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.

10 Wireless Chargers Designed to Make Life Easier

La Lucia/Moshi
La Lucia/Moshi

While our smart devices and gadgets are necessary in our everyday life, the worst part is the clumsy collection of cords and chargers that go along with them. Thankfully, there are more streamlined ways to keep your phone, AirPods, Apple Watch, and other electronics powered-up. Check out these 10 wireless chargers that are designed to make your life convenient and connected.

1. Otto Q Wireless Fast Charging Pad; $40

Otto Q Wireless Fast Charging Pad

Touted as one of the world's fastest chargers, this wireless model from Moshi is ideal for anyone looking to power-up their phone or AirPods in a hurry. It sports a soft, cushioned design and features a proprietary Q-coil module that allows it to charge through a case as thick as 5mm.

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2. Gotek Wireless Charging Music Station; $57

Gotek Wireless Charging Music Station
Rego Tech

Consolidate your bedside table with this clock, Bluetooth 5.0 speaker, and wireless charger, all in one. It comes with a built-in radio and glossy LED display with three levels of brightness to suit your style.

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3. BentoStack PowerHub 5000; $100 (37 percent off)

BentoStack PowerHub 5000

This compact Apple accessory organizer will wirelessly charge, port, and store your device accessories in one compact hub. It stacks to look neat and keep you from losing another small piece of equipment.

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4. Porto Q 5K Portable Battery with Built-in Wireless Charger; $85

Porto Q 5K Portable Battery with Built-in Wireless Charger

This wireless charger doubles as a portable battery, so when your charge dies, the backup battery will double your device’s life. Your friends will love being able to borrow a charge, too, with the easy, non-slip hook-up.

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5. 4-in-1 Versatile Wireless Charger; $41 (31 percent off)

4-in-1 Versatile Wireless Charger
La Lucia

Put all of those tangled cords to rest with this single, temperature-controlled charging stand that can work on four devices at once. It even has a built-in safeguard to protect against overcharging.

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6. GRAVITIS™ Wireless Car Charger; $20 (31 percent off)

GRAVITIS™ Wireless Car Charger

If you need to charge your phone while also using it as a GPS, this wireless device hooks right into the car’s air vent for safe visibility. Your device will be fully charged within two to three hours, making it perfect for road trips.

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7. Futura X Wireless 15W Fast Charging Pad; $35 (30 percent off)

Futura X Wireless 15W Fast Charging Pad

This incredibly thin, tiny charger is designed for anyone looking to declutter their desk or nightstand. Using a USB-C cord for a power source, this wireless charger features a built-in cooling system and is simple to set up—once plugged in, you just have to rest your phone on top to get it working.

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8. Apple Watch Wireless Charger Keychain; $20 (59 percent off)

Apple Watch Wireless Charger Keychain
Go Gadgets

This Apple Watch charger is all about convenience on the go. Simply attach the charger to your keys or backpack and wrap your Apple Watch around its magnetic center ring. The whole thing is small enough to be easily carried with you wherever you're traveling, whether you're commuting or out on a day trip.

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9. Wireless Charger with 30W Power Delivery & 18W Fast Charger Ports; $55 (38 percent off)

Wireless Charger from TechSmarter

Fuel up to three devices at once, including a laptop, with this single unit. It can wirelessly charge or hook up to USB and USB-C to consolidate your charging station.

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10. FurniQi Bamboo Wireless Charging Side Table; $150 (24 percent off)

FurniQi Bamboo Wireless Charging Side Table

This bamboo table is actually a wireless charger—all you have to do is set your device down on the designated charging spot and you're good to go. Easy to construct and completely discreet, this is a novel way to charge your device while entertaining guests or just enjoying your morning coffee.

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11 Facts About Henry David Thoreau

By Benjamin D. Maxham, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Benjamin D. Maxham, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In his book Walden, Henry David Thoreau declared his love of nature, simplicity, and independence. Although most people know about Thoreau’s time in Walden Woods, as well as his Transcendentalism, abolitionist views, and writing on civil disobedience, there’s a lot more to uncover about him. Here are some things you might not have known about Henry David Thoreau, who was born on July 12, 1817.

1. You're probably mispronouncing Henry David Thoreau's name.

Born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1817, David Henry Thoreau switched his first and middle names after graduating from Harvard. His legal name, though, was always David Henry. Although most people today pronounce Thoreau’s surname with the emphasis on the second syllable, he most likely pronounced it “THOR-oh.” Ralph Waldo Emerson’s son, Edward, wrote that the accent in Thoreau’s name was on the first syllable, and other friends called him “Mr. Thorough.”

2. Henry David Thoreau invented a machine to improve pencils.

In the 1820s, Thoreau’s father started manufacturing black-lead pencils. Between teaching students, surveying land, and working as a handyman, Thoreau made money by working for his family’s pencil business. After researching German techniques for making pencils, he invented a grinding machine that made better quality plumbago (a mixture of the lead, graphite, and clay inside a pencil). After his father died, Thoreau ran the family’s pencil company.

