The Most Notorious Nicknames In History

Ivan the Terrible

Nicknames are usually cute endearments we give to our best pals or cherished loved ones. But sometimes, history attributes way creepier nicknames to loathsome figures from the past. These are called epithets, which is a word or phrase applied to a person or thing to describe an actual or attributed quality, like Ivan the Terrible.

Take Ivan the Terrible for example. Said to suffer from violent, paranoid delusions, he earned a ghastly reputation for slaughtering his political opponents while suppressing free speech in Russia. Ivan’s armies once massacred an entire city, simply because the Tsar had a misinformed hunch they were plotting against him. Oh, and he is believed to have “accidentally” killed his own son with a giant walking stick in 1581.

Need we go on? The man sounds truly terrible! Terrible, in this epithet, means “inspiring terror, fear, or dread.”

WATCH: This Is Why You Should Not Judge A Word By How It Sounds

Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper‘s nickname fueled his staggering notoriety in London during the late 1800s. London’s rabid press couldn’t help but report all the salacious details of these grisly murders, either. They paid particular attention to how the murderer seemed to rip his poor victims to shreds. The nickname originated in an 1888 letter from a person claiming to be Jack the Ripper.

And, there you have it.

The Butcher of Bosnia

The term butcher is often attributed to war criminals who commit large-scale slaughter. Take Ratko Mladić for instance. You may know him as The Butcher of Bosnia. The combat general was convicted of human rights violations, including genocide and crimes against humanity, after the Bosnian War in the early 1990s.

You’ve got to be one nasty guy to be remembered solely for your butchery.

White Death

White Death: a frosty nickname given to the deadliest sniper in the history of modern warfare.

Simo Häyhä, a Finnish soldier in the Winter War of 1939–1940 between the Soviet Union and Finland, is reported to have single-handedly killed upwards of 500 enemy soldiers over three months of battle.

Häyhä was called White Death because his sniper fire came from deep snow embankments. Opposing forces couldn’t locate the sniper’s position thanks to his camouflage against the icy white tundra

Vlad the Impaler

Want to take a wild guess at how Vlad the Impaler got his nickname?

Turns out he had a nasty habit of cutting people’s heads off and impaling them on spikes. Dude! Not cool, Vlad. The Wallachian leader used these savage displays to intimidate his opponents and consolidate his political power.

Oh, and you might already know he’s the real-life inspiration for Dracula. He makes Dracula seem mild.

Killer Clown

Are you afraid of clowns?

Pennywise from Steven King’s IT might strike fear into your heart — but he’s got nothing on John Wayne Gacy, AKA the Killer Clown. Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say he definitely wasn’t clowning around when it came to serial murder in the 1970s.

Before his gruesome crimes were discovered, Gacy was known as a friendly clown named Pogo who performed at children’s parties and raised money for charity. Thanks for the nightmares.

Ivar the Boneless

Unlike most of our loathsome nicknames, this one’s actually kind of funny. It belonged to an 800s a.d. Viking warlord known as Ivar the Boneless. There isn’t enough historical evidence to prove exactly where this bizarre nickname came from, but we have some clues.

Old Nordic poems portray Ivar as a fearless berserker who had a superhuman resilience to pain or injury. Others believe he suffered from a genetic condition that softened his cartilage, making his limbs hyper-flexible—perhaps giving him the appearance of being boneless.

The Gray Man

File this one under “Google if you dare.”

Albert Fish, known as The Gray Man, is one of American history’s most notorious serial killers … and cannibals. Fish got the nickname from the mother of one of his victims who described his unruly appearance. She said the infamous kidnapper made strange movements with his hands, and “everything about him seemed faded and gray.”

Her creepy description struck a chord in the press, and Fish became known as a real-life boogeyman around New York in the early 1930s.

Zodiac Killer

Most of us know our zodiac sign and use it to check out horoscopes. But, one mysterious serial killer from the late 1960s gave the term a whole new meaning.

The still unidentified Zodiac Killer haunted Northern California for several years, committing a baffling string of murders. In mocking letters to the press, he called himself The Zodiac, leading to massive speculation about his true identity.

It’s actually possible this nickname has nothing to do with astrology at all. You’ll have to dig deeper to get the whole story, but some believe the killer borrowed his nickname from a brand of Swiss watch called Zodiac. The brand’s logo closely resembles a crude mark he would draw after signing his ominous letters.

Doctor Death

Several doctors have been given this dubious nickname throughout history. It’s usually attributed to those who break the Hippocratic oath by purposefully euthanizing elderly or sick patients against their will.

One doctor, Jack Kevorkian, spent his career, especially in the 1980–90s, advocating for the concept of right-to-die, which permits terminally ill patients to undergo euthanasia at will. That practice (via assisted suicide) is now legal in some states.

Nobody likes hospitals, but imagine how freaked out you’d be to hear “Paging Dr. Death …” over the loudspeaker.

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