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A New Kind of Old Nickname for Boys

February 22, 2023 namerology 6 Comments

A New Kind of Old Nickname for Boys

February 22, 2023 Namerology 6 Comments
Vintage photos of men in fedoras, a cowboy, and tennis players

What do you think of these four nicknames? Cal, Mac, Kit and Wes.

If you find yourself drawn to them, you’re not alone. While most classic boys’ nicknames are disappearing, these four are at all-time highs and still rising.

Graph showing rising popularity of the names Cal, Mac, Kit and Wes for boys

What’s their secret?

When you see the four names together they make a natural set, yet their style is hard to pin down. They seem old-fashioned but not linked to any particular era. They’re clearly nicknames, yet they stand easily on their own. If you imagine an Old West saloon, the names will fit in…but the same is true if you imagine a 1920s prep school. They’ve carved out a place at an unlikely genre crossroads:

Chart showing the names Cal, Mac, Kit and Wes at the intersection of the styles "Classic Nicknames," "Throwback Nicknames," "Cowboy Names" and "Prep-School Surnames"

Judging by the names’ soaring popularity, that’s now a style sweet spot. Are more names in this vein waiting to be discovered? Not many can walk the same style tightrope, but these still-rare options may come close.

New-Old Nicknames



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  • Penguinmom February 26, 2023 at 8:36 am

    I know it’s a soft ‘c’, but Cy reminds me of Kai Ryssdal from NPR. Similar vibe, albeit less traditional.

    Joss I only know about from Joss Whedon. Rush, only from Limbaugh.

    I like Cap, Dex, and (I think) Jep.

    Bram, I only know from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but it’s an intriguing choice.

    Tip and Cab I was unfamiliar with as nicknames.

    Jem makes me think of Jem and the Holograms… and I don’t think I’ve heard of it as a nickname before.

    Neat idea for a list. I do like the style, though Wes reminds me too much of Wesley Crusher.

  • NicWo February 27, 2023 at 7:46 am

    Oh, yes. Having lived in the west US especially, I have real life samples for each of these categories (Ben, Ike, Gus, Cal, Wes, Colt Cash, Reid, Blain, Cy with Dex, Beck, and Trip the youngest appearing right off the suggestion list). And maybe I get a bonus for having a Kip in my class once. Or is that more surfer style? I would love to know what all the names in the article are usually nicknames of, for further context. Interesting!

    • Andrea February 27, 2023 at 12:23 pm

      At a guess:

      Arch — Archer, Archie, or Archibald
      Beck — surname
      Bram — Abraham, Abram, or Bramwell
      Cal — Calvin or any surname with the sound such as Calhoun
      Cy — Cyril or Cyrus
      Dex — Dexter
      Gil — Gilbert
      Hal — Harold or Henry
      Jem — James, Jeremiah or Jeremy
      Jep — Jeffrey
      Joss — Joseph or Josiah as Joseph was often abbreviated to Jos. in formal documents
      Kit — Christian or Christopher
      Mac — short for any Mac surname such as MacKenzie
      Penn — surname such as Pennington
      Rafe — Ralph or Raphael
      Tam — Thomas or Thompson
      Tip — Thomas
      Trip — traditional nickname for a boy who is a III, from triple
      Wes — Wesley
      West — surname or short for Weston

      • Andrea February 27, 2023 at 12:35 pm

        Cap was a nickname for Casper or Christopher or various surnames as well as for Captain

  • Andrea February 27, 2023 at 12:54 pm

    Naming trends are definitely interesting. Some of the ones you’ve listed definitely have a retro, iconic American feel to me, the sort of thing you might call a sergeant who is a hero to his men in a World War II movie or the winning quarterback on a midcentury football team. Cap is Captain America, Kit is Kit Carson, Mac is the Every Man, etc. So not entirely Ivy League or cowboy or an English language classic and not necessarily all of them (Bram reminds me of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the Bronte sisters’ brother and is rather Romantic Era British) but they would work in any of those contexts. I think you’re picking up on a trend for short, fresh American names for boys that sound masculine, capable but not elitist — a mensch, a stand up guy.

  • Letterkenny
    Letterkenny March 11, 2023 at 10:05 pm

    Interesting group of names!

    I think Kit is the outlier here, for a couple of reasons. Cal, Wes and Mac are all fashionable sounds of the moment in boys’ names. Sure, Calvin and Wesley have been around forever (and both, coincidentally, the names of historic Protestant religious reformers…), but names like Callum, Callan, Callahan, Weston and Westley have all shot up in popularity recently, while Mac – together with the even more popular spelling Mack – is likely rising on the coattails of Jack. Kit though… not a lot of Kitsons, Kitleys etc., and even the connection to Christopher/Christian isn’t obvious. There must be more to the popularity of Kit than just a trendy sound.

    But consider this also. Mac, Cal and Wes are all firmly boys’ names. But plug Kit into Laura’s wonderful NameGrapher tool and check it out – the graphs of usage of Kit for boys and girls is eerily similar. Small peaks for both in the 1950s, followed by decline, and now a sharper peak in the last decade. The number per million births for both sexes is very close. Interesting! I believe Laura had an article a while back about how rare names are that are actually unisex in usage, but Kit definitely seems to be one of them. I wonder if it will stay this gender-balanced moving forward?

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