17 Curious Nicknames of Famous Authors

Wikimedia Commons // public domain
Wikimedia Commons // public domain

In his 1904 book Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard, Joseph Conrad wrote, “A nickname may be the best record of a success. That’s what I call putting the face of a joke upon the body of a truth.”

Conrad might be right. Plenty of successful writers have, or had, nicknames. As a kid, Voltaire went by “Zozo.” As an adult, Karl Marx preferred “Old Nick.” If William Golding was your scraggly English lit teacher, chances are you secretly called him “Scruff.” And if you count Margaret Atwood among your friends, you probably call her Peggy.

Here’s a list of literary nicknames—from childhood insults to friendly sobriquets—and how they came to be.

1. A fellow writer dubbed William Wordsworth "Turdsworth."

Lord Byron’s nickname for William Wordsworth may sound juvenile, but it was par for the course: Byron was weird. At Cambridge, he walked a pet bear on a leash and even tried to enroll the critter in class. The eccentric Byron wasn't the only one to poke fun at Wordsworth's expense. Samuel Taylor Coleridge once riffed on the Romantic-era writer's surname in a witty rhyme.

2. To her friends and family, Edith Wharton was “Miss Pussy Jones.”

Edith Wharton's nickname was "Pussy Jones."
Wikimedia Commons // public domain

Before becoming the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for literature, Edith Wharton was “better known as Miss Pussy Jones,” according to the New York Times. The nickname was widely used by her friends and family. (Wharton was a daughter of the New York City Jones family, a clan of wealthy aristocrats whose knack for accumulating material wealth may have inspired the idiom “Keeping up with the Joneses.”)

3. John Milton's Schoolmates christened him “The Lady of Christ’s.”

Centuries before Aerosmith wrote the immortal lyrics “Dude looks like a lady,” John Milton was turning heads at Christ’s College at Cambridge. His features were so delicate—with bountiful auburn hair and exceedingly fair skin—that students began calling the future author of Paradise Lost the “Lady of Christ’s” College.

4. Aldous Huxley was called “Ogie” for his awkwardness.

Aldous Huxley was a gangly kid. As a toddler, his head was so giant he had trouble staying upright while walking. And as a young adult, he was so thin that Virginia Wolf described him as a “gigantic grasshopper.” Somewhere in between, people started calling the blossoming wordsmith “Ogie”—short for ogre.

5. School Bullies Nicknamed James Baldwin “Popeyes.”

The writer James Baldwin pictured in 1969.
Wikimedia Commons // public domain

Kids can be cruel. James Baldwin’s toothy grin and large eyes inspired schoolyard bullies to call him “Froggy” and “Popeyes.” But a young Baldwin found solace in language. “Writing was my great consolation,” he’d say. “I could be as grotesque as a dwarf, and that wouldn’t matter.”

6. Ezra Pound gave T.S. Eliot the nickname “Old Possum.”

Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot were pen-pals and sometimes wrote letters in the style of Uncle Remus stories, mimicking the stereotype of an African-American dialect. Pound joked that Eliot was like the “Old Possum” in the Remus stories—reticent and cautious. The nickname spread, and Eliot used it in his children’s book Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which inspired Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats.

7. Virginia Woolf's cheeky childhood antics earned her the nickname “The Goat.”

"Through the Looking Glass," a print of Virginia Woolf.
Christiaan Tonnis, Flickr // cc by-sa 2.0

Virginia Woolf was a mischievous child. Quentin Bell wrote in his biography of Woolf that, “She could say things that made the grown-ups laugh with her.” On one occasion, she was secretly peeing in a bush and tried to divert attention by belting "The Last Rose of Summer." According to Bell, this—and similar misadventures—earned her the childhood nickname "The Goat," often shortened to just "Goat."

8. People called Chinua Achebe "Dictionary" because of his bookish ways.

The Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe was a boyhood bookworm who spent so much time with his nose buried in classics that his friends called him “Dictionary.” The laugh, however, was on them: Achebe’s book Things Fall Apart would be translated into at least 50 languages. By the twilight of his life, people were calling Achebe “Prof”—short for “professor”—instead.

