How Dick Came to be Short for Richard

Today I found out why Dick is short for Richard.

The name Richard is thought by most etymologists to derive from the Proto-Germanic ‘Rikharthu’, meaning more or less “hard ruler” (‘Rik-‘ meaning ‘ruler’ and ‘-harthu’ meaning ‘hard’).  This was adopted into Old High German as ‘Ricohard’, and from there to Old French, then Old English as ‘Richeard’, and today as ‘Richard’.

You might think from Richard meaning “hard ruler” and being a man’s name that Dick being a nickname for Richard probably came about for pejorative reasons, borrowing from one of the other meanings of “dick”, such as ‘dick’ as in ‘jerk’ or ‘dick as in ‘penis’.  However, the first record of ‘dick’ meaning ‘jerk’ didn’t come about until a few hundred years after its association with Richard and the first record of it referring to a penis wasn’t until the 1890s, as a British army slang term.  Exactly how that latter meaning came about isn’t known, being a slang term that was considered somewhat uncouth to put on paper.  Because of that, ‘dick’ meaning ‘penis’ probably had been around a while before the 1890s, but not nearly long enough before to have contributed to the Richard/Dick connection.

How Dick became a nickname for Richard is known and is one of those “knee bone connected to the thigh bone” type progressions, somewhat similar to how the word ‘soccer’ came about.  Due to people having to write everything by hand, shortened versions of Richard were common, such as ‘Ric’ or ‘Rich’.  This in turn gave rise to nicknames like ‘Richie’, ‘Rick’, and ‘Ricket’, among others.  People also used to like to use rhyming names; thus, someone who was nicknamed Rich might further be nicknamed Hitch.  Thus, Richard -> Ric -> Rick gave rise to nicknames like Dick and Hick around the early 13th century.

While few today call Richards ‘Hick’, the nickname ‘Dick’ has stuck around, and of course has come to mean many other things as well.  Its persistence as associated with Richard is probably in part because around the 16th century Dick started to be synonymous with ‘man’, ‘lad’, or ‘fellow’, sort of a general name for any ‘Tom, Dick, or Francis” (which by the way appears in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, written in the late 16th century, with Dick at this point firmly established as an “every man” name).  It may well be that this association with ‘man’ is in turn how ‘dick’ eventually came to mean ‘penis’.

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Bonus Facts:

  • While you won’t typically hear people calling Richards ‘Hicks’ anymore, this nickname did give rise to ‘Hudde’.  This in turn gave us ‘Hudson’ around the late 13th century, which of course is now a somewhat common surname.
  •  Speaking of Hudsons, Katy Perry’s real name is Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson.  She created the stage name “Katy Perry” so as not to be confused with Kate Hudson.  Before she did this, she did release an album under her real name, with the album called “Katy Hudson”.  The album flopped.  It wasn’t until she signed with Capitol Music Group in 2007 that she adopted the stage name Katy Perry.  Since then, she’s obviously been a huge success… coincidence?!? … probably.  Read more interesting celebrity facts here: Celebrity Facts
  • People with the name Robert are also called Bob via much the same process as people who are named Richard being called Dick.  Namely Robert -> Rob and then the rhyming nickname Bob.
  • Similarly, this is also how we get Bill from William, William -> Will  rhyming then to Bill.
  • The nickname Hodge is derived this same way from Roger:  Roger -> Rodge -> Hodge.
  • Polly likewise comes from the name Molly… the list goes on and on and on.
  • Spotted dick, the pudding, not someone with a certain STD, is thought by many etymologists to have gotten its name from the fact that certain types of hard cheese around the 19th century were called ‘dick’.  This in turn gave rise to treacle dick (treacle with cheese), then when raisins or the like were added, ‘spotted dick’, though of course it’s made a little differently today, but the raisins particularly are still commonly used.  One alternative etymology of spotted dick that some etymologists ascribe to is from the word pudding itself giving rise to puddink, then puddick, and then just dick.  As spotted dick is just a type of suet pudding with dried fruit added, giving it the spots, this seems reasonable enough as well.
  • Dick also once popularly meant an assertion, announcement, or declaration, such as “I do dick Mr. Beauregard… you are my hero!”  Similarly, someone’s ‘dying dick’ meant something completely different in the Middle Ages as it would now, namely their ‘dying declaration’.
  • Other things that were commonly called ‘dick’ through the middle ages up to now include: aprons, dictionaries, detectives, whips, and nothing (as in, ‘I got dick for my birthday’).
  • Incidentally, “That’s what she said” is thought to have been around since the 1970s with the earliest documented case of the phrase showing up on Saturday Night Live, spoken by Chevy Chase in a weekend update skit in 1975, which also happened to be the first season of SNL.  “That’s what she said” was later hugely popularized thanks to Wayne’s World skits on Saturday Night Live and later usage in the movie “Wayne’s World”.  The British also have their own version of that statement which has been around for much longer (over a century), “said the actress to the Bishop”.  You can read more about how that phrase came about here: The British Equivalent of “That’s What She Said”
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  • Please note that “dick” in German means “thick.” You can buy something in Germany called “dick milch” which is (like) yogurt, meaning “thick milk.”

