Baby Naming Issue: Using an Initials Nickname

Dear Swistle and name enthusiasts,

Our first child (our rainbow baby) was born at the end of January. After three miscarriages over two years of trying to start a family, we ended up deciding to go with two family names for his name so that we could honour many important men in our life all at once: James David is his name (the first name is my FIL and three of our four grandfathers’ name and the middle name is my father’s name).

With many men named James on both family trees nicknamed “Jim” or “Jimmy”, we knew that choosing this name meant we would be doomed to have another “Jim” unless we were proactive and chose a nickname ourselves from the get-go. We fell in love with using his initials as his nickname before he was even born. Especially since I wanted his middle name to feel as important as his first, being my own father’s name.

Now he is six months old, and I’m wondering if anyone has experience or stories to share about using initials as a nickname? I find myself tripping up when introducing him to new people — do I introduce him as James or JD? When he goes to school one day, will he write James at the top of his work or do we encourage JD as his everyday name? So far at the doctor’s office they have him down as James but there’s a place on the form to write “preferred name”, do we begin to have them call him JD also?

I’d appreciate stories of how an “initials name” has worked out for others, either as their own name or as a parent with a child who uses initials. I’m noticing that using initials feels less like a “nickname” and more like his everyday use name, compared to my experience as a Stephanie and being called Steph sometimes. No one else in our families have initials as their nickname/name. Just curious how others have handles this, or how the think they would handle it if they went a similar route.

I suppose I’m wondering, should we commit to JD all the time or should we use James and then JD will just happen when speaking to him/with family and friends as they get to know him (more casually)?

I was always name obsessed, so the fact I named my child with a nickname style I don’t have any experience with is throwing me off! Thank you in advance for hopefully publishing my letter! I’ve attached a photo of our lovebug as well.



It seems to me that an initials nickname would be the same as any other nickname in terms of introductions and so forth. If you had a baby William and you wanted him called Liam, then I would suggest saying “This is Liam” to casual acquaintances at the park, and “This is William; we call him Liam” to doctors and schools. Any time the nickname might cause confusion (such as when the receptionist might have the appointment down with the full legal name), I would say William and then Liam; any time there is no reason to share the full version (the other baby at the grocery store doesn’t need to know the story while exchanging waves), just say Liam. Any time there is a space on paperwork for nickname or preferred name, you’d write Liam. A child named William but always called Liam would write “Liam” on his school papers.

Same with an initials nickname such as JD: if you’re at baby sing-along and the group needs a name for the “Hello, ______!” song, say JD. When you bring him for class the first day, tell the teacher “This is James; we call him JD.” If she wants to make you a name tag with your name and your baby’s name on it, the name tag would say “Stephanie / JD.” When there is space on paperwork for a nickname or preferred name, you’d write JD.

My youngest went by a two-initial nickname up until kindergarten, when he said he wanted to use his given name instead. But before then, we put that nickname on his paperwork as his preferred name (after asking him what he wanted me to put there, since he used his given name and his nickname), and so his preschool teachers wrote his nickname on his cubby, his paperwork folder, and on the wall displays; he wrote his nickname on his papers, and that’s what his classmates called him.

My guess is that there are a couple of things tripping you up:

1. JD is not the kind of automatic nickname you’re accustomed to with Stephanie/Steph. People named Jennifer and Stephanie and David may find that people call them Jen and Steph and Dave whether they like it or not. With a name like JD, you have to tell people or they won’t know. I suspect the issue here isn’t so much with initials nicknames, but rather with nicknames that require a little announcement (Mia for Amelia, for example, or Nell for Penelope).

2. Even more, “Steph” is right on the edge of being a pet name rather than a nickname. I can picture a business card with “Jenny Miller” or “Dave Miller” or “J.D. Miller” on it, but “Steph Miller” would be more unexpected: the nickname Steph seems more casual.

Wait. I just thought of a third thing: Are you not using the nickname much yet? I was picturing you calling him JD at home and with family already, but are you calling him James right now and waiting to activate the nickname? If so, would you prefer to just call him James for now? You can absolutely do that. For one thing, I don’t think people go directly to Jim/Jimmy for kids named James anymore, just like they wouldn’t go straight to Billy for a William or Bobby for a Robert.