9. Fyodor Dostoevsky's military classmates referred to him as “Monk Photius.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s father worked at the Mariinsky Hospital for the Poor, and the novelist spent much of his youth playing with the poor children whose parents were patients there. He never forgot his roots. When Dostoevsky came of age and joined the military, he became interested in Russian Orthodox religion, an obsession that prompted ridicule from fellow military students, who called him “Monk Photius,” after Photius I of Constantinople.

10. After he was wounded in battle, people nicknamed Miguel de Cervantes “The One-Handed from Lepanto.”

Portrait of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1615).
Wikimedia Commons // public domain

In 1571, Spain and other states of the Holy League waged war with the Ottoman Empire. Joining the fight was a young soldier named Miguel de Cervantes. At the Battle of Lepanto—one of the largest naval battles in history—a volley of musket shots tore into Cervantes’s chest and left hand, maiming him. From there on, people called the Don Quixote author El Manco de Lepanto, or “the one-handed from Lepanto.”

11. When Evelyn Waugh dated a woman with the same first name, friends started calling him “He-Evelyn.”

In 1927, author Evelyn Waugh met an aristocrat named Evelyn Gardner and later began courting her. The couple quickly realized life can get a little confusing when your romantic partner shares your first name. Friends began calling the couple “He-Evelyn and She-Evelyn” to tell them apart. The confusion was short-lived, as the duo dissolved their marriage less than a decade after they wed—after having already separated years earlier.

12. School boys dissed Honoré de Balzac by nicknaming him “The Poet.”

When the boys at school dubbed Honoré de Balzac “The Poet,” it wasn’t a compliment. The future author wrote the most ghastly, awful poetry in the whole class. “I neglected my studies to compose poems, which certainly can have shown no great promise, to judge by a line of too many feet which became famous among my companions,” Balzac wrote.

13. To one of her lovers, Simone de Beauvoir was simply “The Beaver.”

A beaver in the Rocky Mountains.
Jillian Cooper/iStock via Getty Images

Early in life, one of Simone de Beauvoir’s boyfriends called her Castor, Latin for “Beaver.” (While the English word obviously resembles her surname, some believe the name came from Beavuoir’s work ethic: She was always as busy as a ... well ... beaver.) The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre loved the nickname. He dedicated his first work, Nausea, to the Beaver” and would shamelessly refer to Beauvoir in interviews by the mammalian moniker.

14. People mocked William Faulkner by nicknaming him “Count No ‘Count.”

Late in World War I, William Faulkner served with the Royal Air Force in Canada—though the conflict ceased before he completed his training. When the war ended, he returned to the United States and ambled around town wearing his uniform and adopting British manners, regaling people with exaggerated tales of his military exploits. Locals laughed off this hifalutin poseur by calling him “Count No Account,” shortened to "Count No 'Count." The clipped nickname would follow Faulkner. In fact, in his freshman literary class, the roll listed him as “Falkner, Count William.” (The author later added the u to his surname).

15. Lewis Carroll embraced his nickname of “Dodo.”

The Dodo in "Alice in Wonderland" is a caricature of Lewis Carroll.
Wikimedia Commons // public domain

Lewis Carroll’s real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. The writer had a stammer and sometimes stumbled while pronouncing his last name, saying “Do-do-dogson.” But he proudly welcomed his nickname. In Alice and Wonderland, the dodo bird who appears in the early chapters is a caricature of the author.

16. James Joyce was pleased to adopt the nickname “Herr Satan.”

James Joyce was a man of contradictions. He was staid, but delighted in the bawdry. He was pious as a young man, only to have the Vatican later label him as an “iconoclast.” So it’s no surprise that when a group of Swiss chorus girls playfully mocked the author’s pointy beard by calling him “Herr Satan,” Joyce proudly took the nickname.

17. “Plato” was given his nickname because of his broad physique.

Little known fact: The Ancient Greek philosopher Plato’s name was not actually “Plato.” His given name is believed to have been Aristocles. The famed figure supposedly shed his true name and opted for “Plato" after his wrestling coach commented on how impressed he was with Plato’s wide chest and shoulders—platon means "broad" in Greek.

