To me, it seems like politicians are increasingly more frequently being called by their first name (Bernie, Hillary, Donald) or they're being reffered to in the name's more familiar form (Jo Swinson, Joe Biden).

Is this just my feeling or was this truly less common in journalism in the past (say before the age of social media)?

I wasn't able to find any sources that would deal with this phenomenon.

  • 2
    Is this about US politic and media only, as the examples imply? Otherwise, there are Lenin, Stalin, Arafat as examples for past politicians that were called by their nicknames
    – Arsak
    Dec 13, 2019 at 21:47
  • @Arsak By nicknames, I meant the form of the name that your friend would use. Like Danny for Daniel or Mike for Michael.
    – Probably
    Dec 13, 2019 at 23:17
  • 1
    What does "address" mean in in the context of this question? Does it mean to use a first name/nickname in direct speech to the person in question or does it mean referring to the person in question not in their presence, or as a rhetorical version of the latter phrased as an instance of the former? (As in, (1) "have another beer, Tricky Dick" , (2) "Tricky Dick does it again", or (3) "How do you like them apples, Tricky Dick?".) The question's title seems to imply (1), but the body seems to imply (2). Dec 14, 2019 at 2:52
  • "Address" has several possible contexts: 1) Salutation in written correspondence; 2) Written delivery directions for written correspondence; 3) Salutation in formal business dealings, such as Parliament; 4) Salutation in formal recreational dealings, is ball or gala; 5) Salutation in informal dealings; 6) Third person referral in formal business dealings; 7) Third person referral in formal recreational dealings; 8) Published third person referrals as in newsprint; etc. The usage was historically frequently very different in all of these. Please clarify. Dec 14, 2019 at 3:26
  • @Probably the question stands, whether or not you want to restrict this to the US or not.
    – Arsak
    Dec 14, 2019 at 13:03

1 Answer 1


There are well-attested examples of the use of nicknames for popular political figures going all the way back to Athens and Rome.

Examples of this would be Pericles, who was nicknamed "Squill-head" (he apparently had a very large and bulbous head - think "Egg-head" in our usage) and Caligula ("Little Boots"). Other Athenian political nicknames included Bleary Eyes, Smoky, Hempy, and Quail. The Roman cognomen often started as a nickname, but then stuck so well that it became hereditary.

Often you have the combination of the use of the nickname to refer to the figure in the third person in conversations, along with its use in the chants of crowds, versus the use of terms of formal address when speaking to the politician in person. But that happens in the modern era also - he's Joe Biden when you're talking about him online, but "Mister Vice President" if you have the opportunity to talk to him in person.

  • An obvious example would be Elizabeth I of England being referred to as “Queen Bess”. In the US, this goes back at least “Honest Abe”. Dec 14, 2019 at 3:04
  • Also the Shakespeare: “Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George” Dec 14, 2019 at 3:29

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