In addition to regular names, in many cultures there are special versions of a person’s name used only in familiar circumstances. Sometimes these personal names, used by close friends and relatives, are known as diminutives (Sp. diminutivos), nicknames and sobriquets (Sp. apodos, motes), and pet names (Sp. sobrenombres, nombres cariñosos).[i]
The technical word for such names is hypocorisms in English and (nombres) hipocorísticos in Spanish.[ii] English also uses the adjective hypocoristic as a noun, with the same meaning. The word’s origin is Greek, obviously. It is derived from the Greek verb ὑποκορίζομαι (hupokorízomai), which now means ‘to talk in a childish manner’, which in Ancient Greek was formed from the prefix ὑπό (hupó, cf. Eng. hypo‑ and Sp. hipo‑) ‘under, secretly’ and the root κορίζομαι (korízomai) ‘to caress’, which itself is formed from the root κόρ‑ (kór-) ‘child’, cf. κόρος (kóros) ‘boy’, κόρη (kórē) ‘girl’.
Hypocorisms in personal names are primarily either shortened names, e.g. Tony < Anthony, or they contain a diminutive suffix, e.g. Johnny < John, or both, e.g. Vicky < Victoria, Cindy < Cynthia. Shortenings are very common in English, e.g. Al (< Allan, etc.), Bert (< Albert), Amy (< Amanda), Carol or Lyn < Caroline, Dave < David, Dan < Daniel, Gabe < Gabriel, Ken < Kenneth, Mike < Michael, etc.
In English the suffix -y or ‑ie, both pronounced [i], is often added to names to turn them into hypocorisms, as in Johnny < John. Sometimes this suffix is added to the shortened version of the name, e.g. Kenny < Ken < Kenneth, Mikey (Micky) < Mike < Michael, and sometimes it replaces the final syllable, e.g. Charly < Charles, Judy < Judith.
A major way to turn personal names into hypocorisms in Spanish is by adding the diminutive suffix ‑it‑ (‑ito in the masculine and ‑ita in the feminine), e.g. Juanito < Juan, Anita < Ana. Another way to create Spanish hypocorisms is by shortening, as in English, e.g. Manu < Manuel, Alber < Alberto, Javi < Javier, Lupe < Guadalupe. This happens to compound given names as well (see below), e.g. Juanma < Juan Manuel, Juanra < Juan Ramón. We even find shortenings of diminutives, such as Fito < Adolfito < Adolfo. Additionally, there are many nicknames that are corruptions and other non-transparent alterations of the name, e.g. Pepe < José, Pancho/Paco/Curro < Francisco, Lola < María Dolores, Charo < María del Rosario, etc.
Some of the alterations found in hypocoristics could be the result of how children pronounce certain sounds that are difficult to pronounce, as in the nickname Quique, from Enrique. The common nickname Pepe, so different from the ‘real’ version of the name, José, is probably borrowed from Italian, where Peppe (as well as Beppe and other fpr,s) are hypocorisms of the Italian version of the name, namely Giuseppe. (José and Joseph ultimately come from the Hebrew yôsef (יוסף), which became Ιωσηφ (Ioseph) in Greek and Ioseph in Latin.) The origin of the nickname Paco for Francisco is unknown too, but it may also come from Italian, where Franco is an alternative of the name Francesco, from where Francisco comes, and Paco is a reasonable child-speak version of Franco.
Curiously, we find Spanish hypocorisms that end in ‑i, pronounced [i],identical in sound to a common English way of creating hypocorisms. Some of these are probably due to English influence, such as Susi < Susana (cf. Eng. Susie), Viki < Victoria (cf. Eng. Vickie). Others may have been formed by analogy, such as Pili < Pilar < Maria del Pilar (see above).
A hypocorism may come from another language. That is the case of the hypocorisms Concha and Conchita of the woman’s name Concepción, which is an interesting case study on how names change and travel.[iii] The name Concepción comes from Latin stem conceptiōn‑, a noun form derived from the (past participle stem concep‑) of the Latin verb concĭpĕre (con+cap+ĕre; cf. Part II, Chapter 9), meaning ‘to receive, catch, grasp’. From this verb come the cognate verbs Sp. concebir and Eng. conceive come from that Latin verb and both mean, among other things, ‘to become pregnant’.
The name Concepción makes reference to the conception of Jesus in his mother’s womb, which according to Christian dogma took place without human intervention, hence the terms Eng. Immaculate Conception and Sp. inmaculada concepción, which is the source of the name. Interestingly, the hypocorisms Conchita for this name were taken from their Italian Concetta, which is not a hypocorism, but the equivalent of Sp. Concepción (from Lat. concepta ‘conceived’, the feminine form of Lat. conceptus).[iv] The Italian hypocorisms of Concetta are Cettina, Tina, Titina, and Cetta. Of these, Tina is not an uncommon first name in recent times in the United States, for instance. (There is a male version of this name in Italian, but not in Spanish, namely Concetto.)
Finally, Spanish speakers reinterpreted Conchita, which literally happens to mean ‘little shell’ in Spanish, as a diminutive, and so from it they derived the other hypocorism for this name, Concha, which literally means ‘shell’. (In some parts of the Spanish-speaking world, such as most of the southern cone of South America, concha is a vulgar word for the female sexual parts and thus the hypocorisms Concha and Conchita are avoided there.)