#3. Billy the Kid
Real Name: Henry McCarty? Nobody knows for sure.
Nickname Means: Baby goat, or just a dainty little man-child
Not pictured: Neckbeard.
The legend of Billy the Kid has done so much to make "the Kid" seem like a cool nickname that you kind of lose track of how much it sucks.
And we barely know the man's real name. Virtually nothing is known about Billy the Kid's lineage or early life -- he simply exploded into history, guns blazing, around the year 1870. However, historians have pieced this much together: Billy the Kid was one of the baddest dudes of the American Old West. He was an outlaw, a horse thief and a killer of at least a few men. He was also the most hardcore guy to come out of New Mexico that side of Val Kilmer.
And poor Val ain't looking so hot these days.
So where does the name "Billy" come from? History offers two versions, neither of them good.
One story suggests that a bartender with a death wish insulted him, saying that he looked like a scared little billy goat (a young goat is called a "kid," as you surely know). Also, he used to have a wispy little goatee beard that, as you can imagine, lent itself to that nickname. We have no way of knowing whether it's true (the "Billy" part would have been there with or without the goat -- William was one of his aliases).
He was also very baaah-shful.
Historian Robert M. Utley offers another explanation in his book Billy the Kid: A Short and Violent Life. Billy had been stealing horses from soldiers and he became known as "Kid Antrim." The "Antrim" bit is one of the last names he went by, and it may or may not have been his real name, but the "kid" part was reportedly because he was a shrimpy, beardless guy.
So history may never know whether Billy the Kid got his nickname from having a babyface or from his resemblance to the garbage-eating barnyard animal. Either way, he got burned so bad that his real name was scalded right out of history.
Wouldn't it be nice if that happened again?
Real Name: Aristocles
Nickname Means: Fatass (possibly)
Moments earlier, that hand held a churro.
The most famous student of Socrates, Plato is virtually synonymous with ancient Greek philosophy. If you've ever taken a class in logic, your professor probably mentioned him at least once. And if you've ever gotten into an argument with a freshman know-it-all, you probably heard his name at least 1,000 times.
Our first guess was that he thought "Aristocles" sounded too Greek, but that proved to be false. As it turns out, the nickname "Plato" was bestowed by his wrestling coach, Ariston of Argos. It's meaning? "Broad."
"You're getting Plato as shit, Mitch."
There are several theories about how he got this nickname. Some suggest that it was because of his wide forehead (more like a fivehead, right, guys?), or his, ah, robust physique. It has also been suggested that it refers to the breadth of his eloquence, though that sounds a lot like it was made up by Plato himself to try to convince people that he wasn't a weird shape.
What makes this nickname especially strange is that somebody's width is an odd thing to comment on. We get making fun of unusual height or weight, but calling them broad? Either the ancient Greeks had totally different ideas about nicknames, or Aristocles must have been reeeeally broad.
Via Wikipedia Commons
Real Name: Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus
Nickname Means: Tiny boots
He wore the largest helmet possible to compensate.
History remembers Caligula as being absolutely fucking insane, even when compared with other ancient Roman emperors. That's like getting a gold medal at the crazy illness Olympics. Maybe it had to do with his mother's exile while he was still young. Maybe it had to do with all of the lead-flavored water he was drinking. Whatever the cause, he is said to have proclaimed himself a god, tried to appoint his horse as a senator and declared war on the ocean.
"Look at it out there, plotting against me. SEND IN THE LEGIONS!"
Or maybe the crazy came from carrying around his childhood nickname his whole life.
"Caligula" means "little boots." You see, when Caligula was a young boy, he accompanied his father and the soldiers under his command on their military campaigns. Somewhere along the line, he had been given his own miniature soldier costume, complete with tiny booties. The elite killing team that he was accompanying had nothing better to do than watch a child play make-believe, and when they did, they were greatly amused by boots that Gaius was marching around in. They nicknamed him "little boots," and the name stuck, even when that child grew up to control the most powerful empire in the world.
Via Louis le Grand
He manifested his insecurity through ridiculous hats.
Caligula grew to hate his nickname as he got older. And yeah, he was said to be an unhinged psychopath, but maybe he deserves a little bit of slack. Imagine the havoc you would wreak if a country full of people were calling you "footie pajamas" behind your back ... and then history only remembered you by that name.
Be sure to pick up our book where we get even more catty on other historical figures.
Get the scoop on other names in 6 Insane True Stories Behind The Stage Names of Celebrities and The 25 Most Ridiculous Band Names in Rock History.
And stop by Linkstorm to learn the secret behind David Wong's name. (Hint: It involves Wavid's Dong.)
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