Why in some cases there is "the" before nicknames and in some there is no?I also have a question if it's appropriate to use an article "a" before nicknames.For instance:

Erwin "The Desert Fox" Rommel

Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll

  • Can you provide some examples of what you’re talking about?
    – Jim
    Oct 21, 2017 at 0:53
  • For instance: Erwin "The Desert Fox" Rommel, Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll
    – Alex1751
    Oct 21, 2017 at 1:25
  • Those are more like “titles” than nicknames.
    – Jim
    Oct 21, 2017 at 1:26

1 Answer 1


Short answer: Nicknames with "the" are typically titles and honorifics not intended for direct addressly the person so named. Without "the", the nickname is often, but not always, intended to replace the person's name when directly addressing that person. Some names might have the person referred to as "The X" but addressed as "X".

The definite article is not (at least not commonly) used with nicknames that are contractions or affectionate ways of saying proper names. Hence, "Monty" for the Field Marshal Montgomery, not "The Monty" and "Jock" for Scots-British General John Campbell. Hence the article is not used where the nickname is of the form "adjective + proper_noun" as in "Howling Jake".

"The" can be used where nickname takes the form "adjective + abstract_noun" or "adjective + common_noun"

  • Nancy "The White Mouse" Wake

Mostly "The" is due to the people using the name implying that there is only such person who may be called thus. It is often a measure of respect or importance-- something like a cognomen ex virtute (a surname based on some virtue)--or opprobrium but it can also be because the characteristic is so distinctive or important as to preclude other people being referred to in the same way. (Note: I know nicknames are often unique to a social group to avoid having two people with the same name being referred to in the same way but I hope my intent is clear.)

  • General Jacob "The Monster" Smith (aka "Howling Jake"), horrendous war-criminal
  • Elvis "The King" Presley, a pre-eminent musician
  • John "The Duke" Wayne, a popular actor
  • Ingvar "The Tall" Øysteinsson, king of Sweden
  • Edward "The Riddler" Nigma, self-styled comic book villain

These names with "The" are mostly descriptive titles or styles and wouldn't be used in direct address, for example, people wouldn't have said "Good morning King Ingvar the Tall" or "Good morning the Tall" or "Good morning Tall". But The Batman might say, "You're slipping, Riddler. These clues were too easy."

Without "the", the nickname is often based on a behaviour or characteristic that is distinctive but not necessarily intended as an honour.

  • "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan, wrestler who started carrying a piece of timber (which isn't normally cut by a hacksaw, but you know, he already had the nickname and maybe ripsaw didn't sound so good)
  • John "Lackland", his father thought he wouldn't inherit much real eastate
  • Ragnar "Hairy-Breeches", hairy legs or hairy trousers? no one knows.

The lack of "the" also allows for a number of these names to be used as direct address. I imagine Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll was called "Mad Dog" by his mobster associates: "Mad Dog, go take care of this problem for me." I believe his friends and his fellow generals would called Richard S Ewell "Baldy". I don't know about his subordinates. It was intended as a term of affection so behind his "Old Bald Head" they probably did, but maybe not to his face.

I suspect it's generally inappropriate to use the indefinite article to make a nickname. I can't think of any example nickname that includes it and given the lack of distinctiveness there's not really a good reason to do it.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.