    • also interesting in this vein is the german word; Schwanz. Normally means tail but in slang means penis.

  • “That’s what she said” has been around for much much earlier than the ’70’s. My father used to use it in the late 50’s, early ’60’s, when we kids were little, having no idea what he was talking about. But he thought he was pretty funny, and so we did too, him being our dad and all.

  • As my name is Dick, and etymology is one of my hobby’s, the reason why one who is called Richard, is called sometimes Dick to close friends is in my modest opinion very different. I fact it’s simple. In the Western part of Europe being a Catholic, boys are called Dirk. They are baptized as Theodoor. Theodoor comes from Theodoricus. The last part of this name is Ricus, Ricardo, Richard, Dirk…..Dick!!!!!
    Actually, a Greek name.
    Referring to Dick as a penes. In my theory: The Dutch call a penes: Pik! In the late 16 and 17th Century, the youngest on board ships were called Pikbroek. Meaning a Penis in ones trousers. In those days, there was a lot of sea trade between the Brits and the Dutch, they simply didn’t listen closely, hearing PIK, the translated it in to Dick. Dick or Dirck, is a common name in Holland, and not in Germany!

    • Dirk is a very common name in Germany. I have 2 Dirks in my family and know 3 more of the top of my head.

      • I am not young, but Dirk, is not a common name in Germany, sorry. It used to be a common name in the Netherlands, and Belgium.

  • If you know someone named Richard, ask him if Dick is short for Richard, and if he says yes, say “Your girlfriend must hate that.”

  • How Dick became short for Richard? He did too many steroids. Ok, i don’t have anymore jokes

    • Back in the early 70s, my girlfriend (now wife) and I went to the Cellar Door in Georgetown, Washington, DC, to see Canadian singer Anne Murray. When her band came out to warm up the audience, the leader said, “The band’s name is Richard; that’s long for Dick!”

      Back in high school, we used to tell one classmate, whose first name was Richard, “, you’re a Dick!” He later married a girl and converted to Judaism, so now I guess he’s just a schmuck. ;- )

  • I never understand why americans call shortened names nicknames, in the uk a nickname is a name that is completely different to the persons own , usually something to do with their personality, its usually given in a form of familiarity or its given as derogetry I once knew a person whose surname was Fairweather, he was called Stormy by people who knew him. Bob for Robert to me is just short for Robert its not a nickname

    • …I don’t think there’s any actual cultural difference between the meaning of the word “nickname” between the US and the UK.
      They’re just using it too loosely.

      On a side note, one of my greatest pet peeves about visiting grammar sites
      is listening to fuckheads from the UK bitch about things they know
      nothing about, yet act like they know everything.

      • Shit, sorry I read that as 2 months instead of 2 years for some reason.

        Well, regardless. There’s my take on comments like this really old one.

        • Maybe as the language comes from the English, which is a nation on the island of Britain, and they also find it annoying to see other people using their language differently?