Party Like a Hobbit at Chicago’s Lord of the Rings Pop-Up Bar

Gollum and a Ringwraith loom near Bilbo's hobbit hole at Replay Lincoln Park's Lord of the Rings pop-up bar.
Gollum and a Ringwraith loom near Bilbo's hobbit hole at Replay Lincoln Park's Lord of the Rings pop-up bar.
Replay Lincoln Park

One does not simply walk into Mordor, but one does simply walk into The Lord of the Rings pop-up bar in Chicago—as long as you’re at least 21 years old, of course.

Replay Lincoln Park, known for elaborate themed pop-ups for Game of Thrones, South Park, and other entertainment franchises, has transformed its premises into a magical reproduction of Middle-earth aptly called “The One Pop-Up to Rule Them All,” open now through March 23.

Inside, you’ll be able to crouch under an outcropping of tangled tree roots while one of the dreaded Nazgûl lurks above you, high-five a grimacing Gollum, and snap photos with all your favorite Lord of the Rings characters.

nazgul at the lord of the rings pop-up bar at chicago's replay lincoln park
The Nazgûl like to party, too.
Replay Lincoln Park

You might want to skip elevenses to make sure you have plenty of room for a Hobbit-approved feast during your visit. The menu, catered by Zizi’s Cafe, features items like Fried Po-tay-toes, Lord of the Wings, Beef Lembas, and Pippen’s Popcorn.

ent replica at chicago's replay lincoln park pop-up bar
Say hello to a friendly Ent while you munch on "Pippen's Popcorn."
Replay Lincoln Park

According to Thrillist, there will be three different counters in the bar, each with its own specialty drinks. Head to The Prancing Pony for a second breakfast shot (maple whiskey, bacon, and orange juice), or take a trip to Minas Tirith to toss back a palantir shot, made of silver tequila and passion fruit purée. If you’re in the mood for a little dark magic, you can trek over to Mordor and try a “my precious” shot, a fusion of dark rum, orange liquor, and Cajun seasoning.

lord of the rings pop-up bar at chicago's replay lincoln park
The Eye of Sauron is watching you order another round of Mordor shots.
Replay Lincoln Park

For those of you who are happy to accompany your Tolkien-obsessed friends to the pop-up but aren’t exactly tickled at the sight of a moss-covered Ent replica yourselves, take heart in this added bonus: Replay Lincoln Park also boasts more than 60 free arcade games and pinball machines.

[h/t Thrillist]

Put Shakespeare's Best Insults On a Poster, Coffee Mug, or Even Some Bandages

Take your insult inspiration from the master: William Shakespeare.
Take your insult inspiration from the master: William Shakespeare.
Curious Charts Commission/Three Rivers Press/Amazon

If you’ve ever struggled to find the words to describe how angry or frustrated someone is making you, perhaps William Shakespeare, iconic writer and master of insults, can help.

Adorned with 100 insults from the Bard's many works, this poster from Curious Charts Commission (Amazon, $25) is the perfect reference piece to hang in your home or office for when you're struggling to think of the perfect takedown for anyone who crosses you. To help you get started, the 18-inch-by-24-inch poster is broken up into sections that include food and drink; types of individuals; inanimate objects; bodily qualities; creatures; and—of course—personal attributes and traits. Once you’ve decided the optimal route to take, you have a wide array of put-downs to choose from, ranging from “Were I like thee, I’d throw away myself,” to slightly simpler ones like, “You egg!”

The only drawback to the poster is that you can't take it everywhere with you. But the 14-ounce Shakespeare insults mug ($16), on the other hand, is the perfect choice for snark on the go. So next time a chatty co-worker tries to tell you about their weekend before you've even had your Monday morning coffee, you can simply look up and call them the "anointed sovereign of sighs and groans."

A mug decorated with Shakespeare insults.
Shakespeare insult mug from Unemployed Philosopher's Guild.
Unemployed Philosopher's Guild/Amazon

If, after all that, you’re still struggling to find the words, Shakespeare’s Insults: Educating Your Wit ($12), a book of 5000 slights pulled from 38 of Shakespeare’s plays, can be of assistance. Or, you can help heal a physical wound by dishing out an emotional one with these Shakespearean insult bandages ($6). You get 15 in a pack, and each box comes with a prize inside. 

Shakespeare Insult Bandages.
Shakespeare insult bandages found on Amazon.

Beyond a repertoire of insults, Shakespeare also coined many words we still use today. Check out the full list here.

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