But if you’d like him to be known as JD, and you’re not calling him that at home yet, then my actual first suggestion is to start using it most of the time at home: I think that will help a LOT with the awkward feelings/introductions. And the rest of it doesn’t matter much, or can wait. If the doctor calls him James, that doesn’t throw anything off even if he’s JD to everyone else in his life; and what he writes on his school papers can wait a few more years.

I’m thinking this through as I’m writing, but I guess the real decision here is this (and this seems to be exactly what you’re asking, now that I’m looking at it this way): Do you want him called JD all the time and NOT called James? or do you want him called James, but when people reach for a nickname you want them to reach for JD?

If you want him called JD and not called James, then this is definitely the time to completely saturate his environment with JD: JD should be on his doctor forms, his daycare/preschool forms, his baby sing-along forms, and on your calendar when you write down his appointments. You’d refer to him as JD when discussing him with your husband or your families, and introduce him that way to all new acquaintances. If there’s no space on a form for a nickname, you’d write the nickname in parentheses.

But if you want him called James-and-JD (just not James-and-Jim), then you can play this whole thing much more casually. When you are making a new friend at the park, you might introduce him as James and then add “…or we also call him JD”—or you might just say “This is James” and then the new friend will hear you say, “JD, do you want a drink of water?” and pick up on that, just as you would if she introduced a William and then asked Liam if he wanted a drink. With the doctor, it wouldn’t matter much what the doctor calls him because the child will recognize both James and JD as his name; but it’s good to have JD in the file in case a daycare/school submits a request for paperwork and uses JD instead of James. In school, the teacher will understand that the child is called James and JD, and will probably ask you and/or him which he’d prefer; if he writes either one on the top of the paper, the teacher will know it’s him.

22 thoughts on “Baby Naming Issue: Using an Initials Nickname

  1. Stephanie

    We have a son who was born J@cob Jefferson, but we called him JJ throughout the pregnancy because we couldn’t decide whether the order of those two names would be in that order or flipped. After he was born the nickname JJ just stuck. JJ is now a second grader so I feel qualified to confirm that what Swistle said has held true for us! Most people we meet, we say “This is JJ” or he says “I’m JJ”. When meeting a new teacher, we tell them his full name and that he goes by JJ, and he writes JJ on top of his school papers. In his kindergarten classroom, the teacher changed the signs she had premade so they said “JJ” instead of “Jacob”; in first grade, they just said “Jacob” and he still knew who he was. We’ve also told JJ why his nickname came about and that he is free to decide to go by Jake, Jacob, Jeff, or whatever he likes at any point, but except for a rogue week as “Jake” last summer, JJ has stuck.

  2. Dances with diapers

    It sounds to me that you want him primarily to be called JD as you said you want both his first and middle names to feel equally important. So, I would introduce him as JD and put that on paperwork and such (if I’m correct thinking that’s what you want his primary identity to be.) I will say, though, as a Rebecca who went by Becca primarily through the age of 18, I preferred to write my full name on papers and to see my full name when in print. I always corrected teachers who wrote Becca or the initials BM on my paper as my name was Rebecca, even though I never made them call me that. My daughter is 3. She is named Lucille but prefers to go by Lulu. Now that we’re starting to work on writing I am making sure she recognizes and can eventually write both Lucille and Lulu. So I would suggest in a few years, even if he’s go by JD, you teach him to write and recognize James David. Then he can chose in which situations he uses his nickname and in which his full. He’s adorable by the way, congratulations!

  3. Teej

    I have always gone by an initial nickname – all through my childhood, and now I still use it as an adult, even professionally. However, my email signature and business cards say FirstName MiddleInitial LastName (Initial Nickname); I do that primarily so that people know/remember I am a girl! (There are not nearly as many girls with initial nicknames as boys!) I love my initial nickname. It feels like me! I actually also like my full name; I think it is pretty. But nobody calls me that, so it is just a kind of abstract fondness.

    JD is an adorable nickname for your little boy; I like what you said about how it makes the “D” for David, your father’s name, feel more weighty. So go for it! Always introduce him as JD, like Swistle suggested, unless it is a more formal situation where you might say, “this is James David, we call him JD.”

    Initial name love forevah!

  4. Jenine

    What a charming picture! JD rolls off the tongue and is a great nickname. Sounds a little southern to me, in a good way.

