Military Life

4 ways nicknames in the military are nothing like in pop culture

Movies would have you believe that every unit has a guy nicknamed "Hawkeye" or "Snake" or some other generic, tough name. As fun as films and video games make those monikers seem, it just doesn't work that way in real life.

In actuality, nicknames fall into one of four categories: Either the troop is a freakin' legend, it's the unit's name plus a number or letter, it's just a shortened version of their last name, or it's an insult in disguise.

saint mattis of quantico Unless you're a BAMF, don't expect an awesome one. (OAF Nation)


1. The legends

Let's kick this list off with the freakin' legends. Take Secretary of Defense James "Warrior Monk" Mattis for example. He's a highly revered military mind within the U.S. Armed Forces and his nickname reflects that.

As is the case with most nicknames, they're typically invented and popularized by others — not by the legends themselves. These nicknames are even more intimidating when they're created by the enemy. Chris "the Legend" Kyle, for example, was known as "Al-Shaitan Ramad," which translates into "the Devil of Ramadi."

The reason why both Kyle and Mattis have such badass nicknames is because they earned them.

Even with all of The Punisher swag that Chris Kyle wore, he never insisted that anyone call him "The Punisher" — even if he was one of the few people on Earth worthy of that title.

2. Call signs

People often confuse nicknames with call signs, so let's hash the difference right now. Call signs are official unit designations given to members of the chain of command. Sometimes, a call sign will become more familiar than your own name.

If you're, let's say, the company commander of the alpha company "Spartans," you'll get the designation of "Spartan 6." The XO gets "Spartan 5," Senior Enlisted gets "Spartan 7," and so on. Drivers, gunners, and radio operators can swap out the number designation for D, G, and R, respectively.

Why, yes. They do call me "Romeo" for a reason...

(Photo by Cpl. Charles Santamaria)

3. Butchered last name

The next nickname variation is especially terrible if your last name is anything outside of the standard, common English name. Unless you're a "Smith" or a "Brown" or a "Johnson," no one is going to try to pronounce what's on your name tape — no matter how phonetically simple it may seem.

A whole nine letters broken into three syllables — you know, something simple like Milzarski (pronounced Mil-zar-ski) is too complicated. So, most will just shorten it to "Ski." Good luck if there's more than one Polish troop in the squad. Not that I'm ranting or anything...

"Hey, Ski!" "...which one?"

(Photo by Sgt. Lauren Harrah)

4. Remember when you screwed up?

The most common way to get yourself a nickname of your very own is to f*ck up. Don't worry if it's not a record-shattering mistake — people will constantly remind you of what you did. It's not pleasant and it's usually a way to rib one another, but you don't want to be known as "Fumbles" by everyone.

Don't worry if you get one of these dumb names. It'll pass as soon as you PCS or ETS.

If it's dumb and it sounds like an insult, don't take it personally. It's meant with brotherly love.

(U.S. Army)