3. Henry David Thoreau accidentally burned hundreds of acres of woods.

In 1844, a year before moving into a house in Walden Woods, the 26-year-old Thoreau was cooking fish he had caught with a friend in the woods outside Concord. The grass around the fire ignited, and the flames burned between 100 and 300 acres of land, thanks to strong winds. Even years later, his neighbors disparagingly called him a rascal and a woods burner. In an 1850 journal entry, Thoreau described how the earth was “uncommonly dry”—there hadn’t been much rain—and how the fire “spread rapidly.” Although he initially felt guilty, he wrote that he soon realized that fire is natural, and lightning could have sparked a fire in the woods just as easily as his cooking accident did.

4. Henry David Thoreau's house at Walden Pond later became a pigsty.

After Thoreau left the home he built in Walden Woods in 1847, the structure went through multiple iterations. He sold the house to Emerson (it was on land that Emerson already owned), and Emerson sold it to his gardener. The gardener never moved in, so the house was empty until a farmer named James Clark bought it in 1849. Clark moved it to his nearby farm and used it to store grain. In 1868, the roof of the building was removed from the base and used to cover a pigsty. In 1875, the rest of the structure was used as a shed before its timber was used to fix Clark’s barn. Today, you can see replicas of Thoreau’s house near Walden Pond in Massachusetts.

5. Henry David Thoreau and his brother both fell in love with the same woman.

In 1839, Thoreau wrote in his journal about how he fell in love with Ellen Sewall, an 18-year-old from Cape Cod. In 1840, Thoreau’s older brother John proposed marriage to Sewall but was rejected. So, like any good brother, Thoreau wrote a letter to Sewall, proposing that she marry him instead. Sewall rejected him too, probably due to her family disapproving of the Thoreau family’s liberal views on Christianity.

Despite the aforementioned marriage proposal, some historians and biographers speculate that Thoreau was gay. He never married, reportedly preferred celibacy, and his journals reveal references to male bodies but no female ones.

6. Despite popular misconception, Henry David Thoreau wasn't a loner.

Historians have debunked the misconception that Thoreau was a selfish hermit who lived alone so he could stay away from other people. Rather than being a loner, Thoreau was an individualist who was close to his family members and lived with Emerson’s family (on and off) for years. To build his cabin in the woods, he got help from his friends including Emerson and Bronson Alcott, the father of Louisa May Alcott. During his stay in the woods, he frequently entertained guests, visited friends, and walked to the (nearby) town of Concord. At his funeral at Concord’s First Parish Church, a large group of friends attended to mourn and celebrate his life.

7. Henry David Thoreau was a minimalist.

Long before tiny houses were trendy, Thoreau wrote about the benefits of living a simple, minimalist lifestyle. In Walden, he wrote about giving up the luxuries of everyday life in order to quiet the mind and have time for thinking. “My greatest skill has been to want but little,” he wrote. Thoreau also related his love of simplicity to the craft of writing: “It is the fault of some excellent writers ... that they express themselves with too great fullness and detail. They give the most faithful, natural, and lifelike account of their sensations, mental and physical, but they lack moderation and sententiousness.”

8. Henry David Thoreau took copious notes.

Although he was a minimalist, Thoreau wrote an abundance of notes and ideas in his journals, essays, and letters. He jotted down his observations of nature, writing in detail about everything from how plant seeds spread across the land to the changing temperature of Walden Pond to animal behavior. In addition to his plethora of notes and environmental data, Thoreau also collected hundreds of plant specimens and birds’ eggs.

9. Henry David Thoreau was praised for his originality.

In 1862, newspapers widely reported the news of Thoreau’s death. Obituaries for the 44-year-old writer appeared in The Boston Transcript, The Boston Daily Advertiser, The Liberator, The Boston Journal, The New-York Daily Tribune, and The Salem Observer. The obituaries describe Thoreau as an “eccentric author” and “one of the most original thinkers our country has produced.”

10. Henry David Thoreau donated his collections to the Boston Society of Natural History.

After Thoreau’s death, the Boston Society of Natural History got a huge gift. Thoreau, a member, gave the society his collections of plants, Indian antiquities, and birds’ eggs and nests. The plants were pressed and numbered—there were more than 1000 species—and the Native American antiquities included stone weapons that Thoreau had found while walking in Concord.

11. Don Henley of the Eagles is a huge fan of Henry David Thoreau.

As a big fan of both Thoreau and Transcendentalism, musician Don Henley of the Eagles started The Walden Woods Project in 1990 to stop 68 acres of Walden Woods from being turned into offices and condominiums. The project succeeded in saving the woods, and today The Walden Woods Project is a nonprofit organization that conserves Walden Woods, preserves Thoreau’s legacy, and manages an archive of Thoreau’s books, maps, letters, and manuscripts. In an interview with Preservation Magazine, Henley described the importance of preserving Walden Woods: “The pond and the woods that inspired the writing of Walden are historically significant not only because they were the setting for a great American classic, but also because Walden Woods was Henry David Thoreau's living laboratory, where he formulated his theory of forest succession, a precursor to contemporary ecological science.”

This story has been updated for 2020.