No, no, not the guy you’re thinking of — the nickname Mike. Michael Peverett writes me:
I’m reading the opening chapters of Sir Walter Scott’s Kenilworth (1821). This is a historical novel that takes place some time in the second half of the sixteenth-century in England.
One of the characters who turns up at Giles Gosling’s comfortable country inn The Black Bear is his own nephew, a bad penny who has returned in search of the kind of dirty work that can pay for his various vices. His name is Michael Lambourne but his uncle calls him “Mike”.
And that’s my query. Scott used his extensive knowledge of Jacobean drama to create dialogue with a reasonably convincing sixteenth-century flavour, but I don’t remember coming across the familiar name “Mike” in any literature from that time. (Whereas, on the other hand, my impression was that certain other shortened names seem as old as the hills – Jack, Jill, Nell, Nan, Moll, Will, Hal …)
Which makes me wonder, when was “Mike” first attested (as a familiar name)? Since the OED doesn’t include proper names, how would you and your readers advise researching that question? – Or, mutatis mutandis, the earliest appearance of Ted, Ed, Chris, Sue, Fran, Nick, Larry, Steve….?
An excellent question, thought I, so I’m sharing it with the world at large. How do we find out the age of a nickname? Are there reliable references?