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A sobriquet (/ˈsbrɪk/ SOH-brik-ay), or soubriquet, is a nickname, sometimes assumed, but often given by another, that is descriptive. A sobriquet is distinct from a pseudonym, as it is typically a familiar name used in place of a real name, without the need of explanation, and it often becomes more familiar than the original name.

The term sobriquet may apply to the nickname for a specific person, group of people, or place. Examples are "Emiye Menelik", a name of Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia, who was popularly and affectionately recognized for his kindness ("emiye" means "mother" in Amharic); "Genghis Khan", who now is rarely recognized by his original name Temüjin ("Genghis Khan" means "universal ruler" in Mongolian); and Mohandas Gandhi, who is better known as "Mahatma" Gandhi ("mahatma" means "great soul" in Sanskrit). Well-known places often have sobriquets, such as New York City, often referred to as the "Big Apple".


The modern French spelling is sobriquet. Two early variants of the term are found: soubriquet and sotbriquet. The first early spelling variant, "soubriquet", remains in use and is considered the likely origin.

The second early spelling variant suggests derivation from the initial form sot, foolish, and the second part, briquet, is a French adaptation of Italian brichetto, diminutive of bricco, knave, possibly connected with briccone, rogue, which is supposed to be a derivative of the German brechen, to break; but the philologist Walter William Skeat considers this spelling to be an example of false etymology and argues the real origin should be sought in the form soubriquet.

Émile Littré gives an early-14th-century soubsbriquet as meaning a chuck under the chin, and this would be derived from soubs, mod. sous (Latin: sub), under, and briquet or bruchel, the brisket, or lower part of the throat.


Sobriquets often are found in music, sports, comedy and politics. Candidates and political figures often are branded with sobriquets, either while living or posthumously. For example, president of the United States Abraham Lincoln came to be known as "Honest Abe".[1]

In the A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926), Henry Watson Fowler warned: "Now the sobriquet habit is not a thing to be acquired, but a thing to be avoided; & the selection that follows is compiled for the purpose not of assisting but of discouraging it." He included the sobriquet among what he termed the "battered ornaments" of the language, but opinion on their use varies. Sobriquets remain a common feature of speech today.


  • The King (of rock and roll) Elvis Presley, famous vocalist and musician
  • The Lion City Singapore, the city-state, also known as Little Red Dot, The Garden City
  • The Big Yin – Billy Connolly, Glaswegian comedian commonly referred to as "The Big Yin", meaning "The Big One" in Scots[2]
  • The Big AppleNew York City
  • The Big Smoke - London
  • Godzone – New Zealand, from "God's own country"
  • AlbionBritain
  • Columbia – The United States or the Americas, poetic name
  • Dixie, Dixieland (from the Mason–Dixon line) – the eleven Southern states that seceded and fought against the U.S. in the American Civil War
  • The Fourth Estatethe press
  • Land of the Rising Sun - Japan
  • Pearl of the Orient – the Philippines, referring to its location in the Southeast Asia (or the East, with "Orient" meaning "East")
  • Graveyard of EmpiresAfghanistan
  • Londonistan – London, refers to the growing Muslim population of the city
  • Uncle Sam – the U.S. in general or specifically, its government (likely from the initials "U.S.")[3]
  • Uncle Joe - Joseph Stalin
  • The Sun King - Louis XIV of France
  • Papa Doc - François Duvalier, 34th president of Haiti
  • The Sage of ChelseaThomas Carlyle, Scots philosopher
  • The War to End All WarsWorld War I; since World War II, used ironically
  • The Windy City – Chicago, Illinois
  • The Motor City - Detroit, Michigan
  • Yankee (or "Yank" for short) – first recorded use attributed to British General James Wolfe, who used the word "Yankee" in 1758 to refer to the New England soldiers under his command. "I can afford you two companies of Yankees, and the more, because they are better for ranging and scouting than either work or vigilance".[4] Later British use of the word was in a derogatory manner, as seen in a cartoon published in 1775 ridiculing "Yankee" (American) soldiers.[4] In the Southern United States, the term is used in derisive reference to any Northerner, especially one who has migrated to the South and maintains derisive attitudes towards Southerners and the Southern way of life. Used outside the U.S. to mean any American; sometimes derogatory in usage
  • Man's best friend - dogs, derived from the origins of dogs, it indicates the relationship that has developed between the two species as they have each evolved to form a symbiotic relationship that is unique among human relationships to domestic animals.



  1. ^ Mansky, Jackie (2017-02-16). "When Lincoln Was More a Politician Than an 'Honest Abe'". Smithsonian. Retrieved 2017-09-26.
  2. ^ "BBC Scotland season to celebrate Billy Connolly". BBC Media Centre. 2020-05-02. Retrieved 2020-10-05. A big celebration of the Big Yin is kicking off on the BBC Scotland channel.
  3. ^ "Uncle Sam". Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  4. ^ a b Mathews (1951) p 1896


External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of sobriquet at Wiktionary