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’.
- 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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