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There are a lot of unfortunate political nicknames in circulation these days and most of them don’t bear repeating in a respectable column like this. As Angela Merkel prepares for retirement, all she has to show for it is the nickname ‘Mutti’ referencing her motherly language and demeanour. All, that is, apart from saving the Euro, leading the EU and winning four federal elections.

In the old days, kings and queens had nicknames many of which have lasted through history.

But have you ever wondered how Catherine the Great got to be called great? Or Alfred or Peter for that matter? Leaders with kind nicknames include Richard the Lionheart, William the Conqueror and Honest Abe.

There were many leaders down the centuries whose title was not so complimentary - in Ireland, King James II was known as Seamus an Chaca, or James the Shit for fleeing Ireland following his defeat at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

The English Queen Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, thought it was a good idea to burn Protestants at the stake and has been known down the centuries as Bloody Mary.

Back in 1938, Winston Churchill had had enough of Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy that led to much of Czechoslovakia falling into German hands. In a famous speech in the House of Commons, he compared Chamberlain to Ethelred the Unready, king of England in the 10th century.

Poor old Ethelred was not unready in the modern sense. In those days, his name meant ‘well advised’ but ‘unræd’ in old English means poorly advised! The Middle Ages was obviously much better craic than the history books would lead us to believe.

Alfonso the Slobberer was King of Leon in the 12th century and apparently so-called because of his habit of foaming at the mouth when riled - he could have used somebody like a spin doctor.

Reflecting a fairly bloodthirsty history, some leaders have nicknames that would be frowned upon today. Vlad the Impaler is still a hero to some in Romania today. In fact, one of my MEP colleagues in the Parliament from Romania is Vlad Gheorghe. He (the impaler not the MEP) earned the nickname by having two envoys from the Sultan impaled rather than accepting the Sultan’s demands - a fairly clear example of ‘don’t shoot the messenger’.

In recent times, the UK has come up with some good nicknames. Michael Heseltine’s fine mop of blond hair earned him the nickname ‘Tarzan’ while Dennis Skinner, the sharp-tongued Labour MP was known as the Beast of Bolsover. Simon Burns MP who attended Oxford University but failed to get a First Class Honours Degree was known as ‘Third Degree Burns’.

But the one that will survive for some decades if not centuries is the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher. Her inflexibility was like so many things a strength and a weakness. As for the current incumbent, Bonking Boris just about says it all.

Not quite a political nickname but as a play on words it’s hard to beat the treatment of Bruce Ismay, Chairman of White Star Line which owned the Titanic. He famously survived the Titanic disaster by taking to the lifeboats ahead of women and children. He thought he could escape the ignominy by spending time in splendid isolation in the west of Ireland. The locals called him ‘Brú Síos Mé’ or ‘push me down’.

There are a few around on the Irish scene today. The former Minister Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, my colleague here in the Parliament Ming Flanagan and not forgetting a former Irish MEP Pat the Cope Gallagher. But you have to be skeptical about self-titled nicknames.

Finally, my personal favourite in this category is Sean Dublin Bay Rockall Loftus, an environmentalist ahead of his time.

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