Baby Naming Issue: How to Spell the Unexpected Nickname?

Dear Swistle: You’ve helped me name two of my kids: the oldest and the youngest! Middle, as per usual, named himself. I’m done ​having children so I never in a bajillion years thought I’d be writing to you again. Here’s the thing, though. Marina Lynn, (our youngest, now four months old) though she’s obviously a Marina, has gotten a nickname, pronounced REE REE. The nickname came about as we watched her smile and giggle at us. It just stuck! “Hi REE REE!” we say. I think I started it. But now that this nickname is gaining traction I don’t know how to spell it. Is it Ree Ree or is it a RiRi or a Reeree or a Riri? Honestly? I don’t like any of the spellings! None of them jump out at me. And then I panic a little bit! Why didn’t I predict this contingency? What will we dooooooooo? I would ditch the nickname except for the fact that it’s sticking. Just heard my middle child call her Riri. (RiRi, Ree Ree, Reeree). Why am I panicking about this? Oh, I don’t know! Why do name freak-er outers freak out about names? THAT MUST BE THE REASON. I guess I’m feeling pressure to pick a spelling that is the BEST spelling in case it sticks all the way to high school. I thought you might be interested in tackling the subject of nicknames for a second and musing about it. And maybe, just maybe, we could do a poll?


I vote for not deciding now. The child is four months old; if the nickname sticks around long enough for her to need a consistent spelling for it, she will pick what she likes. So many babies have baby-talk nicknames along the lines of Ree-ree, Nee-nee, Sissy, La-la, Boo-boo bear, etc., and most of those nicknames drop by the wayside, or are only used in spoken language—or, if they need to be used in writing, the chosen spelling evolves. Ree Ree may be very temporary, or maybe she’ll grow up and be known to all as Ree, but at this point I would say there is no need for any of these three things: (1) panic, (2) regret, (3) a final decision. Let Marina handle this one if needed, when she’s old enough to do so. If you find you need a written form before then, pick your least-disliked of the ones you don’t like. I personally am a fan of Ree Ree, but I think it matters approximately zero at this point.

If I had to guess, my guess is that you are panicking about this because you have three young kids and one of them is a tiny baby. There is probably quite a bit of life-rearranging and adjustment going on right now, and probably not very much sleep. I think too that baby-name people tend to be PLANNERS, and we don’t like SURPRISES with the names we choose. If it makes you feel better to figure out a spelling, then I say continue to work on it—but it sounds like it’s making you feel worse. I don’t know if it will work for you, but one of my own favorite Coping Thoughts (it will not surprise you, I think, to learn that I frequently struggle with this exact type of panic/regret/must-decide-NOW situation) is “It’s okay to let this continue for now without a decision.” It would be absolutely fine to spell it an assortment of ways for now, and let a favorite spelling emerge with time.

25 thoughts on “Baby Naming Issue: How to Spell the Unexpected Nickname?

  1. Rachel

    I vote Riri or RiRi just based on the spelling of her actual name.

    I did have a similar situation growing up. My name is Rachel Renee, and some people called me Ray Nay, but the spellings were all over the place. Rae Nay, Ray Nae, Rae Nae, with spaces, without spaces, etc. etc. It never bothered me that there was no consensus.

  2. Elle

    I know an Erin who continues to be called by the childhood nicknames of Ree Ree and Ree (I am 25, and she is older than I am, for reference), if that helps. I see people write it out, just like that, on Facebook all the time for her.

    And, The Pioneer Woman, whose name is Ree, makes that spelling jump out as the most natural to me, as well.

    “Riri” I would pronounce similarly to Rory, with the emphasis only on the first half, and more like “Rear-y,” which is not what you want. “RiRi” makes me think of Rihanna, who I like, but that is a strong association. That could be great, if you like Rihanna, or if this makes the nickname sound more possible for high school to you! Rihanna had a line of lipsticks called things like RiRiWoo, which were very popular. Reeree looks too long to me, like it is one long word rather than two short sounds. It also makes me think of yeehaw, meemaw, referee, and reefer, but those might just be me. And, again, I would want to pronounce it more like “Reer-yy.” I would not even use ReeRee.

    Ree Ree/ Ree
    or RiRi
    would be my choices.

    Good luck! Swistle is correct that this does not matter right now, but I would want to have something decided on if it were me, and so….

    P.S. My page keeps going to a blank screen when I click Post Comment, and so Swistle please delete the first two of these if they all ever show up!

    1. Shannon

      Yes to this, also! RiRi AND Riri both evoke Rihanna, for me. This will likely not be true when Marina is a little older, but it’s relevant because it’s an easy reference point for many people. Also, as has been pointed out, it’s the spelling that’s actually derivative of a syllable in her name.

