If you went to elementary school, odds are at some point you wound up with a nickname you hated. Maybe it was based on an embarrassing physical feature ("Dick Nose"), or perhaps a humiliating incident ("Shit Pants"), but either way, the worst thing you can imagine is actually becoming your name.
You know several people who had this very thing happen -- they're in every history book. People like...
Real Name: Ernesto Guevara
Nickname Means: "Hey!"
T-shirt model and Marxist guerrilla Ernesto Guevara is probably the best known revolutionary in this part of the world. Born to an upper-middle-class family in Argentina, he went on to dick around all throughout South and Central America. He wrote a best-selling book about his travels and even got into some goofy hijinks with his buddy Fidel Castro.
We smell a blockbuster summer comedy.
You know how cartoony stereotypes of Soviets call everyone "comrade?" Mr. Guevara was actually like that.
Here he is in his hipster phase. Note his hair, which has clearly been washed with soap, despite the fact that he had plenty of shampoo money.
As it turns out, "che" is an Argentine filler word. It doesn't really have a meaning, which makes it a bitch to try to translate. Sometimes it's used to get your attention, sort of like how an American might say "Yo!" or "Hey!" Sometimes, it's used as a term of endearment for a friend, the equivalent of "bro" or "dude." And sometimes Argentines use it for no damned reason at all, so it'd be more like "uh" or "ummm ..."
One guess as to what's in that pipe.
Guevara liked to say the word. A lot. So when he left Argentina and started using the word "che" like the Cookie Monster uses the word "cookie," people noticed. According to Fidel Castro himself, the nickname was born when Guevara met up with some Cuban exiles in Guatemala City around 1953. He does not point out that if Guevara had been born in Canada, people would remember him as "Eh Guevara."
Real Name: Matoaka
Nickname Means: Slut.
"Pocahontas? More like poked-that-hot-ass."
Quick, name a famous, female Native American. Odds are roughly 110 percent that you said Pocahontas (OK, maybe there was an odd "Sacagawea" in there too).
If you've never heard of Pocahontas, you fail not only at American history but also at Disney princess-ology (a surprisingly scholarly field of study), but we'll give you the lowdown anyway. She was the daughter of a Native American chief, and she met up with John Smith and company in the early American settlement of Jamestown. It is also rumored that she could paint with all the colors of the wind.
Phrases like that come from either Disney movies or acid trips.
Matoaka actually had several names. She was a member of the Powhatan tribe, and it was common for the Native Americans in her region to be given a secret "true name" and several personal names. Her secret name was "Matoaka," and her main personal name was "Amonute." For good measure, she also took on the Christian name "Rebecca Rolfe" when she married an Englishman, because the rule in England at the time was that everything had to be as bland as possible.
Oh yeah, that's an improvement.
So where does the name "Pocahontas" come from? According to the early American historian William Smith, it was a nickname given to her by her tribe, "out of a superstitious Fear, lest [the English], by the knowledge of her true Name, should be enabled to do her some hurt." Its meaning? "Little Wanton." Or, to update it to what is probably its modern equivalent, "slut." Yeah, nobody's going to do her any harm with that name.
She probably has to put up with a lot when she goes out to bars, though.
Of course, an exact translation is difficult to pin down, and various sources have alternatively suggested that the English equivalent of her name was "the naughty one" or "mischievious one" which honestly seem like just more polite, British-y ways of saying "slut." And all of them give a new, shudder-inducing context to Disney's Pocahontas merchandise being sported by school girls.
Real Name: James Butler Hickok
Nickname Means: Man with a huge, ridiculous nose.
That's right: The "Bill" part of his name was just as much a nickname as "Wild" -- his full name wasn't William.
As you hopefully know, Wild Bill Hickok is one of the most famous figures to emerge from the American Old West, his legend reaching mythical proportions along with those of Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid (more on the latter in a moment). Hickok fought with the North in the Civil War. He is best known as a gunfighter, a scout, a professional gambler and a lawman. Apparently he had a sort of Dirty Harry thing going on.
"No sir, we do not feel lucky."
It was actually a crack on his appearance, and specifically on his giant slope of a nose and protruding upper lip. The first incarnation of Hickok's nickname was, in fact, "Duck Bill."
Quack quack quack!
There are even court documents to prove it. Apparently the Nebraska courts at the time thought of subpoenas as excellent opportunities for making fun of people. It just goes to prove the old folk saying, "Never upset a stenographer."
The "Wild" part of Hickok's name seems to be his own addition. Tired of people tossing him stale bread wherever he went, he grew a mustache and started insisting that his name was "Wild Bill." In the end, he got the last laugh. Wild Bill carried on a secret affair with Sarah Shull, the mistress of the man who had coined the "Duck Bill" nickname in the first place. That's right, baby! Boning is the best revenge!
"I nailed both of these dudes, too. No, it's not gay. I'm Wild Goddamn Bill."
And while we're on the Old West ...