Famous Nicknames, Explained

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Photograph from Bettmann / Getty

Vlad the Impaler

This nickname originated when Vlad’s mom showed him an engraving of a medium-sized antelope native to eastern Africa. “Look, Vlad,” she said. “An impala.” To which he replied, “Yes! Impaler!” And she was, like, “No, it’s an impala.” And he was, like, “Yes, that’s what I said.” Then he perforated her torso with a wooden spear.

Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain)

This is a nom de plume, or pseudonym—like A. M. Barnard (a.k.a. Louisa May Alcott). Calling someone “the Pamela Anderson of xylophone” is not a nom de plume but, rather, a well-deserved moniker for someone who’s devoted his or her life to the percussive arts.

J. Lo

This is short for “Jennifer Lopez” and also “Just Locusts,” both of which are nice names for girls with beautiful voices.

Wild Bill Hickok

“Bill” is actually short for “Butler,” not “William.” They tried to shorten “Butler” to “Butt,” but that made Wild Bill really mad. I mean, he was scary mad—so mad that his yellow eyes danced beneath his bushy, bobcatlike eyebrows, and his hands formed terrifying wolverine claws. Anyway, nobody really knows where the “Wild” part came from.

Ol’ Dirty Bastard

This nickname is said to derive from the 1980 martial-arts film “Ol’ Dirty Kung Fu.” I can’t confirm that because I watch only movies from the “All Dogs Go to Heaven” franchise.

Alexander the Great

“Alexander the Above-Average Beeswax-Candle Maker” was taken.

Doubting Thomas

This nickname refers to Thomas the Apostle, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ. Doubting Thomas was famously skeptical, and doubted Christ’s miraculous resurrection until he had definitive proof. Tom Selleck is not an example of a Doubting Thomas, but is an example of a mustache.

Eminem

A mononym is a unique personal-branding opportunity. It’s the opportunity to claim a single word as your public persona—your calling card, if you will. This is a bad one.

Calamity Jane

In the end, “Calamity Jane” was shorter than “Jane Who Broke Three Ribs Trying to Haul Ass Down a Hill in an Attempt to Get a Closer Look at What She Thought Was a Gopher but Was Actually a Dog Trapped in a Gunnysack.”

Allen (The Answer) Iverson

This is a really good nickname because “The Answer” has three syllables, whereas “Allen Iverson” has five. Five syllables is too many for most people, unless they’re hollering, “Stop the car, I’m gonna hurl!,” or “Opossum in the soft-serve machine!”

Blind Willie Johnson

Unclear.

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