    2. Cameron

      I immediately thought of the Pioneer Woman, too (in a good way!). Her actual name is Ann Marie, and has gone by Ree forever. So I don’t think it’s crazy to go from Marina to Ree at all, and actually prefer that spelling because I think it ages well.

  3. Celeste

    I have only known one person whose baby-talk name stuck around long enough to have a spelling. I think of these as different than a nickname. A nickname seems fine for public, a baby talk name does not. It seems more like a term of endearment, if that helps. Examples of nicknames, to me:
    Michael / Mike
    Thomas James / TJ
    Margaret / Peg
    Josephine / Jo

    1. Holly

      Exactly. You probably won’t introduce her to strangers as Reeree. My eldest son is Wyatt but we call him Wozzie almost exclusively at home. I would never introduce him to the little old lady at the store as Wozzie. I see Reeree as the same.

    2. Eli

      lol, I actually go by one myself. Eli is from college, and some of my college friends still use it. Most people use Elisabeth but close friends and family call me E (including 2 from college), from my sister’s babytalk E-E

  4. onelittletwolittle

    I think there are different kinds of nicknames based on how those nicknames are used and circulated.

    My son has a nickname – Gilly – that I write on folders, baseball forms, lunchbox labels. I call him “Gil” quite a lot: “Gil, where are you?” or “Stop it, Gil!” or “What’s up, Gil?” But I would never ever write “Gil.” Even writing it now is weird. That’s not his written-down name. The written-down “Gil” doesn’t look like him. It’s a nickname that is spoken, never written.

    Same with my daughter. I call her “Ads” more than “Addie” all the time. But I would never write “Ads.” Again, weird.

    This is a question I’ve been thinking about with my baby, whose official written-down nickname is Essie. But I more often call her “Es” (“S?”) or “Doodle” or “Maisie Moo.”

    So I think there’s another layer of nicknames: nicknames that are written (and therefore might benefit from a certain decided-upon spelling) and nicknames that are only spoken, and therefore don’t need to have an official spelling.

  5. Suzanne

    This is the type of post that makes me wish that you offered a General Advice service, Swistle. So calm. So reasonable. So empathetic. Sometimes firm, but always fair.

    1. Traci

      YES! I was just coming on here to say the same thing. Being the recipient of the advice, I loved how you said “It matters approximately ZERO at this point” in a way that was calming rather than ruffling my feathers!

      So right in that life is chaos right now. No need for more!

      I have to say, the “sticky” part of this nickname is unexpected for me because it’s my kids that are using it.

  6. Kelsey D

    I agree… nothing to panic about at this time. There are so many factors = will the nickname even stick? If it sticks, will it be used just by family or will it be broader than that? etc. etc. etc.

    We have a six year old daughter Juliet that we call Jube. It originated from my husband calling her Jujube when she was a baby and then was shortened to Jube or Jubey… that being said, we only ever call her that in speaking with her, no one else besides my husband and I use it, and it isn’t used often enough that we would ever write it out on an application or a card/letter. Conversely, we have a Rose who almost 100% of the time goes by Rosie by everyone that knows and meets her, so we often write her name out as Rosie.
    So I think, just wait and see where the name takes you…. it could just be a cute pet name that a select few closest to her will use or it could stick. No point in worrying about that now.

    For the record, I like Ree Ree…it seems more nickname-ish and tells me, ok yes, she does have a formal name as well. Riri, I’m on the fence if this is a nickname or is this their actual name… is it some variant spelling of Rory? Just my opinion though.

    Good luck and congrats on your babe!

  7. Anonymous

    My lingering question is this – how did your second child name himself? And what is his name?

  8. Shannon

    Swistle is spot on and I’m so glad the original poster has embraced the advice! Indeed, no consensus is needed now; and even if one is reached, it isn’t a guarantee of how little Marina will identify in the future.

    My cousin, the baby of the family (but an adult now), happened into a nickname when she was little, a gift from me and my brother. She still answers to it today. I spell it Tchotchke (as the word is actually spelled in the dictionary). My brother spells it Tchiotchki (reflecting the guess he made at age 10, and never adjusted). Pronounced the same way, and my cousin (who is actually named Rachel) happily accepts both; she chooses to sign things the first way, but it 100% doesn’t matter. They are both her name, in a way. Marina can be Riri and Ree Ree and Reigh-Rhy and whatever else she desires.

  9. TheFirstA

    I’d spell it Riri for the simple reason that it is consistent with other similar-sounding nicknames I’ve encountered (Cici, Mimi, Gigi, Kiki, Fifi, Didi).

    But I also agree with Swistle that the spelling of this particular nickname at this exact moment matters exactly zero. If the nickname sticks & seems to be used often enough that it becomes her default name (as opposed to just a fun family term of endearment) the time to decide about spelling would be when she starts learning to read/write her name.

  10. Renee

    I like ReeRee! Makes me think of Reese and is just ‘friendlier’ than Ri or Rhi for some reason. Although, I do agree that what you and your kids are calling her at 4 months might evolve. But if it makes you feel better to solidify a spelling, why not?

