The Real Meanings Behind These Popular Celebrity Nicknames

Celebrities—they’re just like us. Except, you know, they have millions of dollars and jaunt around on private jets.

One thing we plebs do share with the rich and famous, though, is getting stuck with nicknames. Sometimes we pick these nicknames ourselves, other times we’re dubbed these titles against our will.

From singers and presidents to b-ball players and tech moguls, all kinds of celebs have nicknames … some of which have trickled down into our everyday vocabulary, too.

Champagne Papi

The hip-hop artist Drake is not Latino—not even a little bit. But, you wouldn’t know that from his self-styled nickname, and personaChampagne Papi. Drake began using Champagne Papi in 2011, when he started posting on Instagram under the handle @champagnepapi, which now boasts over 54 million followers.

While champagne may be Drake’s drink of choice, it is most likely used here to evoke sophistication, elegance, and romance. Papi is Spanish slang for “daddy” or “dude,” frequently associated with a type of Caribbean machismo.

Drake has lots of other nicknames, including Wheelchair Jimmy, Ovo, and 6 God, but none of these have had the same kind of pop as Champagne Papi.


Drake is far from the only hip-hop artist with multiple monikers. Rapper Lil Wayne, for one, has dozens. But, one we especially love is Tunechi, or Lil Tunechi. Why? Because it was given to him by his grandmother. Sort of.Tunechi comes from Lil Tune, a pet name Lil Wayne’s late grandmother, Mercedes Carter, gave to him when he was young. The –chi was added on later, as Carter explained in a video: “Like Gucci, I say Tunechi!” The full nickname has been said to be something like Tunchieliounchis, but was wisely shortened to Tunechi for the rest of us.

Lil Wayne seems fond of this nickname, too: It’s what he used for his Twitter handle, @LilTunechi, when he joined in 2010. Marijuana enthusiasts may like it, too. Since at least 2015, Tunechi has been a nickname for synthetic marijuana, better known by the slang names spice or K2.


While it may sound like Spanish slang for a skinny woman (flaca) or a synthetic narcotic (flakka), Flocka is the nickname used by rapper Waka Flocka Flame. Born Juaquin Malphurs, his brother apparently nicknamed him Waka as a kid, taken from the catchphrase of the Muppets’ Fozzie Bear. Fellow rapper Gucci Mane is said to have later added Flocka Flame via rhyming reduplication.

Among fans, Flocka is used as a shorthand for all things Flocka, from the rapper himself and his music to his personality and look. For instance, one could get some Flocka dreads if they wanted to style themselves after Waka Flocka. Or, one might do a Flocka dance if moving like the rapper does on stage.


Rappers aren’t the only artists with creative nicknames. Crooners and pop stars earn them, too. That’s why we’re talking about Marcel as the nickname for One Direction band member Harry Styles.

The name comes from a 2013 movie/music video for One Direction’s “Best Song Ever,” in which Harry plays a stereotypically nerdy marketing guy named Marcel. One Direction lovers ate it up so much so that Marcel immediately took off as an affectionate nickname for Harry Styles in his fandom. The term Marcel is used mostly online in social media, particularly by Harry Styles super-fans.


Sportsball players are also famous—some might say notorious—for creative nicknames. There’s the Hebrew Hammer (Al Rosen, baseball), The Great One (Wayne Gretzky, hockey) … and Spida.Spida is the nickname for basketball player Donovan Mitchell, record-breaking shooting guard for the Utah Jazz.

Mitchell earned his nickname, Spida, early on in his basketball career, apparently for the way he was always “crawling” around the rim like a spider, or spida in colloquial Black English. In an interview ahead of the 2018 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, Mitchell explained: “When I was younger, I was just a dunker. Like, it was all I loved to do, was just dunk. One of my teammate’s dad called me Spida. It just stuck.”

Beast Mode

Marshawn Lynch is another athlete with a memorable nickname—and a “beastly” one, at that.

The phrase beast mode refers to “a state of performing something, especially difficult activities, with extreme power, skill, or determination.” Beast mode became popular in sports during the late 2000s and early 2010s due to its association with football running back Marshawn Lynch, who uses Beast Mode as his nickname.

According to Lynch, the nickname came from one of his old coaches, who called him “a beast.” This slang sense of beast, emerging by the early 2000s, refers to “someone extremely good at something, e.g., a skilled basketball player is a beast on the court.” The idea of Lynch entering beast mode on the field, however, also suggests earlier uses of beast mode in 1980–90s TV shows and video games for “powering up,” where characters switched into the mode of a preternaturally strong beast.

According to Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch himself, beast mode is not confined to competitive activities like games or sports. For instance, a coffee barista could be said to be entering beast mode when working fast, efficiently, and in a driven manner, such as preparing four cups of coffee at once. A patient, as another example, might “go beast mode” to fight cancer.

Salt Bae

Remember Turkish chef Nusret Gökçe? No? That’s because you probably know him as Salt BaeGökçe became a worldwide sensation on January 7, 2017, when he posted a video of himself on Instagram in a form-fitting tee, sensually carving meat. He ends the video with his signature move: Gökçe lifts his arm up and flicks his wrist, in the pose of a cobra, seasoning the meat with salt as if he’s sprinkling fairy dust.

On the same day, tweeter @lolalissaa linked to the video and commented: “So this is #saltbae.” The video on Gökçe’s Instagram went viral, quickly gaining over 13,000,000 views and over 50,000 comments, and the nickname Salt Bae went viral with it. (Bae itself is an affectionate slang term used to address one’s boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, etc.)

The most popular use of the term Salt Bae, when not referring directly to Gökçe himself, is in reference to his cobra-style sprinkling move. While this has been imitated by many chefs as one might expect, it also become a popular gesture in the world of sports in 2017.


Politicians are easy targets for nicknames. They get them from the public, they give them to themselves, or they just call other politicians outrageous things. Sometimes these nicknames are dignified, like Honest Abe for Abraham Lincoln. More often, they’re ridiculous or downright insulting. Crooked Hillary, anyone?

Whether former President George W. Bush’s nickname Dubya, from a folksy pronunciation of his middle initial W, is kind or cruel depends on how you look at it. When Bush first got the nickname isn’t exactly clear; he was governor of Texas from 1995–2000, not to mention he spent his entire previous life as a junior. Perhaps he even nicknamed himself, considering his habit of nicknaming others, colorfully calling Russian president Vladimir Putin Pootie-Poot and his senior advisor, Karl Rove, Turd Blossom.


Sometimes nicknames work in the other direction—someone does something so notable that their name gets attached to a certain action or behavior. This is called an eponym, and this is what happened in the case of Zuckered.Zuckered is a punny blend of suckered (“conned”) and the last name of Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. The exact meaning of the term has varied, but central to it is “being tricked or conned in some way, either by Facebook or by Zuckerberg himself.”

Around 2010, Zuckered was being used to refer to “claiming someone else’s idea as your own,” a reference to Zuckerberg allegedly stealing the idea for Facebook from Cameron and Tyler Winkelvoss, brothers who launched an early competitor. But even then, Zuckered was already being used in reference to Facebook’s data privacy issues, which notably hounded the company in the late 2010s.

Just as we don’t always get to choose our nicknames, we don’t always get to control what becomes of our given names either.

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