I have just begun this book. What a find! Curiousities of Puritan Nomenclature (1880) by Charles W. Bardsley of the still-extant “Harleian Society” regarding genealogy and heraldry — witness their motto The Glory of Children are their Fathers, which is as spectacularly self-serving as it gets for a bunch of Fudds doing genealogy. But go grab the FREE book: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/39284/39284-h/39284-h.htm
The first lines of the first section shed a mighty light on English nicknames, with the opening shot: “The Paucity of Names After the [Norman] Conquest.” The old English (indeed Old English) names were simply driven out of the language, and a very few Norman names caught on rapidly. And so for four hundred years there was a great winnowing of names, so that:
In every community of one hundred Englishmen about the year 1300, there would be an average of twenty Johns and fifteen Williams; then would follow Thomas, Bartholomew, Nicholas, Philip, Simon, Peter, and Isaac from the Scriptures, and Richard, Robert, Walter, Henry, Guy, Roger, and Baldwin from the Teutonic list. Of female names, Matilda, Isabella, and Emma were first favourites, and Cecilia, Catharine, Margaret, and Gillian came closely upon their heels. Behind these, again, followed a fairly familiar number of names of either sex, some from the Teuton, some from the Hebrew, some from the Greek and Latin Church, but, when all told, not a large category.
And so with great confusion, everybody was named the same damned thing, giving rise to a profusion of pet names to distinguish between persons.
Mr. Burns, who quotes these instances in his “History of Parish Registers,” adds that at this same time “one John Barker had three sons named John Barker, and two daughters named Margaret Barker.”
If the same family had but one name for the household, we may imagine the difficulty when this one name was also popular throughout the village. The difficulty was naturally solved by, firstly, the adoption of nick forms; secondly, the addition of pet desinences. Thus Emma became by the one practice simple Emm, by the other Emmott; and any number of boys in a small community might be entered in a register as Bartholomew, and yet preserve their individuality in work-a-day life by bearing such names as Bat, Bate, Batty, Bartle, Bartelot, Batcock, Batkin, and Tolly, or Tholy. In a word, these several forms of Bartholomew were treated as so many separate proper names.
So this first chapter is entitled The Pet-Name Epoch in England, and lays the groundwork for what became an absolute riot of names in the New World. There are waves and rationales for the odd names you see in your family tree, as I do in mine with given names such as Zelodus (m) and Uranah (f), Increase (m) and Sane (f).
But when we come to realize that nearly one-third of Englishmen were known either by the name of William or John about the year 1300, it will be seen that the pet name and nick form were no freak, but a necessity.
The writing is (so far) lively and engaged, and the topic is instantly fascinating. What’s that? I cannot hear you for the reverberations of the Norman Conquest still deafening my ears.