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8 Weirdest Presidential Nicknames

Published: June 14, 2018

“Tricky Dick,” “Big Steve,” and “Dude” aren’t the type of nicknames you’d expect to hear in the Oval Office, but these are just a few of the names that have been given to our heads of state. Here’s a list of eight weird presidential nicknames and the stories behind them.

1.    Abraham “The Grand Wrestler” Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln stands above a man he just thrown, staring down an astonished mob.

Lincoln, the Grand Wrestler. (Internet Archive Book Images via Wikimedia Commons)

Lincoln is known not only for his unmatched honesty but for his successful wrestling career as well — which earned him the nickname “The Grand Wrestler.” He was so successful, historians have found only one instance of Lincoln losing a wrestling match. He also helped create a move called the “choke slam” after he picked up his opponent by the throat and literally slammed him onto the ground.

Honest Abe was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1992.

2.    Chester “The Dude President” Arthur

Chester Arthur. (White House Historical Association)

In the late 1800s, the word dude was, in the words of linguist Arika Okrent, “a term of mockery for young men who were overly concerned with keeping up with the latest fashions.” Chester A. Arthur got his unusual nickname because of his lifestyle and love for fashion, sometimes at taxpayer expense. For example, after he became president following James Garfield’s assassination in 1881, he wasted no time spending over $30,000 ($2 million in today’s money) renovating the White House to better accommodate his parties.

Arthur was also no workaholic. He openly voiced his distaste for living in the place he worked and refused to work on Sundays and Mondays.

3.    Benjamin “The Human Iceberg” Harrison

Benjamin Harrison was the polar opposite of the socialite President Arthur, so much so that some derisively called him “The Human Iceberg.” He got his nickname because, although he could warmly engage with a crowd during speeches, he was said to be very cold and detached in person. He wasn’t often described as a mean or aggressive man, simply aloof, even among his staff.

4.    Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon

Richard Nixon. (SEPS)

Richard Nixon earned the nickname “Tricky Dick” 22 years before Watergate in a 1950 Senate election. He was running against Helen Gahagan Douglas, a new age democrat who had been a Broadway star in the ’20s. At the height of the McCarthy era, Nixon centered his campaign not on Douglas’ platform, but on her affiliation with actors who had been accused of engaging in communist activities. This tactic was enough to win Nixon the seat and the nickname.

 

5.    Lyndon “Light Bulb” Johnson

Andrew Jackson with the Tennessee forces on the Hickory Grounds. (Library of Congress)

Lyndon B. Johnson took being a president “for the people” to the extreme. He was known among White House officials for running around every night and shutting off every unnecessary lights so that he wasn’t “wasting the tax payers’ money.”

6.    Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson

Andrew Jackson had an impressive military career before he became president. His nickname comes from his time in the service and was given to him by his troops. After the War of 1812, Andrew was ordered to disband his regiments. Instead of stranding them where they were, Jackson committed his own finances and time to get his troops home. He and his fellow generals offered their horses to the sick and walked alongside their men for much of the journey. This dedication led to the nickname “Old Hickory” because hickory is one of the strongest and hardest woods native to the United States.

7.    Grover “Big Steve” Cleveland

Grover Cleveland. (Shutterstock)

Stephen Grover Cleveland ditched his first name in 1881 after his friends adopted the nickname “Big Steve.” The 250-pound Cleveland couldn’t escape the public’s fat-shaming for long, though: During his time as governor of New York, he acquired the name “Uncle Jumbo.” This avuncular epithet helped create an image that appealed to voters, family, and friends alike, and due to his ever-increasing weight, the name followed him throughout his life.

8.    Herbert “The Great Humanitarian” Hoover

Herbert Hoover is arguably one of the most disliked presidents in American history. He had the misfortune of being president during the Great Depression, and for the most part, it seemed he did little to help. Before his presidency, though, he was seen as a generous man who gave to the poor and helped feed the hungry. He did everything from risking his life to save a couple of Chinese children to helping finance feeding the entire country of Belgium after it was overrun by Germany.

However, Hoover also refused to fund large-scale relief programs during the Depression that could have alleviated hunger and suffering for hundreds of American citizens, so there is debate over how genuine his selflessness was.

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  • Brandy L Wilkerson

    PBS had a special on Nixon. Very informative. I never realized what a cheating crook he really was until seeing how he manipulated all his other elections. Watergate was literally the tip of the iceberg, but fortunately for America it was what finally sunk him.
    Very interesting to see the other presidential nicknames. Gives an insight I have never heard on some of the presidents… for instance, I love that Lincoln was a wrestler! lol That is awesome!

  • Toni Clark-Moulthrop

    I had no idea that President Cleveland’s true first name was Steven. Regardless of the reason he chose to use his middle name, I think Grover is a much better (and more dignified) name for a president!

    As for President Nixon, I also believe it’s too bad pop culture and media focus only on the “bad” – he was a good president! He was a hardworking president who did the best he could for the country. Progressives love the EPA! Had he only admitted what happened in Watergate, he would have a different legacy.

  • Jan Hutto

    Will be interesting to know what weird name might be given to Donald Trump.

  • Dena Gray

    My husband and I always appreciated .Mr. Nixon’s diplomat talent and his work on the gold standard. A shame people only spotlight the negative of a wonderful man.

  • Out of all 8 Presidents featured here, I’m really the most surprised by Chester Arthur. Of course the circumstances of his BECOMING President indicate he may not have otherwise.

    It’s ironic how the name/reputation of ‘Tricky Dick’ (early on) helped Nixon win the Senate election, but would ultimately cause his Presidency to come crashing down in 1974. Despite that debacle, Nixon was still one of our great Presidents in what he accomplished.

    As far as Grover Cleveland went, he would have been very cutting-edge if he’d encouraged exercise nationwide, starting with himself, and let the results speak for themselves.

    No offense to Archie and Edith Bunker, but it’s best we don’t have a man like Herbert Hoover again as President.

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