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Mimishu1995's avatar

Native English speakers, why is such an "offensive" word used widely as a first name (details inside)?

Asked by Mimishu1995 (14755points) June 20th, 2014

Oh yeah! Successfully bypassed the mods and cheated the internet filters!

I mean the word “dick”.

If “dick” is offensive, why is it used as a first name? (Seriously, why did his parents called him “Dick Cheney”?)

As a non-native English speaker, I can’t understand it. Can you help me?

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24 Answers

syz's avatar

The name Richard is very old, although its origin is disputed. Richard and Ricard were equally popular in the Middle Ages, and the abbreviations led naturally to diminutives—such as Rich, Richie, Rick, and Ricket. Rhyming nicknames were also fairly common in the 12th and 13th centuries, and so we also have Hitch from Rich, Hick and Dick from Rick, and Hicket from Ricket.

The name Dick (like the name Jack) was used colloquially to mean a man or everyman. The expression “every Tom, Dick, or Harry” attests to the this as a long-established usage; Shakespeare uses “every Tom, Dick, or Francis” in Henry IV Part I. Many other usages. The Oxford English Dictionary cites a dick as meaning a type of hard cheese in 1847, which lead to the usage of “spotted dick”. The term “dick” was also used to mean a riding whip, an apron, the mound around a ditch, and an abbreviation for “dictionary” around 1860.

Dick also meant a declaration, in which sense the OED cites someone writing in 1878 “I’d take my dying dick” to mean “I’d swear a dying declaration.” The term “dick” came to mean policeman around 1908, and then detective.

The use of “dick” as coarse slang for penis first arises around 1890. Tracking the history of uncouth words is not easy, since such expressions were not generally written down. How “dick” came to be associated with penis is not known, although the riding whip may have pointed the way.


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Seek's avatar

Yes, the name, or nickname, “Dick” predates the derogatory term.

here is a fun article.

filmfann's avatar

Why indeed? Why do the English like to eat a dessert called Spotted Dick?
As Butch (which means tough) says in Pulp Fiction: “I’m American, honey. Our names don’t mean shit.”

Mimishu1995's avatar

So even when the “offensive” meaning came to the word it sill can’t prevent people from using it as a name?

Magical_Muggle's avatar

Dick is also short for Dominick (not derogatory)

Seek's avatar

We can’t stop people from naming their child Tarantula, La-a (La-DASH-uh), or Adolph. Americans are stupid.

CWOTUS's avatar

All kinds of names have been co-opted into other meanings. This is not at all new.

Gay and Gaylord used to be fine first names, but the word “gay” has now been taken over as a reference to homosexuals.

Jay used to be a nickname for Jason (or many other names that simply begin with the letter J), but “a jay” is now a slang term for a marijuana cigarette.

I think people are being more careful about naming their children with names that can shorten to the initials “B.J.” for fairly obvious reasons.

The name Jesus can refer to any number of very fine baseball players of Hispanic descent, but noooooo… it has been totally co-opted by Christians.

“Bouncing Betties” were a name given to a particular type of land mine during the Vietnam War.

I’m sure there are a lot more that I’m not thinking of.

I actually worked with a man named Richard Head at one time. Nice guy. I also knew a Rob Banks.

snowberry's avatar

Oh, and when did “john” become another word for toilet? And the word “johnson” is also sometimes used as a replacement for the word penis. Sheesh!

majorrich's avatar

My name is Richard, but as English is also a second language for me, I used Dick for a while after moving to the US as R’s and L’s were problems until I got it down. To not be able to pronounce my own name seemed to delight my classmates and teachers. I now can no longer speak much Japanese, formerly my first language due to disuse. In the time we were still using Dick and Jane books so there was no problems.

zenvelo's avatar

My name is Peter; Peter is sometimes used instead of penis. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of slang terms for the penis that co-opt other words.

I knew a guy in college whose name was Woodrow, and he had been called Woodie since he was a kid. He got to college and found every one in the fraternity using “woodie” as another word for erection.

Adagio's avatar

I don’t find the name Dick offensive, unfortunate perhaps but offensive, no. The name I’ve always found very strange is Randy, seems to be used in the US, here the word means horny/sexually aroused, its usage has always puzzled me.

Dan_Lyons's avatar

Quite often the person so named is actually one.
Like Richard Nixon (Tricky Dicky). He was a Dick!

snowberry's avatar

I have a friend whose husband was named Gaylord shortly before “gay” came to mean homosexual. He has been tormented his whole life by that name. It’s strange that he never changed it.

Magical_Muggle's avatar

My grandpa’s name was John, but everyone called him Jack

Magical_Muggle's avatar

I also have heard of some American (I don’t mean to be mean to Americans) called her baby Denim, cuz, the mum, loved denim (the fabric)

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

The name Dick isn’t offensive. Neither is the name Fanny. The word pussy is also not offensive. And we’ve all experienced a prick or two and while it might have been a bit painful, it probably wasn’t offensive. If you want to act like a private dick, you might uncover many other words that have more than one meaning. There’s a real cock living across the road from me. Many words have more than one meaning.

ucme's avatar

See, this what i’m talking about. There’s nothing wrong with that name, along with dozens of other words that are deemed “naughty”
If anyone chooses to be offended then it is they who are imparting there weakness on otherwise perfectly safe words. Get a grip ya stuffy buggers.

Kardamom's avatar

Context should matter.

If someone says, “My name is Dick.” that is not offensive.

If someone says, “You’re a dick.” it’s meant to be offensive.

snowberry's avatar

When someone asks how many people named “Mary” are there at my job, I might say, “There’s Mary Jones, and another Mary in Receiving, but I don’t know her last name.” Now replace Mary with Dick in this scenario, and you get how this could become a problem. You just have to be careful.

cookieman's avatar

@Mimishu1995: Dick Cheney is not the worst dick in US politics.

Dick Swett

Dick Armey

Coloma's avatar

@Kardamom What is he really is a Dick? Oxymoron. lol

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snowberry's avatar

To give you a perspective on the stupid name thing, it seems we English speakers do it a lot. I know someone named Gaylord (Gay for short). Apparently when he was born “gay” didn’t mean homosexual, but since then it does. He suffered his whole life because of a terrible name, and even seems to have identity problems with it.

Here’s another example: People often say, “I have to go to the John.” Here’s the backstory:

“While Thomas Crapper is commonly given credit for inventing the first flushing toilet in the late 1800s, the first version can actually be traced back to 1596. At this time, a British nobleman, Sir John Harrington, first engineered and invented a valve that could release water from the water closet (WC) when pulled. Sir Harrington, who was also the godson of Queen Elizabeth I, recommended pulling the valve (“flushing” the toilet) once a day for sanitary purposes.”

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