In the TV show, “Little House on the Prairie,” there are three big nicknames that are used throughout the series, half-pint and Beth for Laura and then Manly for Almanzo. These nicknames were not just made for Hollywood, they were real nicknames, or terms of endearment, that Laura and Almanzo had in real life.
Arguably the most famous nickname in the Little House series is Pa’s nickname for Laura, half-pint. This nickname is true in all three aspects: Laura’s books, her real life, and the TV Show. In Laura’s book, Little House in the Big Woods, this nickname makes its’ first appearance after Pa comes back from trapping. He exclaims, “Where’s my little half-pint of sweet cider half drunk up?” (LHBW 34). Laura then adds that Pa called her that because she was small. Throughout the rest of the series Pa normally just shortens it to half-pint. The name stuck with her even into These Happy Golden Years. In the TV show that nickname half-pint first appears in the pilot movie and is Pa’s nickname for Laura throughout the series. Starting in Season Six Laura wants to be treated as an adult. Pa says that when she is an adult he will stop calling her half-pint. In real life Laura’s nickname from Pa was also half-pint. In Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, Laura mentions how Pa called her his “little half-pint of cider half drank up” (29). This reference Laura recalls is very similar to her account in Little House in the Big Woods. The only big difference between the three is that according to Laura’s books Pa stops calling her half-pint once she is married and in the TV show Laura and Pa come to an understanding that he can still call her half-pint once she is an adult and he continues to call her that throughout the series.
Manly is Laura’s nickname from Almanzo, which has an interesting story behind it. In real life Laura and Almanzo exchange nicknames for each other when Almanzo first takes Laura for a sleigh ride, after her teaching term at the Brewster school.
This exchange is almost identical to exchange of nicknames in the TV show. Pioneer Girl discusses how Laura needed a name to call Almanzo. Almanzo told her that his folks call him “Manzo” but his brother, Royal, calls him “Mannie.” Laura misheard him and said that she would call him “Manly,” like Royal. Almanzo then told her of the mistake but she decided to stick with “Manly” because she liked it the best (Pioneer Girl 277). The TV show has the same encounter in the episode “Back to School,” Laura mishears Almanzo and calls him “Manly,” the only difference is that it occurs when he is picking up Eliza Jane, his sister, from teaching school and not on a sleigh ride. Another intriguing part about this name is that in the book series Laura and Almanzo never exchange nicknames. Laura writes about her and Almanzo’s first sleigh ride in These Happy Golden Years; however, for some reason she decided to omit the part where they exchanged names. The nickname Manly does appear in Laura’s book, The First Four Years and receives no introduction, the reader is just supposed to know that Manly is Almanzo. I think that the reason for this sudden change may be attributed to its’ publication after Laura’s death and that she did not edit the book the same way she did the others. Overall what I found most interesting about the relationship between the books, TV show, and real life in regard to this nickname, is that the TV show is closest to Laura’s real life and not the books.
The nickname Beth is Almanzo’s nickname for Laura in the TV show. In real life Almanzo actually called Laura “Bessie.” Both of these nicknames originate from Laura’s middle name, Elizabeth. In real life Almanzo did not want to call Laura by her name because he had an older sister named Laura and did not really like the name (Pioneer Girl 277). This nickname exchange happened during the same sleigh ride where Laura decided to call Almanzo “Manly.” The TV show has the exchange happen slightly different and it does not occur at the same time Laura gives Almanzo the nickname “Manly.” This does occur in the same episode, “Back to School” however, it happens the next morning when Laura is walking back home because she “forgot” something. During Laura and Almanzo’s second meeting is when Almanzo mentions that Laura has a nickname for him, so he needs a nickname for her. He asks if she has any nicknames, which she responds saying that her Pa calls her half-pint. Almanzo says that will not work and asks her full given name, in which he chooses Beth from Elizabeth. In Laura’s book series, she never mentions Almanzo having a nickname for her and always refers to herself as Laura, even in The First Four Years. As for the change from “Bessie” to “Beth” there is no documented reason for the change; however, it is most likely that the change was made to better fit the time period in which the show was airing.