      • From what I seen, there does seem to be a cultural difference. In the US, I notice that most people tend to use abbreviated names and nicknames interchangeably. In the UK, it tends to be frowned upon to use nickname (informal) in certain formal situations and with people who are merely acquaintances, whereas universally accepted abbreviated names (Bob for Robert) is generally acceptable.

    • Isn’t it simply that nickname is just a short name for the real name? If so, you are just right.

  • Dick for penis? Comes from the linguistic term for a contextual pointer called deixis (simplistic explanation) deixis points, so does a penis, or dick.

  • Does Jesse stands for Ismael

    does Jesse stands for Ismael?

    • Jesse is short for Jesus (pronounced “Hey-soos” in Spanish). What I want to know is how, in Spanish, is Chuy a nickname for Jesus?

      While English speakers don’t name their kids Jesus we do name them Jesse and Joshua which are in essence the same name as Jesus.

      • Probably because of JESUS (Heh-soos) > JE-CHU (Heh-chooh) > CHUITO (Chew-ee-toh) > CHUI (Chewie*)

        * arrghhrhrhhrhhrhr

      • Wrong. Jesse is Hebrew name. Jesus is Greek for Hebrew Joshua.

  • “Richard” was originally pronounced more like “Rickard”. The practice of changing the initial letter of the shortened form of someone’s name (mentioned in the article) was very common in the middle ages, though you’d only do it with someone you knew very well, or risk a punch on the nose. So “Dick” came from “Rick”. It’s also how “Bob” came from “Rob” and so on.

    The Saxons had trouble pronouncing some Norman words (and vice versa), and the “Ritchard” pronunciation is the Saxon variant.

  • Richard L. Hardesty

    Regarding “his dying dick,” I would suggest it stems from Latin “dictum,” and should be understood to mean “his dying statement” or something to that effect.

  • You get Dick from Richard by pulling down Richard’s pants. (I’m a terrible person, I’m aware. 🙁 )

  • Great. Now tell us why and how the name Johnson came to be associated with a dick, er, penis.

  • I always wondered about this, and now I know.

    What I DON’T get / know is why anyone called Richard would WANT to be known as Dick. There are so many other nicknames (or, for you lot across the pond, informal versions) for Richard.

  • No cred. Where your sources?

  • My dad has always said that “All Richards are Dicks.” Can’t disagree!

  • My name is Richard, Jr. My Dad went by the name Dick. So he was Big Dick, I was Lil Dick. It would throw people off when they heard my family saying our names. I tell people that as a joke, and they just shake their heads. I don’t go by Dick, but if someone calls me that, I will respond. I tell people that as a joke, and they just shake their heads. Even worse, my Dad was Dickie to my family. I would invite my friends to family parties, and they would have fits trying to figure out who Uncle Dickie was to the little kids. When I told them that was my Dad and I was Dick, they shake their heads & laugh. It is fun, I’ve been called Ricky Ricardo, Ricardo, Richard the Lion Hearted, Richie Rich, Ricky, Rich the Son of a Bitch, it’s ridiculous. But Tricky Dick, hell no. Don’t like that one.

  • I just tell everyone that Richard (Dick) is associated with the words (Every Man)
    But parents that name there child Richard is because he has a exceptionally big one…. That usually stops the conversation unless my wife is around….. lol

  • I was always told it was because in centuries past, when Germany Royalty sat on thrones of England, and many more Germans had immigrated to America, it made sense. Dietrich (pronounced Dee-trick) is the German form of Richard, hence why a Dietrich of Germany became King Richard of England. (Look it up if you don’t believe me). They essentially use the German nickname on both the German AND English form of the same name. This is the practical short version reason. How Dietrich is Richard? Then you can look at phrenology history but Richard=Dietrich=Dick is the every day man’s reason.

    • Actually the English kings named Richard were all French or of French origin – of the Plantagenet line. The British royalty didn’t have a German connection until 1692 with George I, more than 200 after the death of Richard III.

  • My name is Colin Butts. When my state offered personalized license plates, I asked for CBUTTS.
    Not only would they NOT let me have it, but they wouldn’t explain why.
    I’m going to name my kid, “Richard Nixon Butts” (Dick N Butts), in honor of our greatest president.