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9 Famous Personalities and the Stories Behind Their Nicknames

Nicknames have been a part of civilizations all over the world for millennia, whether they are a straightforward abbreviation of a person’s given name or a means to describe a person’s personality or behavior. A nickname might be endearing or disparaging, humorous or serious, obvious or unexpected, and it doesn’t matter if the person is a historical figure or not.

From “Little Boots” to “Great Sphinx,” all these odd nicknames remained like stains throughout history. Some of them are widely known, but others won’t sound familiar at all. Let’s discover together what the 9 greatest nicknames in history are and who the people behind them are.

1. William ‘Big Bill’ Taft

William Howard Taft was known as “Big Lub” while attending Yale University. He weighed more than 200 pounds when he was appointed Theodore Roosevelt’s secretary of war in 1904, making him the only American president to have also served on the Supreme Court. Taft sought the help of a British dietician in an effort to lose weight, who prescribed a restrictive (for Taft, at least) diet strong in proteins and low in carbohydrates and urged that he keep a food journal. While following this diet, Taft had shed approximately 60 pounds by April 1906.

He had two nicknames: “Big Bill” and “Big Lub.” The first one came right after he was elected President of the U.S. in 1908. He must have consumed a large amount of food each day! There are some rumors that he once got stuck in the bathtub, and it was difficult to get out. Shortly after he left the White House, he lost a considerable amount of weight, but that didn’t help because he died of a heart attack in 1930.

Photo by Kizel Cotiw-an From Shutterstock

2. Emperor “Caligula” Gaius

One of the youngest Roman emperors was Gaius, also known as “Caligula,” who ruled from 37 CE to 41 CE when he was assassinated at only 28 years old. The future emperor frequently accompanied his father, the Roman general Germanicus, on his military expeditions. He would dress in a scaled-down variation of a soldier’s outfit, complete with caligae, or boots.

As a result, the boy was given the moniker “Caligula” by Germanicus’s soldiers, which is Latin for “Little Boots” or “Booties.” He apparently detested these nicknames, yet they lasted for the rest of his life. Because of his obnoxious behavior, he wasn’t a pleasant figure in fact, he had a lot of enemies.

3. King Louis XI “The Universal Spider”

Opinions regarding this historical figure vary from one person to another. Some believe he was a perfectly capable monarch that ruled the territory very well, and others believe that he was a sociopath who ruined an entire nation. There are some rumors that say he poisoned his father and told everybody not to waste their time mourning him. But what are the roots of his nickname? Louis XI earned the nickname “Universal Spider” because of his numerous conflicts and political schemes with the rules of Burgundy.

It was a strong nation in and of itself, blocking Louis’ vision of a united France. As a result, he instigated uprisings against its rulers before turning around and concluding treaties with them, which he later abrogated. He created countless treaties with Spain, England, and other French regions that may have allied with Burgundy.

Finally, he declared war on the other side. By the time of his death, he had achieved his goal of a united France and acquired one of the most intimidating nicknames in the world.

4. Ivar “The Boneless” Ragnarsson

Ivan Ragnarsson, also known as “Ivar the Boneless,” is one of the world’s most divisive figures. Why this nickname? This was highly disputed among historians, who said he might have gained this name because of his physical deformity involving missing bones from his legs. Others agreed that this name stems from impotence and brittle bones and that it was mistranslated from “the most hated” in old Norwegian.

The truth is, we will never know the true origin of Ivar’s nickname. But we can agree on the fact that his tactics and strategy were based on wisdom and cunning, making him a fierce presence among the Vikings. For those who know very little about this historical personality, he was the leader of the “Great Heathen Army,” which was a group of Nordic warriors that conquered Anglo-Saxon territory in 865 CE.

If you’re interested in finding more amazing facts about Vikings, check THIS out!

5. Abraham ‘Honest Abe’ Lincoln

The 16th American president had a large number of nicknames. Many of you might know that he came from a humble family in Kentucky. Despite the fact that he had a poor education and was mostly an ambitious pupil, he worked a lot of weird jobs, and one of them was wrestling. This brought him one of his first nicknames, “Grand Westler,” and a place in the Hall of Fame among others in the “National Wrestling Hall of Fame.”

Later on, he worked as a store owner and shopkeeper in Illinois. Here he gained another famous nickname, “Honest Abe,” because he was against customers who tricked sellers.

Abraham Lincoln had an interest in law as well, which led him down the path of becoming a lawyer. After he became President, he managed to abolish slavery, and he gained the final nickname and probably the greatest of all the nicknames he had: “Great Emancipator.”

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain

6. General George S. Patton, “The Green Hornet”

Another important figure in American history was General George S. Patton, who began his military career as an officer in 1941 and has two nicknames for which he is widely known. According to legend, Patton earned the moniker “Old Blood and Guts” because he used to tell his soldiers, “You’re going to be up to your neck in blood and guts.”

He had a lesser-known alias, though. Patton created a uniform that resembled a 1940s comic book character’s outfit sometime before World War II. According to reports, when his soldiers spotted him wearing this uniform, they exclaimed, “Look, the Green Hornet.” Although he was a great military commander, he had various “unfriendly” opinions regarding Germany during WWII that led to his removal from leadership.

7. Ernesto “Che” Guevara

Everybody knows Guevara! All the t-shirts, scarves, and other merchandise associated with this political figure are still sold all over the world. He was one of the first people who started to align with guerillas in Guatemala to fight against imperialism.

Though he was a medical student, his father described him as a rebel because he was ravished by the higher rate of poverty throughout South America and decided to do something about it; this was one of the reasons he was executed in 1967 after he aligned himself with Fidel Castro. Why the nickname? Guevara was nicknamed “CHE” by his friend, who used this word a lot in their conversations. In Spanish, this means “friend” or “mate” and is used very often by a lot of people.

8. Herbert ‘Great Humanitarian’ Hoover

Herbert Hoover, who is mostly remembered for being a passive governor during the Great Depression’s crisis years, has one of the greatest nicknames on the list: “Great Humanitarian.” However, when WWI began, while he had a lot of finances to maintain a good life (he was a very successful engineer), he helped a lot of people by sending food to France and Belgium. Later on, he joined the newly established U.S. Food Administration in 1917 and oversaw efforts to ration food and conserve resources after America entered the war.

His American Relief Administration carried out his post-war efforts, delivering more than 34 million tons of food to war-torn Europe. In 1921, he sprang into action, establishing camps in Soviet Russia that quickly provided food for more than 11 million people every day. Many grateful people put up memorials to Hoover, including a statue of him as the Egyptian god of life, Isis, in Belgium.

Photo by vangelis aragiannis From Shutterstock

9. “Plato”- one of the most famous nicknames, means “Broad”

Plato was born in 427 BC into a very rich Greek family. His birthname was “Aristocles,” but a lot of others called him “Plato,” which remained his nickname until the present day and is widely known. But we will never know the true origin of this nickname, which, when translated, means “broad.” Plenty of rumors confirm that it possibly came from his physical aspect because he had very large shoulders and was a very tall man.

Despite the fact that he generously served in the army, his goal was definitely a political career. He abandoned this idea soon after the death of his teacher, Socrates. Around the year 387, after traveling abroad, he returns to Athens to lay the foundation for an academy.

Do you happen to know other nicknames that we forgot to mention in the article? Let us know by leaving a comment. We love hearing from you!

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