What is the term for adjectives attached after names? For example, there is terrible in Ivan the Terrible. Are these counted as post-positive adjectives?


3 Answers 3


This particular usage itself - an adjective following and considered part of a name - is most commonly referred to in English as an epithet.

This usage is ancient - Homer used it extensively (Ἀπόλλων Φοῖβος, "Apollo the Bright"), and traces of it are found throughout Indo-european languages (Siva Chandraśekhara, "Shiva the Moon-crested").

Grammatically, it is treated simply as a part of the person's name and so as a proper noun. In English we do not put a comma between the adjective and the name, as it is considered to be a unit. It is formed, as Jlawler says, by a noun and an adjective in apposition.

EDIT: Some seem to think that agnomen applies here due to a definition found in "Webster's" and Wikipedia. But an agnomen had a rather specific use as part of a Roman person's name. The articles point out that nowadays we have parallel constructions that are similar to agnomina. Examples they give are "Stonewall" Jackson and "Iron" Mike Tyson and even, yes, Aristides the Just. You will notice that Stonewall and Iron are nicknames and do not come after the name. So agnomen is a more generic term. But Ivan the Terrible, Alexender the Great in particular are epithets.

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    I link to a "Webster's" above, but it has nothing to do with Noah, or with Merriam-Webster. Anyone can use the term "Webster's", and the site linked appears to aggregate content from sources like Wikipedia. Mar 17, 2012 at 20:12
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    Yes - I'm familiar with epithet used this way, but if I've ever heard agnomen before, I don't remember it. Mar 17, 2012 at 22:47
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    Jesus Christ ... Mar 18, 2012 at 0:27
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    I presume there is a point where the appositive becomes so common that it becomes part of the name, and from then on is capitalized as a proper name? (I can imagine the editors in the 1500s discussing whether it should be "Ivan, who is terrible" or "Ivan the Terrible." Wonder if there was a style memo issued with their decision.)
    – JLG
    Mar 18, 2012 at 3:26
  • @JLG Imagine a letter addressed to Mrs Ivan the Terrible. Apr 4, 2018 at 10:35

Agnomen is the word you are looking for. Ex: 'the Great' in Alexander the Great.

  • This is a generic word simply meanining "nickname". Also, the comma is not used in these constructions. Mar 17, 2012 at 18:46
  • @MarkBeadles: To quote Wiki, "An agnomen is not a pseudonym, but a real name; agnomina are additions to, not substitutions for, an individual's full name. Parallel examples of agnomina from later times are epithets like Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson (though he is known more often by his agnomen than his first name) or popular nicknames like "Iron" Mike Tyson."
    – Bravo
    Mar 17, 2012 at 18:55
  • @MarkBeadles, Also see agnomen at websters-dictionary-online.com Mar 17, 2012 at 18:59
  • I will add to my answer rather than keep commenting here. Mar 17, 2012 at 19:01
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    Not if you actually read the Webster's, where it says "Source: adapted by the editor from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia; from the article Agnomen". Mar 17, 2012 at 20:09

They're just appositives, though of course the Greeks had a word for them, as Shyam points out.

The adjectival constructions are just normal generic uses of adjectives as appositives:

  • Peter the Great (One), Ivan the Terrible (One), etc.

You can also use nouns with the same appositive construction:

  • Peter the Hermit, William the Bastard, my son the doctor, etc.

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