I have never liked my name Richard or dick for short. It’s always been a source of angst for me.
My true first name is Richard which, much to the amusement of many is often interpreted as dick. My wife asked me the other day how the name Dick came to be used in place of Richard, so I had to look it up. Here is what I found.
The name Richard is very old. Old English had Richeard, from Ric (ruler) and heard (hard); French had Richart, and Old German had Ricohard.
When the Normans invaded England in 1066 they transformed politics, religion, society and language. They brought their large stock of French-Germanic names to mix with the Old English. The native Anglo-Saxons (now the lower classes) faced with an unfamiliar language with strange pronunciations. Often, they were uncomfortable with the Norman “R” found in names like Richard, Roger, and Robert, and Henry/Harry. In those days, manuscripts, letters, and more were written by hand; it was therefore common and easier to use agreed-upon abbreviations. “Rich” was used for “Richer” and “Ric.” for “Richard” or “Ricard.”
Psychologists suggest that most nick names originate from children addressing one another. Think about the sounds that many English-speaking children, to this day, have trouble pronouncing. The letter “R” as well as othersounds are often switched for an L or a D or dropped altogether. Robert gave up the nicknames Rob, but also Dob, Hob, Nob, and later, Bob. And Richard gave up the nicknames Rick, but also Dick and Hick, while Roger clocks in with Rodge, Dodge and Hodge
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 this as a long-established usage. 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 has also been used to mean 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” more popularly came to mean policeman around 1908, and then detective.
And we finally get to where you started. The use of “dick” as coarse slangfor 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.
Now you can truly say you know a lot about Dick. Aren’t you proud?