Some parents, at the first hint of any intelligence from their kids, get their hopes up, “Our child is going to be a brain!” And then there are parents who, the moment their son is born decide, “Our son is going to be a Dick!”
WHY? Why would someone not give their child the slightest hope of not becoming a Dick? And it’s not like there are just 2 or 3 of them. There’re literally thousands of Dicks out there (no pun intended). In fact, even Batman’s first sidekick, Robin was a Dick (Dick Grayson). And just in case you have any doubts as to what a bad idea that name is, here’s a screenshot from my phone dictionary.
As you can see, there are several meanings of the word dick, and none of them (except maybe one very obsolete meaning) remotely like anything you would want people to be referencing you as. So what is it with all these parents seemingly condemning their child to a life of ridicule and possibly condescension? Well, being the super efficient and productive person that I am, I did some research into this very pressing matter of why people were being named after their genitals.
First things first – an amnesty! The earliest recorded instance of the word dick being used to mean penis was in 1891 – it was used as a British army slang. Being a slang term that was considered somewhat uncouth to put on paper, it is likely that the word was there in existence for some years before that as well. Anyway, the name Dick has been around for a lot longer. So all parents of Dicks born before the 1900s are hereby granted a general pardon.
Now, the name Dick first started appearing as a diminutive of Richard during Medieval times. It is still sometimes used in that context today, but definitely nowhere near as frequently (something that I believe Richard Marx would be very grateful for). Richard itself came from the Proto-Germanic Rikharthu, meaning “hard ruler” (seriously, no puns). This was adopted into Old High German as Ricohard, and from there to Old French, then Old English as Richeard, which eventually became Richard.
The next logical question is of course, how did Dick become a nick for Richard, 2 phonetically rather different words. Well, anyone who’s read a bit of Shakespeare would know that the Medieval people loved their rhymes. So a more natural short for Richard, Rick became Dick, much to the chagrin of some men to be born centuries later. The name Hick had also come about this way, but has never really caught on the same way as Dick.
This pattern of nomenclature has also served as the genesis for several other names:
Robert → Rob → Bob
William → Will → Bill
Edward → Ed → Ned
So next time you meet a Dick… well, you at least know the etymology of his name!