Okay. Before we get to today’s letter writer, yes, I have to address that baby name. I kept wanting to write ‘alleged’ because I really don’t believe it, but they’ve both confirmed it’s true – their baby is named X Æ A-12, which I would wager is the most copy-and-pasted item over the last 24 hours. Here’s how Grimes “explained” the name: 

Right. Sure. Thanks for the clarification, because that explains NOTHING. They’ve not clarified on pronunciation, although they’re arguably busy with a new baby. If I had to guess, I’d say it “Zeya-Twelve”, or maybe “Exaya-Twelve”, the way some people say ‘Xavier’. But come ON now. First of all, they’re never going to say all that every time, and it smells a lot to me like it’s a dupe name, or at least a ‘public’ name, because people have been waiting on it and expecting something worthy of these two weirdos, and they sure as hell showed up for that. 


I bet money they’ll use something else in private, whether it’s another name altogether or a nickname. Maybe he’ll wind up as Zazie, like Zazie Beets? We can hope. 

Okay, on to the letter writer, whose email title I stole for this piece because it’s amazing:

Hi Duana,

Here's a weird one for you (I am just going to assume that Coronavirus-imposed isolation has us all thinking and re-thinking things).

Part 1: What's the statute of limitations on "official" nicknames?

I have a daughter named Margaret who is nearly 2 years old. It's a family name, but to be totally honest, we had a hard time deciding and ended up choosing it more because it felt like a good choice, rather than something we absolutely loved. Fast-forward to present day, and we have a feisty, affectionate, hilarious, extroverted little firecracker whose personality is bursting at the seams. She has certainly redefined the name for me, but every time I see another historical Margaret, they just seem so sober and boring. And of course, her generation will mostly associate her name with an animated Tiger. My point is: part of me really wants to free her of association with too many other Margarets. (Related: there seem to be a ton of Margots in her generation too, which I know is technically different, but strikes me as a kind of Kate/Katie/Katelyn problem.)

My loophole of course, is that Margaret is one of the most nickname-prone names that ever existed - Peggy, Polly, Molly, Mila, Maggie, Betsy, and Greta are just a few of the monikers of people whose legal names are actually Margaret. So there's certainly precedent, but my question is, how old (or rather, how young) do you think the person needs to be to have this kind of unofficial name-reassignment take place? 

Part of me, honestly, is like f-ck it, if Puff Daddy/Sean Combs/P. Diddy can rename himself well into his mid-life (and not just once, but many times!), then surely I can do it before my daughter is 2! The practical side of me has thoughts including: I'd better do this before she joins an official preschool; before she is reliably saying her own name; and as soon as possible so that the extended family and friend network can get their gossiping about my weirdness out of the way and just get behind the name change. 

My question is: am I too late? What's the age by which you can reasonably embrace a new moniker, and actually have it stick?

Part 2: The "new" name

Assuming you agree with part 1 (Lean into the Puff Daddy Energy!) the question becomes: what can the "new" name be? Of the names most typically associated with Margaret, I like Greta the most - but if my point is to be carving out some room for originality, then that kind of falls flat due to its association with Greta Thunberg (probably one of the most important advocates of our time, whose notoriety and influence I can only imagine will grow and grow...unless we just reduce the entire planet to a smoking charred orb, in which case, no one's names will matter anyway). Also, the practical side of me feels like the name Greta will grow in popularity in future years for precisely this reason (or maybe not? It's pretty heavy to saddle a baby with a name associated with such singular individuals - it's not like there are a ton of Malalas and Jacindas out there).

The name I have actually been calling her the most is Ginger, but her hair isn't red per se - is it weird to call someone Ginger, when their legal name is Margaret, and their hair doesn't scream Anne of Green Gables? Personally I love that Ginger is retro, more unique for its generation, and a good fit for her mischievous personality. Does Ginger make any sense? Or is there a name I'm missing? 

Or do nicknames just happen (or not) and I'm crazy to try and force something?