  5. TheFirstA

    I think you are overthinks g this. Treat it like any other nickname. Do the Jims in your family intorduce themselves as “James, but I go by Jim” I’m guessing probably not. They introduce themselves as Jim and then other people infer that they are probably James.

    Introduce your son as JD if that’s what you want him called. So what if people can’t infer his given name? If they need or want to know, they will ask what JD stands for.

  6. Renee

    My friend just went through this! Her JD (not a James David) just turned 1. Similar to everything said above. Treat it as any other nickname that you intend to use primarily. Official papers and documents have the full name, but any place where he would be called aloud, use JD. So JD at social drop-ins and with new friends, JD on his cubby at daycare and school. Not worth the explanation every time with every new person, but for new friends, you can just explain a few meets in, if they haven’t asked already, and I almost guarantee you 75% people just ask. My friend with the JD sent out a birth announcement that started with “Meet JD, J— D—- D—-.” Love the name, it’s so flippin adorable on a little guy. (and CONGRATS on your rainbow baby)

  7. Christi with an I

    I feel very connected to this post. My brothers are James known as Jim and David. I have two nephews that go by initials. JD (Jerry David) is 12. He goes by JD in school and all his activities. I’m sure the school is aware of his full name but I’m not sure that his friends know or care what the JD stands for. My newest nephew is JJ for James Jr. Not specifically his initials but close enough. He is 4 months old. As far as I know my brother introduces him as JJ and that’s all we call him. I grew up with a JJ, a TJ, and an AJ and I know where two of the sets of initials come from but I don’t remember ever being concerned. If you call him JD and that’s what you want others to call him, that’s how I’d introduce him.

  8. Holly

    My neighbor kid across the street is AJ, Aiden James legally. His family named him Aiden James purely so they could call him AJ. He is never called Aiden at home. But, when he went to kindergarten, the teacher would not let him get away with being called AJ, so he is Aiden at school – on his cubby, being addressed by the teacher etc. So, it seems Aiden is his school name (I guess I can see it, you want him to learn how to write his full name), but then people like my daughter who knew him first from outside school, still call him AJ, even at school. Perhaps when he gets to higher grade levels, they’ll let him go back to being AJ?

    1. Christi with an I

      I would have gone to the principal. It’s disrespectful to both the child and the student to insist on calling a child by a name other than what the child and parents prefer. My guy had a teacher early on (2nd grade I think) who insisted on calling him by his whole name. He still identified himself by his NN, wrote it on his papers and its what his friends all called him. It made me so irritated that the teacher felt she could decide that his name should be something else.

  9. Cameron

    My husband is named JD! I love that nickname. His name is John David (his dad’s name is John) and he went by “John David” as a child, then transitioned to “JD” as he got older. I’ve only ever called him “JD” and it’s 100% normal and natural. I go by a nickname 95% of the time as well and it has been no different for him with an initial nickname as me with a shortened version of my first name nickname. All of his legal documents have “John” as his first name of course, but he has always introduced himself professionally and socially as “JD” and it’s never been a problem.

    If you want him to go by JD primarily instead of James, I agree with Swistle that you need to be using it all the time so everyone catches on and calls him by the right name. It would have been much more difficult for my husband if his mother kept telling people “Hi, this is my son John” instead of “John David” or “JD”. His parents will oftentimes still call him “John David” but he’s made sure that when his dad introduces him professionally (they work together) he calls him “JD”.

  10. Reagan

    I agree introduce him primarily as JD but when you need to use his name, say James David. If you don’t use the nickname you want him to go by consistently others may start using Jimmy , Jim or Jamie..

  11. Becky

    As a teacher I have had some experience with initial names. I have had several A.J.’s and they went 100 percent of the time as A.J. I wrote it on their desk tags, locker tags and called them by that name all the time. I also had a boy who went by EJ at home, but preferred to be called Evan at school. Kids sometimes change their name preferences, like Swistle’s son, by as s teacher I will call them what they want to be called. Of course they should KNOW their real name and be able to read and spell it, but all teachers I know call kids by the name they prefer. I have had some kids who like the “grown up” feeling of being called Sophia or Kathleen at school instead of Sophie or Katie, which makes conversations with parents a little strange.

  12. Jd

    Married to a Joseph who went by JD in college, Joe in high school, Joey in elementary school, now back to Joe as an adult. My JD used JD on college papers and was announced that way in collegiate sports. He or his mom put the preferred nick name on forms etc. his forms changed as he out grew Joey and its was no big deal, they expect that.

