Informal Names

This task is to help you to understand informal English names. On this page: an explanation, examples, how to use these names, and a practice exercise.

In English, and in many other languages, people's given names (not family names) have two forms: a formal form and an informal form. The informal form is usually shorter, to make it more convenient. It is also sometimes called a diminutive or short form.

Mostly these diminutives start with the same letters as the formal name. Here are some examples:

Formal name - Diminutive   Formal name - Diminutive   Formal name - Diminutive
Andrew - Andy   Edward - Ed / Eddy   Patricia / Patrick - Pat
Alan - Al   Elizabeth - Eliza / Liz / Beth   Peter - Pete
Alexander - Al / Alec / Alex / Sandy   Frederick - Fred / Freddy   Richard - Dick / Ricky
Alfred - Al / Fred   Geoffrey - Geoff (pron. "Jeff")   Robert - Bob / Bert
Benjamin - Ben / Benny   Harold - Harry   Samantha / Samuel - Sam
Caroline - Carol   James - Jim / Jimmy   Susan - Sue / Susie
Catherine - Cath / Cathy   Jennifer - Jenny / Jennie   Terrence - Terry
Christopher - Chris   Kenneth - Ken / Kenny   Timothy - Tim
David - Dave / Davy   Michael - Mike, Mick, Mickey   Victoria - Vicky
Daniel - Dan / Danny   Nicholas - Nick / Nicky   Victor - Vic
Diana - Di   Pamela - Pam   William - Bill

How to Use These Names

You can use the short form of a person's name when:

  • you are introduced to them as the short form; e.g. "Jim, I'd like to introduce you to Bill."
  • people sign themselves with the short form; e.g. 'Best wishes, Andy.'
  • when you know someone well, for example when you are good friends.

Do not use diminutives in formal or legal situations, unless the person is using the short form themselves.

Use the full name when warning or criticising a child; e.g. "Alexander Edward Smith, I told you not to do that!"

Do not use a diminutive that someone doesn't like, for example, if someone calls themselves 'Liz', do not call them 'Eliza' or 'Beth'.

Related materials: a list of other names and the related gender.


Here is a practice exercise to help you to remember some of these diminutives. Some of the answers are in the list above, the others you can work out for yourself.

Match the items in the boxes on the left with the items on the right:

  1. Click in the table cell containing the item you want to move.
  2. Click in the table cell where you want the item to go. The words will swap position.
  3. If an item is in the right position, it will have a green background and a tick.
  4. When all the table cells are green and have ticks, you have finished.

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Last updated on: Friday, March 23, 2012