Nicknames


While in France I picked up a couple of schoolroom books on French history. One was a long list of French kings, from the Merovingians (circa 500 CE) to the present.

I was impressed, firstly, with the originality of the kings’ names back in the Dark Ages before Charlemagne. Dagobert! Clotaire! Sigebert! Gontran! Clodomir! Much more interesting than all those dull kings named Louis and Francois and Henri later on.

But even those later kings managed to pick up peppier names. Louis VI was The Fat; Louis VII, his son, was The Young; Louis VII’s son Philip somehow lucked into the agnomen “Augustus,” which is a lovely thing to be called. Later we have The Handsome, The Quarrelsome, the Well-Beloved.

Let’s try this custom on American presidents, shall we?

Taft the Fat: too easy. Teddy Roosevelt the Brave, or the Bold. Andrew Jackson the Stubborn.

Lincoln is difficult. I think of him as the Peacemaker or the Mediator – but he presided over four years of war. The Emancipator? Maybe.

Carter the Mild.  Kennedy the Young, maybe? Reagan the Old (though some would opt for Reagan the Great. Not me, though.)

Here’s the real poser: George W. Bush.

Not the Stupid. Better the agnomen of Ethelred II: the Unready.

In Old English, it meant something different: “one who would not take advice,” or “the ill-advised.”

Perfect.


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