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.”

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 Woolf 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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

China Is Now Home to What May Be the World’s Most Stunning Bookstore

The best place to get lost.
The best place to get lost.
Shao Feng/X+Living

Anywhere with books for sale is automatically a lovely place to be, but this new bookstore in southwest China just upped the ante with its jaw-dropping display of shelves.

The shop, located in Dujiangyan City, Sichuan, was designed by Li Xiang and her architectural firm X+Living. As Li mentioned on Instagram, she drew inspiration from Dujiangyan’s ancient irrigation system, which uses the rivers running in and around the city. You can definitely see its influence on her work; the towering arches and winding staircases evoke images of flowing water, and the mirrored ceiling makes the room seem infinite. ArchDaily points out that the curved display tables on the black tiled floor even look like boats in deep, placid water. Taking in the entire scene elicits a similar sense of awe that you might feel when observing a natural landscape.


View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Li Xiang | X+LIVING (@xlivingart) on

Then, there are the books themselves. While shelves stretch up to the ceiling (and seemingly beyond, thanks to those mirrors), visitors don’t have to worry about certain volumes being much too far to reach. The highest “shelves” are actually just wallpaper printed to look like bookshelves. According to designboom, the store also houses a children’s reading area, complete with green bamboo bookshelves, pictures of pandas, and bright-colored cushions.

It’s not the first time X+Living has created a space for book lovers. The Dujiangyan shop is the latest in the firm’s Zhonghuge series of bookstores around China, including locations in Beijing, Ningbo, Guiyang, and Chongqing. There are certain recurring design elements—like mirrored ceilings, curved shelves, and archways—but each has its own distinct style.

While you’re waiting for a chance to explore one of Li Xiang’s magical buildings, find out which bookstore is your state’s best one here.

[h/t designboom]