In a tweet about Elizabeth Warren’s entry into the presidential race last month, President Donald Trump referred to the Massachusetts senator with his favored epithet, “Pocahontas.” But he ended his tweet with a more common nickname: “Liz.”
It is fair to assume there was no warm, friendly “Please, call me Liz” moment between Warren and Trump. He seems to have intended “Liz” dismissively, and conservative media has taken his cue. What initially reads as a harmless nickname actually brings up more than a few questions: Can it be a dig to call someone her own name? Does “Liz” lack the gravitas of “Elizabeth”? Is it a nickname Warren herself ever uses? And if it was intended as a slight, what does that mean for the many adult women who do prefer “Liz”?
The Liz/Elizabeth question is one that every Elizabeth must eventually confront (to say nothing of Beth, Lilibet, Betty, Libby, and so on). I consulted several Elizabeths and Lizzes for this article, all of whom had carefully considered opinions on the matter. “I don’t think you should give someone with the name ‘Elizabeth’ a nickname unless they are comfortable with it,” offered Liz Dueweke, who lives in the D.C. area. “It could be very personal to call her ‘Liz,’ like it is when people call me ‘Lizzy.’ ” Elizabeth Weingarten, a stalwart Elizabeth, told me via email that she bristles when anyone tries to “Liz” her: “I think this is inconsiderate, because ‘Liz’ and ‘Elizabeth’ are two very different names, and I don’t go by ‘Liz’ with anyone.”
Warren’s campaign confirmed to me that some friends and people in Warren’s life are indeed on a “Liz” basis with the senator, though in all professional and official contexts, she’s always been Elizabeth. Then again, it’s certainly not unprecedented in politics to call someone something other than what she calls herself—remember “Slick Willie“? As Liz B., a New York–based Liz who didn’t want to use her full name to protect her internet privacy, told me, “I don’t think famous people, including political leaders, really get to say what people call them.”
Not to cry “fake news,” but some of that can be blamed on the press: Journalists make a sport of inserting puns and playful language into their headlines and prose—New York Post headlines are a genre unto themselves, and Hollywood trade publications have whole dictionaries for their slang terms—so of course they would claim “Liz” privileges. And as nicknames go, “Liz” seems pretty neutral. (My friend Liz Davis, of New York, deemed it “the least polarizing” of the Elizabeth nicknames.) It’s maybe a hair less automatic as calling a Timothy “Tim” or a Jennifer “Jen,” but on the whole uncontroversial, right?
So far, though, the news outlets that have used “Liz” in their headlines have mostly shared one thing in common. According to a Google News search, the outlets to run “Liz” pieces most recently have included the Daily Caller, the Washington Examiner, PJ Media, and Townhall—all of which are conservative sources. (To be fair, “Liz Warren” use is fairly common on Twitter, across ideological lines.) And then there was the Trump tweet, with “Liz” side by side with “Pocahontas.”
If “Liz” isn’t necessarily a sneer, why do some outlets and figures treat it like one? Why is a nickname a dirty secret? The tone is reminiscent of the glee conservatives took in dressing down Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez as “Sandy” earlier this year. Using a diminutive can be a way of talking down to someone, and when that someone is a woman, the gender component can’t be set aside. “Sandy” and “Liz” become code for “little girl” and all the immaturity and frivolity that implies. “Are they using it to make her seem less … serious? Accomplished?” asked Liz B., comparing “Liz” use to the way “honey” and “sweetie” are employed to condescend.
Snickers be damned, some of the Elizabeths I spoke to think Warren should reclaim “Liz.” “I think it’s ultimately in Liz Warren’s best interest to embrace ‘Liz,’ ” Elizabeth Weingarten said. “A nickname could enhance the perception of her as relatable, friendly, and open—whereas an insistence on ‘Elizabeth’ could come across as needlessly rigid and aloof.” According to Liz Davis, “ ‘Liz’ could be as presidential as anything.” On the other hand, she said, “ ‘Elizabeth’ does sound v. British royalty. Monarchial.”
Liz Stevenson, from New York, pointed out that Lizzes are an uncommonly diverse group: “I’ve met many black, Asian, Latina Lizzes. I’ve met rich and poor Lizzes. And Lizzes of every age.” (Has Warren considered the Liz constituency? Make America Liz Again!)
“My only valid fear is people using ‘Liz’ as in lizard and attaching her to internet conspiracy theories about lizard people,” said Liz B., before adding that, all in all, she’d enjoy sharing a name with the president. “In my humble opinion, ‘Elizabeth’ is the greatest name.”