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What is the etymology of nickname?

The history of this word - for a familiar or humorous descriptive name given to a person, place, or thing - also tells us a bit more about the history of names in general. Nicknames were used in ancient Greece and Rome, especially in an affectionate way for children. In Anglo-Saxon times, surnames did not exist and nicknames were used to help identify a person. Originally, these were called ekenames, as eke meant 'also or added; additional'. In writing, the term an ekename at some point became incorrectly divided and the n from an was split off and added to ekename, becoming first nekename (and neke name) and eventually, nickname (c. 1674). In Europe, surnames began to be used in the 12th century, but it took several centuries before the majority of Europeans had surnames. The primary purpose of the surname was to further distinguish people from one another. By the 13th century, about a third of the male population was named William, Richard, or John. To uniquely identify them, people began referring to different Williams as "William the son of Andrew" (leading to Anderson), "William the cook" (leading to Cook), "William from the river" (leading to Rivers), or "William the brown-haired" (leading to Brown). Eventually these surnames became inherited. Surnames derived from nicknames include ones like White, Young, and Long.

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