  13. beep

    I have a daughter who shares my first name. Her dad and I had a thought that this would be confusing and therefore made a vague pre-birth plan for an initial-nickname name for daily use. But we didn’t really use the initial nickname much except when her dad and I were texting about her with each other. Although we initially told people about the nickname when we announced her birth and we put it on her daycare forms, since we rarely used it, everyone else just called her by her first name the way we did. This turned out to be not as confusing as we feared, so now that’s just her name, with occasional verbal use of a non-initial informal nickname (first name+y) that has come about organically. I’m happy with our situation, but I think the moral for you may be: use it consistently if you want it used by others. I’m sure if we had done that, people would have followed our lead.

    1. Candice

      I agree with beep. The exact same thing happened in our case (only my daughter does have a different first name from me).

  14. Elisabeth

    I know a bunch of James’ of all ages. 2 Jims, 2 Jamies, 1 James, and 1 LJ/JR/James depending on who you’re talking to. LJ is the name his parents use, but great-grandma felt he’d be insulted by initials that mean Little James, (He says when he’s bigger he’ll be Large James) so went with his first and middle, and everyone in her area calls him that because she did. I’m fuzzy why he goes by James at school, but whatevs. He doesn’t mind. In casual circumstances, he introduces himself as LJ.

  15. Ann

    I recommend using JD (which as a seriously adorable nickname!) in all situations, and if necessary, say that his legal name is James David but that he goes by JD. If you nick other nicknames in the bud straightaway, people are less likely to start referring to him as Jimmy/Jake/Jay or whatever else. He can then make a choice which name he will use in the future. But usually initial nicknames seem to work out well. A character on the ABC show speechless is called JJ (short for James Junior) and it seems very normal on him, and he is a high school student.

  16. Stephanie

    I agree with Swistle’s advice! Our son is J@cob Jefferson. When I was pregnant we couldn’t decide the order of the names, so we called him JJ throughout the pregnancy and it stuck even after he was born. He is usually introduced as JJ, occasionally more formally as “Jacob, who goes by JJ” or “Jacob Jefferson, who goes by JJ.” In kindergarten, his teacher adjusted all of the signs she had made so they would say JJ. In first grade, his teacher just left them as “Jacob” (classroom decoration is clearly done before they find out preferred names) but JJ was fine with that too. He still wrote JJ at the top of all of his papers. He knows we fully support him deciding to go by something else (Jake, Jacob, Jeff or Jefferson) at any point, but he really likes going by JJ.

  17. Stephanie

    Thank you so much for publishing my letter, Swistle!! I appreciate your advice, and the comments are very helpful as well. We have been calling him JD as a nickname with family and friends since day one. We had kept the baby name a secret until he was born, and then introduced him by name in person to his namesakes and we immediately told them our idea to use JD. It seems to be taking off okay, I was just tripped up since it IS taking off so well about the decision I’ve made here. I think this is also why it began to feel like his everyday use name and not just a nickname. I really appreciate hearing some more perspectives about initial names, and that other JD’s out there sound normal and natural to people.

    I’m a teacher myself, I just haven’t had any students with an initials name! This is why I am thinking ahead too far to his school days. I teach Kindergarten, which I feel like it’s such an important time in establishing preferred names. We do have lots of time to cross that bridge when we come to it, but I so appreciate the stories of the life experiences of initials names.

    Thanks again!!

  18. Stephanie

    I have friends with a son “JD”. They gave him his first and middle name specifically to get the name JD, and he goes by that exclusively. His full name is only on his birth certficate and formal records (doctors office). They always introduce him as JD and that’s what everyone calls him.

    I also have friends with a James. No one calls him Jim or Jimmy.

  19. elizabeth

    I’m only de-lurking to say that the name JD is adorable and I’m kind of sad I didn’t think of it myself. I hope you decide to start using it exclusively. Also your baby is super cute.

  20. Hope

    My nephew is an AJ-and-Andrew situation. He answers to both. I think my BIL and SIL introduce him by Andrew, but much like Swistle said people hear him called AJ and pick up on it. My daughter is a Grace that almost exclusively goes by Gracie, so that’s how I introduce her. I had her preschool use that on her name tag and when she’s learning to write her name. The doctor’s office calls her Grace, but she knows that’s her name too.


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