having to Give an Explanation

Remember those curious minds I mentioned? Well, they’re part of human nature. And there’s a good chance that when someone learns about the given name versus nickname situation, they’re going to have questions. The person going by a nickname may have to explain or fend off questions every now and then, but how much they choose to share will always be up to them.

Having to Correct People

Especially in places like school and work where there may be a system that houses the names of those in attendance, the individual may have to correct others around them who assume they go by the given name listed. Not only can this be annoying, but it may also cause unwanted attention, and having to speak up and correct someone likely in authority can be intimidating. Plus, there’s always a risk that even after doing so, the correction may slip peoples’ minds.

Grace, for instance, was born Carly Grace Simon but has gone by Grace since a very early age. She shared, “Yes, it was annoying in school to correct people. We eventually changed it to Grace in the school system, but then it started over again in college. I told my professors my first semester that I went by Grace, and only one of them actually called me Grace. So, I just went by Carly the rest of my four years there since it seemed easier than correcting the professor every time.”

given name vs nickname
Source: @mrsjenfrick

On the flip side, Julie, a mom whose three littles go by nicknames different than their given names (William Brooks “Brooks”, Edward Reid “Teddy” and Ann Elizabeth “Betsy”) says giving her kids a reason to speak up for themselves has been a good thing. She explained, “Both my husband and I go by a name other than our first—mine is a nickname, and he goes by his middle name. We liked the idea of doing the same for our children even if [there’s] no exact rhyme or reason behind it. I always say it helps kids speak up, especially in school. You often have to correct people when they call you your formal given name.”


Similarly, going by a name other than a given name may occasionally cause confusion. Some explanation may be requested with things like official forms and travel documents as well as in the classroom or when starting a new job. Overall, though, most people don’t see occasional confusion impacting their day-to-day lives very much.

Even Clare, who loves that her given name, Mary Clare, honors her ancestry, admits that there has been plenty of confusion throughout the years by not going by her given name. One instance in particular stood out: “When I signed up for Drivers Ed, I used my chosen name, and therefore my permit was in my chosen name. The lovely folks at the DMV were confused when I went for my driver’s license, and they issued it using my chosen name. Therefore, it didn’t match my Social Security card or other legal documents, and led to years of confusion.”

While the pros and cons are similar in number, one thing most respondents tend to be unanimous on is that they enjoy having a go-to “fun fact” about themselves. Ultimately, it’s up to parents to decide if the pros outweigh the cons—or vice versa—when going through the baby name selection process for their kiddos.

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