Historical nicknames and speech

In history class, most names we memorize are formal names, such as “James” and “William.” I can think of very few historical figures, pre-1950, whose nicknames were passed down to modern-day history students. Let’s see, we have Ben Franklin, Abe Lincoln (I’ve heard he hated “Abe”), Teddy Roosevelt, and “Silent Cal” Coolidge off the top of me head. But what about “Tom” Jefferson, “Marty” Van Buren, “Bill” Harrison, and “Jimmy” Polk? Weren’t at least a couple of these guys referred to as their nicknames by their contemporaries? And what about speech? So much of what we know comes from formal documents and letters, so the type of speech we end up seeing in movies is kind of flowery. (Yeah, I know. Hollywood.) I know our speech has changed over the years, but don’t you think language was just a little more “earthy” than what we’re led to believe? I’ll use a couple of examples from the Civil War era to illustrate what I’m thinking.

Gettysburg, July 3, 1863.
Robert E. Lee: Jim, I want you to get George, Issac, and Johnny, and have their divisions charge up the middle to take out the Yankees.
James Longstreet: Christ, Bobby, are you out of your f@#*ing mind?! They’ll mow our asses down like ripe grain…or something.
Robert E. Lee: Goddammit, Jim, you do as I say, or it’s your ass!
James Longstreet: All right, fine. But I think it’s a big mistaaaaaake.

Some random bar in Washington, D.C., June, 1865. Or maybe Baltimore. Or wherever.
Ulysses S. Grant: Jesus, Billy, you really torched the shit outta that place. Now I know why they call it “Hotlanta.” Ha ha!
William T. Sherman: Ha ha! That’s a good one, you ass.
Ulysses S. Grant: What was that?
William T. Sherman: I said, that’s a good one, U. S.

Actually, I can pretty easily imagine the exchange between Sherman and Grant.

And while I’m at it, why did Thomas Wilson and Stephen Cleveland go their middle names, Woodrow and Grover, respectively? Were they trying to get beat up in school? Maybe Cleveland figured he stood a better chance of having a purple muppet named after him if he went by his middle name instead of his first.

These questions plague me.

Okay. Nicknames. A burning historical question. Well, anything to further knowledge…

Longstreet, was not, in fact, known as James or Jim by his friends, but Pete. Just as U.S. grant was Sam to his buddies.

T. Roosevelt hated ‘Teddy’ and was usually called T.R. by everyone but family who called him Teedy.

Alexander Hamilton was sometimes called Ham by friends but Washington was alway Ecellency or The General.

These are just off the top of my head, but a little research on your part if these questions actually do plague you would get you a bit of satisfaction I should think.

European royal nicknames:
Kaiser Wilhelm II: Willy
Kaiser Frederick III: Our Fritz
Empress Frederick (his wife), Princess Victoria of England,": Vicky,
King Edward VII: Bertie
Tsar Nicholas II: Nicky
Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna: Alix, Aliky, Sunny
Tsarina Maria Feodorovna (Nicky’s mother): Minnie
King Aleksandar of Yugoslavia: Sandro
Queen Maria of Yugoslavia (his wife): Mignon, Paiky
Queen Marie of Roumania (her mother): Missy
King Ferdinand of Roumania (Missy’s hubby): Nando
Queen Elizabeth II: Lilibet
King George VI: Bertie (as his grandfather, Edward VII, both of them had the first name Albert)
King George V: Georgie
Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence (George V’s older brother who died in 1892): Eddy

Benjamin Disraeli: Dizzy
All royalty in the family basically had a nickname.

A few I recall:

Robert E. Lee: “The Ace of Spades” (for insisting that his troops dig in nightly during the Peninsular Campaign)

James Longstreet: “Old Pete”

Thomas J. Jackson: “Stonewall” to those outside of his brigade, but within he had another nick, “Old Jack”

Richard “Dick” Ewell: “Old Bald Head,” or, as I have seen once in print, “Baldy Dick.”

J. E. B. Stuart: “Jeb.” A.K.A. “Beaut” or “Beauty;” he was derided often at West Point for being a rather unattractive man. (I believe there is still a “Jeb” Stuart, V, living in Radford, Va.)