Anyway! Feel free to just tell me to download a meditation podcast and to ride out the rest of this quarantine lockdown.


I mean, a meditation podcast sounds like a good idea in general, but not because I think you’re over the top here. I mean, you ARE, but not because of the questions here. I like the substance of what’s going on, and as long as you promise it’s not keeping you up at night and that you’re also able to have baths or glasses of wine or sink into bad TV, then I’m happy to proceed. Ready? 

It seems like your biggest question here is “How Soon Do I Have To Make The Call?!” and to me, that’s the easiest to answer – in the words of Mean Girls, ‘the limit does not exist’. 

I think I might have felt differently before, in saying that your kid was going to form their identity around their name – and I think I would still feel that way if it were a binary ‘nickname or not’ scenario, like how Sasha Obama is actually Natasha – if you want something like Sasha to stick, you have to use it early and often after the birth announcement so things don’t get confusing. 

But the flipside of a name that’s been used for literal centuries – Catherine, Elizabeth, Margaret, maybe Mary – is that the bearers are, more than most, aware of all the nicknames associated therein. That book ‘Catherine, called Birdy’ comes to mind, but so does your Kate/Katie/Kaitlyn example, and all the nicknames associated with Margaret that you list above. It’s a particular name privilege for women with those names in particular to be able to use any of the associated nicknames, no matter how rare, and to not only flip between them, but to be different names with different people. My high school friend was named Beth – or so I thought. When I met her parents and family, though, they mostly called her Elizabeth, and it didn’t seem to bother her; on the contrary, she had the pleasure of ‘getting’ to be Beth with her friends, and Elizabeth to her family; whatever the distinction between those two names were for her, she got to be both (though she shuddered when I asked if she’d ever been Liza). And I feel like this has been a plot point in a million books and movies: some little girl meets a grandfatherly type who chuckles when she introduces herself, all “Catherine/Margaret/Elizabeth? Why, I think I’ll call you Cat/Daisy/Libby”, and they go on to have a beautiful friendship. 

So you’ve given your daughter a gift, and knowing she’s both Margaret and another name – or multiple names – of her own is going to make her delighted at the magic she can perform. Absolutely lean into the Puff Daddy Energy of it all. In fact, just the way you would encourage her to try out lots of activities or romantic partners before choosing one that was hers for life, you can encourage her to try out different versions and derivatives of Margaret as the mood strikes her. 

Now, when we get to specifics, it’s true that the name Greta is much more popular than we remember from our own youth. It’s currently in the top 50 in several European countries and was recently in the top 10 in Italy – but you might be surprised to know that it’s been trending upward in the US since 2002, which means the otherwise iconic Greta Thunberg is part of a trend, rather than starting one. 


That said, I like the name personally so it wouldn’t turn me off, but I think you’re right to be aware that there may be a lot in the coming years, especially as an alternative for the now-tired Grace. There are a ton of other attractive options, of course, including the ones listed above – but I was thinking that you might like to take a second look at Meg. 

I’ve always liked Meg. There’s something kind of stalwart and resolute-but-spunky about it, Meg March aside. It feels immediately affectionate, but it’s not so far from Margaret that it’s shocking when people find out her ‘real’ name. Plus, if you want to nickname her Ginger on top of that (which you absolutely should if she likes it), you have that G front and centre as a link. 

But if this doesn’t do it for you, you could go with Ginny (admittedly I’m getting this from Ginger, but so what?) or Mara, or Maisie – or, if you want something really unexpected, I have an aunt whose legal name is Margaret, but I’ve always known her as Rita… which is allllmost ready for a re-up, popularity wise. 

Okay, now you should go and make yourself a calming tea and take a walk. But I think you’re both not wrong to think about this and richer than you think in terms of both time and potential nicknames. (And I feel sure I’m going to hear from a lot of Margarets about what they were and are called in various parts of their lives.) 

Let us know!