21 Nicknames of Napoleon

Nicknames of Napoleon Bonaparte, Author's Collection
Napoleon Bonaparte, Author’s Collection

Nicknames have always been popular. They serve as substitute for a person’s proper name and are sometimes used affectionately or at other times as a form of ridicule. Napoleon Bonaparte, the famous French military and political leader who rose to prominence during the French Revolution, was the recipient of both types of nicknames. One of the first nicknames he acquired was “Nabulio,” which mean little meddler. This affectionate nickname was given to him by his family and referred to the mischief he reputedly caused. Napoleon later acquired many other nicknames. Among the many nicknames that he acquired are twenty-one (list below), as well as a brief description of how he obtained each one.

  • Boney or Little Boney: The British began calling him this at the beginning of the nineteenth century. There are several explanations as to how Napoleon got this derisive nickname. One explanation is that “Boney” was a contraction of his surname Bonaparte and that Boneys, which was both a short name and displayed a certain lack of respect, was also used to refer to the French military under Napoleon. In addition, caricatures of John Bull were “fleshy, robust, and virile, a meat-eating man-at-arms ready to die for his…king. His French counterpart was lean, dry, and fey, a frog-eating fop.” Thus, British caricaturists showed Napoleon as thin, which some say encouraged the “Boney” or “Little Boney” nickname. 
  • Caporal la Violette: Although there are many stories about Napoleon and violets, this nickname was supposedly given to Napoleon by his French friends while he was living in exile. It expressed their hope that he would return in springtime when the violets bloomed. Moreover, these same partisans were said to wear violets in the secret hope that he would return, and they used the term to to conceal discussions about him. The Day of Violets was said to have occurred on 1 March 1815 because after Napoleon’s escape from Elba, that was the day he landed at Golfe-Juan with 800 soldiers and marched towards Paris.
  • Colossus of the Nineteenth Century: Napoleon got this nickname because of the colossal power that he was said to wield during the early part of the 19th century.
  • Corsican Fiend: Because Napoleon was born in Corsica, there were many nicknames assigned to him with the word Corsican in it. For instance he was called Corsican Sesostris, Corsican General, and Corsican Ogre. However, the nickname “Corsican Fiend” was said to have been given him by Sir John Stoddart, a writer, lawyer, and editor of The Times.
  • "Fleshy ci-devant Boney" (Napoleon in Exile on St Helena) , Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust
    “Fleshy ci-devant Boney” (Napoleon in Exile on St Helena) , Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust
    Fleshy: Although Napoleon may have started out being called “Boney” by the end of his reign British caricaturists were calling him “Fleshy.”
  • God Hanuman: Robert Southey called Napoleon this in a letter to William Taylor Norwich, stating: “For the last ten years the madness has been Bonaparte’s, but the atrocities have been those of the French. He was the God Hanuman — the monkeys, whom he commanded, did the mischief.”
  • God of Clay: The English poet and leading figure in the Romantic movement, Lord Bryon, developed an obsession for Napoleon. He wrote a number of works related to him, and this was the name he gave Napoleon in his poem Don Juan.
  • Jean d’Épée: Napoleon got this name from French partisans, “who endeavored to re-establish him upon the throne after his banishment to Elba.”
  • Jupiter Scapin: The Abbé Dominique Dufour or de Fourt de Pradt who was a French clergyman, ambassador, and secretary to Napoleon, is credited with having given this nickname to him. It alluded to Napoleon’s cunning and his “greatness and littleness” of character.
  • L’Autre: Meaning the “other one,” this nickname was used by Napoleon’s partisans during his time at Elba.
  • Le Général Entrepreneur: This translates to “The Contractor General” and was acquired by Napoleon because he was well-known for undertaking numerous public works but not always completing them: For instance, the Fountain of the Elephant. Hence, the people of Paris gave him this nickname.
  • Modern Sesostris: Lord Byron bestowed this name upon Napoleon in his poem, Age of Bronze.
  • Nightmare of Europe: Napoleon got this name because European nations were terrified of his schemes for personal aggrandizement and his amazing military success.
  • Redingote Grise: During Napoleon’s campaigns, the great General was easily identifiable because he always wore a grey greatcoat, which is how he got this nickname. 
  • The Armed Solider of Democracy: Napoleon was frequently called this by the Bourbons, but it was supposedly a name he gave himself and referred to the fact that he was invincible and had ravaged “Austria [covering] … her land with blood.”
  • The Devil’s Favourite: Between 1803 and 1805, during the time of the Boulogne Camp, the British were fearful that Napoleon would invade the British Isles and so propaganda painted Napoleon as a devil, thus it also resulted in the nickname “The Devil’s Favourite.”
  • The Eagle: This was another name bestowed upon Napoleon by Lord Byron in his narrative poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.
  • The Heir of the Republic: Napoleon acquired this nickname after having been First Consul and then making himself Emperor of France.
  • The Little Corporal: This was an affectionate nickname supposedly given to Napoleon by some old grenadiers after the battle of Lodi in 1796. It was said the grenadiers were so pleased with his bravery, they elected him their corporal as a compliment. The nickname also referred to Napoleon’s short stature and great courage.
  • Tiddy-Doll the great French Gingerbread-Baker, drawing out a new Batch of Kings, by James Gillray, 1806, Courtesy of British Museum
    Tiddy-Doll the great French Gingerbread-Baker, drawing out a new Batch of Kings, by James Gillray, 1806, Courtesy of British Museum
    The Man of Destiny: Napoleon got this nickname because he believed he was destined for greatness and that his actions involved the occult and supernatural.
  • Tiddy-Doll: James Gillray was known to be one of the best caricatures of his day. He produced many cartoons of Napoleon. However, one of his most celebrated and best known cartoons, shown at the right, was this one where he referred to Napoleon as a Tiddy-Doll in reference to Napoleon’s king-making proclivities.

References:

  • American Notes and Queries, Volume 4, 1890
  • Ashton, John, English Caricature and Satire on Napoleon I, 1884
  • Brewer, Ebenezer Cobham, Historic Note-book, 1892
  • Frey, Albert Romer, Sobriquets and Nicknames, 1887
  • Glover, Gareth, Waterloo in 100 Objects, 2015
  • Hyamson, Albert Montefiore, Dictionary of English Phrases, 1922
  • Kindersley, Dorling, Eyewitness Travel Family Guide France, 2012
  • Latham, Edward, A Dictionary of Names, Nicknames, and Surnames of Persons, Places and Things, 1904
  • Nicolay, Fernand, Napoleon at the Boulgone Camp, 1907
  • Phyfe, William Henry, 500 Facts and Fancies, 1901
  • The American Whig Review, Volume 6, 1847
  • The Westminister Review, Volume 27, 1837

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