The Art of the Nickname

A nickname is usually a descriptive moniker given instead of, or in addition to, one’s formal name. It often describes an aspect of a person’s nature, accomplishments or appearance that carries a particular resonance. Some nicknames are the result of an individual’s achievements such as Alexander the Great or William the Conqueror. Others are given to reflect an aspect of a person’s character such as bravery. Examples of this include King Richard the Lionhearted and Stonewall Jackson.

The problem with nicknames, however, is that in most cases you don’t get to choose them. They are usually chosen for you and they sometimes aren’t particularly flattering, such as King Charles the Bald or Bai Qi the Human Butcher or Ivan the Terrible. And they aren’t always fair. For instance, Peter the Great killed far more people than Ivan the Terrible and Joseph Stalin did away with far more people than the two of them combined, but he was given the warm and fuzzy nickname of Uncle Joe.

Nicknames are nothing new. Humans have been making up names for each other since ancient times. It’s hard to explain how nicknames come about or why some people get one that sticks (or many) while others go their entire life without ever being saddled with one.

Thanks to our Nicknamer-In-Chief, it seems like everyone is getting tagged with a pet name these days. You might be inclined to think that The Donald is the greatest nicknamer of all time. Who can forget some of the classic ones he has tagged opponents with so far such as: Crooked Hillary, Lyin’ Ted Cruz, Little Marco, Sloppy Steve (Bannon), and, of course Rocket Man (although I prefer Kim Fatty III). But if you look back in history you discover that, when it comes to dishing out demeaning labels, Trump is actually a rank amateur.

The golden age of demeaning nicknames occurred during the dark ages and middle ages in Europe. The art of the nasty epithet flourished then and there. Some of the best were reserved for royalty, especially kings. These included; King Archibald the Idiot, King Alfonso IX the Slobberer, King Louis V the Sluggard and King Albert the Peculiar.

One of my favorite nicknames was given to Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, who was better known as Vlad the Impaler because of his liberal use of that form of execution. You know you are in trouble when you are named after a method of torture. People, no doubt, tried to avoid him. He probably didn’t get invited to many parties.

“Honey, should we invite Vlad to our dinner party on Saturday?”

“No, don’t you remember what he did to the Millers after our last get together.”

Not a people person.

King Charles VI of France had a couple of sobriquets. Initially he was called “the Beloved” but that changed when he became unhinged with episodes where he refused to bathe or change his clothes. He also became convinced that he was made of glass and feared he would break. He then became known as King Charles the Mad. Eventually other nobles decided that the king was as mad as a hatter and unable to discharge the duties of his office, so they invoked the 25th amendment and removed him from office. Let’s hold that thought.

I’m not mad. I’m fabulous!

Eric XI of Sweden was particularly unlucky when it came to nicknames. He was called Eric the Lisp and Lame. It seems like one unflattering designation would have sufficed. By the way, these derogatory names were never said to their faces just like no one would dare call Kim Jung Un, Kim Fatty III to his face.

Another king who got a bad rap was King Charles the Simple, aka Charles the Sot, aka Charles the Dullard, aka Charles the Idiot. Apparently he was no stable genius. Charles was the son of King Louis the Stammerer and the cousin of Emperor Charles the Fat. The family had more than its share of humiliating labels.

A favorite of mine is King Henry VII – The Accountant King. The powerful rulers of Europe must have trembled whenever his name was spoken. He was known to wield a very sharp pencil. Henry was considered to be intelligent and to possess a high degree of personal magnetism like all accountants.

I will lead you into battle as soon as I close the books.

Then there was the English King AEthelred the Unready. That was a very unfortunate name for a king that had to lead his army into battle. Before the Danes under King Sweyn Forkbeard attacked, Forkbeard probably told his solders, “Men, tomorrow we will attack the troops led by AEthelred the Unready. I have a good feeling about this one”. The Danes won and AEthelred fled to Normandy. In all fairness AEthelred probably got the nickname after the battle.

No fair, we weren’t ready.

The Vikings were also big on nicknames such as Ulf the Squint-Eyed, Eirik the Ale-lover and the favorite of all adolescent Viking boys, Eystein the Foul Fart. Eystein learned too late that you can only say “it wasn’t me” so many times before everyone realizes that it WAS you.

It must have been the dog.

The worst nickname was the one bestowed on King James II of England. King James was defeated at the Battle of Boyne after which he fled to France leaving behind his Irish allies who were massacred by William III (King Billy). As a result of his cowardice he lost his Irish support and gained the nickname James the S**t in Ireland.

So, although Donald Trump has probably handed out more offensive nicknames than anyone in history, he has not perfected the art of the nickname. Others before him have produced far more clever, nasty and funnier nicknames for their opponents than he has.

By the way, I have never had a nickname that stuck but I hope to one day. I’m shooting for John the Great but John the Ale-lover probably fits better. My wife prefers John the S**T.

John Wade, a frequent contributor to Unhinged Magazine, is a retired Chief Financial Officer who lives in Wildwood, Missouri.

If you want to know how wrong you are about everything, John Wade has written about that as well.

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published with permission of the author