Two issues have posed a challenge for morphological theories to account for how and why patterns of name truncation and clipping are so productive as a means of expanding the lexicon in many languages, and have fuelled the debate about whether or not such truncation patterns should be considered regular word-formation (e.g. Lappe 2007; Ronneberger-Sibold 2010; Alber and Arndt-Lappe 2012; Mattiello 2013; Manova 2016). These are (a) the variability of observed output forms, and (b) their functional indeterminacy and lack of semantic transparency. The present article presents case studies from Italian, German and English to bear on these issues. With respect to (a), it is argued that variability arises from the existence of different, systematic truncation patterns both within and across languages, and discusses the available evidence on how the formal distinctions correspond to the functional differentiation of patterns. With respect to (b), it is argued that productive truncation patterns are optimised for recoverability, and evidence is discussed to suggest that discourse context plays a crucial role in establishing transparent base-derivative relations. On a theoretical level, I will argue that excluding truncation from grammatical morphology on the grounds of the scope of formal variation in outputs and their lack of transparency may be premature, and is not helpful in accounting for the productivity of truncatory patterns observed in language. Instead, the findings of the present study suggest an agenda for future research that will study patterns and usage of truncation both within and across languages in more detail.