6 Famous Figures You Only Know By Their Insulting Nicknames
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 ...
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.
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.
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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