Why is “Dick” Short for “Richard”?

What is going on here?

Why is “Bob” short for “Robert” or “Bill” short for “William”? I’ve always wondered about these language anomalies and never knew the answer. “Rich” should be the nickname for “Richard”, “Will” for “William”, and “Rob” for “Robert”, right?

You might know Richard Wagstaff Clark better as Dick Clark, born November 30, 1929 – died April 18, 2012, best known for hosting American Bandstand from 1956 to 1989. Also, George Robert Newhart, born September 5, 1929, is better known as the actor, and comedian Bob Newhart. There is even William Frederick Cody, February 26, 1846 – January 10, 1917, better known as Buffalo Bill.

Well, you probably noticed that the weird names rhyme with the common nicknames and this is the secret. It seems that in the 12th and 13th centuries, due to the need to handwrite everything, short versions of names were quite common, to save time writing. So, “Richard” became “Rich”, “Ric” and/or “Rick”. During this same period, rhyming nicknames were quite common so “Rich” became “Dick” or “Hick”, “Rob” became “Bob” and “Will” became “Bill”.

“Hick” didn’t stand the test of time but “Dick” is still used. It also has been used as a general term for the average man, like “every Tom, Dick, and Harry”, possibly originated by Shakespeare[1].

  • Early evidence of how commonplace it was can be found in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I: I am sworn brother to a leash of Drawers, and can call them by their names, as Tom, Dicke, and Francis.


English-Language Thoughts

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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