    I’m not sure if she’s your ‘last’ child, but I had a huge (it really felt so huge) naming dilemma with my youngest / last when she was 5 months old, and I feel like it was 75% valid and 25% Name Nerd Who Can’t Let Go. I wanted something to work on, name-wise. So we changed her middle names when she was 9 months old. There really were valid reasons, but I also feel it was something about that postpartum period, mixed with unexpected reactions, mixed with random coincidences, mixed with name nerd without an agenda.

  11. Tommie

    I agree that it doesn’t really matter right now but I totally that it FEELS like it matters and so…it matters? My own naming situation is that my oldest daughter is Alyssa. When she was a baby, she did NOT look like and Alyssa, not at all. So, we called her Lyssie. And I NEEDED to let anyone and everyone (my husband, my step-kids, my parents) know that when they were saying, “Lyssie, they should be spelling it that way in their heads.” They all thought I was insane but it made me feel better (kind of like Anne-spelt-with-an-E) knowing I’d at least mentioned the spelling.

    My step daughter’s name is Jessica. We mostly call her Jess or Jessie. I asked my husband early on how she spelled Jessie. He had no idea. I made him ask her because while it wasn’t important to him, it was important to me to spell it the way she did.

    Weird? Maybe but I wanted to let you know you’re not alone.

  12. Christi

    If I were to worry about spelling I would probably go with Reri . The second vowel makes the first one long so Riri to me would be with a long I. or you could do Ree, or Rei. I have two siblings who’s family baby nickname lasted until they were teens or adults. My oldest sister’s name is Anita, but we called her Dee short for Deeda because my brother couldn’t pronounce her name when he was little and my youngest brother was called Do or Bug short for Doodle Bug, which is what mom called him and we just picked it up. But in writing they were Anita and Dave or David.

  13. Eli

    Eh, don’t worry about it. Nicknames come and nicknames go. My brother’s been Mike since he’s been out of diapers but our sister went from Rebbie to Becky to Becca to Rebecca. I’m E or Eli and E is in fact a short version of my sister’s early attempts at Elisabeth. (She called herself Rebel, much to the amusement of our parents)

    If it does become permanent, I’d go with Ree, but she’ll make her preferences known soon enough.

  14. Dances with diapers

    I feel like I could have written this post about a year and a half ago. When we named our daughter Lucille we planned to call her Lucy. Lucy never fit her. She had a lot of nicknames as a baby and of course we’d call her by her full name (and still do). When she was about 1.5 we started calling her Lulu, a nickname I never thought I liked, but just fit her. By time she turned two it was obvious the nickname would be around awhile and I started to panic about how to spell it. Lou is spelled with an o, so Loulou should be, but there’s no o in Lucille so I didn’t want to use it. But without the o looked silly to me. Should it be one word or two? If one, should I still use two capital Ls? I made myself stop thinking about it because I hated all options and I just never wrote the nickname. Then one day I just started typing Lulu without thinking about it, and now it seems natural. The nickname occurred naturally, let the spelling occur naturally too.

  15. beep

    I have a sister whose name starts with Cha- and whom we called Cha-Cha when she was little. By the time she was in elementary school, though, the nickname was usually shortened to Cha as this was less of a baby name. I suspect Ree Ree may be the same kind of nickname, if it sticks, ending up as Ree. I prefer this spelling to Ri or other more esoteric versions. It will be intersting for you to see how the name evolves!

  16. Maureen

    My husband’s sister is Elise, and goes by Leesey (Lee See) as a family pet name. Our children (3 and 6) call her Auntie Leesey. The spelling of her nickname has ONLY JUST COME UP (at my request – so that kids could address her thank you card correctly).

    I was BAFFLED that my husband didn’t know the spelling of it, and Elise herself I think just PICKED ONE OF THE SPELLINGS when I asked her to. All to say – I feel like I think the same way you do, but outside of the Name Nerd community no one is bothered by such things! :)

  17. Lisa

    My two year old daughter called her Aunt Rachel “Ree Ree” for awhile, and that’s how I spelled it. But I don’t think anyone else cared how to spell it. Now she calls her Rachel just fine and the nickname has been forgotten.

  18. liz

    Agreed no reason to decide that now, so glad that the way Swistle put it was Just Right!!!

    I like either Ree Ree or RiRi. One of my best friends in Elementary school was DiDi (short for Dierdre). She always specified it had “TWO capital Ds, please.”

    Little Marina may decide for her own self how she wants to spell it.

  19. StephLove

    My daughter’s name is June and when she was younger we used to call her Juney/Junie. I preferred the first spelling. Literally everyone else I asked preferred the second one. We were going to let her decide when she was old enough to spell but by then she’d made it clear she preferred to be called June so it was a non-issue.


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