Jubal Early: “Old Jube,” or, I have heard, “Bastard Early.” Never saw that in print.

Ambrose Powell Hill: according to one source, was known to his cohorts as “Powell Hill,” but posthumously became known as “A. P.” in order to distinguish him from his fellow general, “D. H.” Hill, known as “Harvey Hill” at the time.

Alex H. Pendleton: “Sandie”

Edward Johnson: “Old Allegheny”

William Smith: “Extra Billy”

William E. Jones: with so many Joneses passing through West Point at the time, “Grumble” Jones stuck so well that he is supposedly is named as such in official communications.

William Henry Harrison-Tippecanoe.

There was an extended discussion of the nicknames of famous British Army Generals in the London Times in the 1970s. These by-names were not in use by anyone but their fellow-officers and family (with one exception, below):

“Jumbo” Wilson, “Boy” Browning, “Windy” Gale, “Pug” Ismay, "“Poppy” Flanders, “Fairy” Fairhurst, “Bubbles” Barker.

I cannot resist quoting two of the letters verbatim:

The full correspondance, and many other delightful exchanges may be found in The Last Cuckoo; The Very Best Letters to the Times Since 1900, Unwin, 1987.

They changed their names when they left school; they wanted distinctive names as adults.

William Tecumseh Sherman was known as “Cump”.

Strainger, that’s damn funny!
I don’t think everyone’s getting the idea though. Maybe it’s just me.
Many of 'em had nick-names…though they are not the ones we generally know them by, but more often we also know them as.
I’m under the impression that the OP is about the casual versions of their formal names, and why we don’t ever talk about: Bill Shakespeare, Leo DaVinci, Al Einstein, Larry of Arabia, Chuck Dickens, Peggy Thatcher,
Joe Stalin, Gus Caesar, Hank VIII, or Kate the Great.

BBoy, for understanding my sense of humor, I officially declare you “Strainger’s Favorite Newbie.” You were right on target with the intent of my OP. That being said, it is interesting to see some of the nicknames given to various historical figures. James Longstreet’s nickname was “Pete?” Sheesh, I have enough trouble with the Richard/Dick and William/Bill connections, now I have James Longstreet/Pete to contend with.

Intrigued by a few Great Debate threads, I’m currently reading Nathan Bedford Forrest’s biography by Jack Hurst. In the introduction, he mentions how Southerners were prone to making their written accounts much more formal and eloquent than the spoken conversations they document. A-ha! Just as I suspected.

Strainger said:

Nice words! Thank you!
Now if I could just get an endorsement like that from Unca-Cecil hisownself.
I’d ask to use it for a sig-line…
but I’d hate to have to relinquish the right to ever flame ya :smiley: … you know…just in case.

Actually, Shakespeare most likely would have been WILL, not BILL.

Lawrence of Arabia was actually T.E. Lawrence. I THINK his first name was Terrance, but I’m not sure.
Lawrence was his last name.

I thought it was pretty funny too; does that make me “Straigner’s Favorite Oldie”? :wink:

What? Something of substance to add? No, nothing of substance to add . . . .

Oh, and “Straigner” is French for “Strainger.” Y’know, that “g” before “n” French spelling – like “Champagne.”

I hope you didn’t straign yeurself coming up with that one, Jodi! BTW, there’s a thread over in GD that requires explaining the SCOTUS rationale for the right to privacy and how far it does and does not extend. I commented there: “There’s always a rationale, even if you have to make it up after the fact” (from “What They Don’t Teach You in Bar School”) – and it seems to apply well here too! :smiley:


Now that’s a thought, I could create titles for everyone as a way to garner compliments. Except “Favorite Oldie” would be a little too exclusive. I have so many favorite old-timers here (you among them, of course) I’d have to come up with more specific titles. I know, I declare you “Strainger’s Favorite Old-Timer from Helena, Montana.” :wink:

Also, since I live closer to Mexico, I think it would be better to go with my Spanish name, Straiñer. :wink:

Actually, IIRC, it was Thomas Edward Lawrence, and his friends called him Ned.