Why is “Dick” Short for “Richard?”

It’s a pretty straightforward answer actually: one of those cases where when you see the steps between A and F, it makes sense.

Back in the 12th and 13th centuries, due to the need to handwrite everything, short versions of names were quite common, to save time writing. Richard was therefore often shortened to Rich, Ric, or Rick. Also at the time, rhyming nicknames were quite common, so Richard often became Dick or Hick (see also: Bob and Bill). Hick never really stood the test of time, but obviously there was something appealing about Dick.


Not only did it become a common nickname for Richards everywhere, but for a long time it was a general term for the average man, much as Jack was later. 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.

This particular line may be the origin of the phrase any/every Tom, Dick, and Harry.

Nowadays of course, the name’s not so common, largely due to it’s cheekier meanings. The first recorded use of dick to mean penis is from the British Army in the 1890s, though it had probably been in use in speech for some time beforehand. The name was still quite common well into the 1950s, though once censorship began to loosen up towards the end of the century, and we became more used to hearing dick as a slang term, it waned in popularity.

The curious thing is why dick came to mean penis. I think it’s because Dick was so emblematic of the average man, that it seemed fitting to name every man’s little man dick, perhaps similar to how Johnson is used in that way in American English, as a deliberately ordinary surname.

There are still a few high-profile Dicks out there (Dick Cheney, Dick Van Dyke, Donald Trump), but I think that in the next 20 years or so it won’t really exist as a name. That happens with names anyway, as they’re quite prone to the whims of fashion (how many Khaleesis and Kylos were there 10 years ago?) It’s just a shame for all the Dicks of the world that their name became a slang term because it was such a popular name in the first place. I guess that’s why it’s never good to become too popular.


24 thoughts on “Why is “Dick” Short for “Richard?”

  1. If this write-up cannot make somebody laugh or at least giggle, I don’t know what would!😂
    Loved this, Niall. You got me at the line where you mentioned names of high-profile Dicks. And ending?- that you nailed.😄

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There are still a few high-profile Dicks out there … Haha ( I laughed at Don being included in the list right there!)… So the progression would be Richard, Rick… Dick… and Dick as penis to make reference to “an average man”?… I thought of the name Roberto… as it is a very common name here and if you say “That guy is … well a Roberto”, it means it is not strictly a man… but a transvestite. When names become a burden, right!? .
    Thanks for sharing Niall! 🙂 xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Under the legal terminology of Ancient Rome, the names “Numerius Negidius” and “Aulus Agerius” were used in relation to hypothetical defendants and plaintiffs.[citation needed]

      The name “John Doe” (or “John Do”), “Richard Roe”, along with “John Roe”, were regularly invoked in English legal instruments to satisfy technical requirements governing standing and jurisdiction, beginning perhaps as early as the reign of England’s King Edward III (1327–1377).Though the rationale behind the choices of Doe and Roe is unknown, there are many suggested folk etymologies. Other fictitious names for a person involved in litigation in medieval English law were “John Noakes” (or “Nokes”) and “John-a-Stiles” (or “John Stiles”). The Oxford English Dictionary states that John Doe is “the name given to the fictitious lessee of the plaintiff, in the (now obsolete in the UK) mixed action of ejectment, the fictitious defendant being called Richard Roe”.

      This usage is mocked in the 1834 English song “John Doe and Richard Roe”:

      Two giants live in Britain’s land,
      John Doe and Richard Roe,
      Who always travel hand in hand,
      John Doe and Richard Roe.
      Their fee-faw-fum’s an ancient plan
      To smell the purse of an Englishman,
      And, ‘ecod, they’ll suck it all they can,
      John Doe and Richard Roe …

      This particular use became obsolete in the UK in 1852:

      As is well known, the device of involving real people as notional lessees and ejectors was used to enable freeholders to sue the real ejectors. These were then replaced by the fictional characters John Doe and Richard Roe. Eventually the medieval remedies were (mostly) abolished by the Real Property Limitation Act of 1833; the fictional characters of John Doe and Richard Roe by the Common Law Procedure Act 1852; and the forms of action themselves by the Judicature Acts 1873–75.”
      Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs v Meier and others (2009).
      In the UK, usage of “John Doe” survives mainly in the form of John Doe injunction or John Doe order (see above).

      If an unknown person has possession of the confidential personal information and is threatening to disclose it, a ‘John Doe’ injunction may be sought against that person. The first time this form of injunction was used since 1852 in the United Kingdom was in 2005 when lawyers acting for JK Rowling and her publishers obtained an interim order against an unidentified person who had offered to sell chapters of a stolen copy of an unpublished Harry Potter novel to the media.
      Unlike the United States, the name “John Doe” does not actually appear in the formal name of the case, for example: X & Y v Persons Unknown [2007] HRLR 4.

      Well-known cases of unidentified corpses include “Cali Doe” (1979) and “Princess Doe” (1982). The baby victim in a 2001 murder case in Kansas City, Missouri, was referred to as Precious Doe.

      In 2009, the New York Times reported the difficulties and unwanted attention experienced by a man actually named John Doe, who had often been suspected of using a pseudonym. He had been questioned repeatedly by airport security staff. Another man named John Doe was often suspected of being an incognito celebrity.


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