• A moniker, distinct from an official name, which describes a person or thing


Many of us might have wished that we had a cool sobriquet growing up, and maybe some of us did. A sobriquet is another word for what we commonly call a nickname. However, sobriquet usually implies that such a nickname communicates something particularly true or apt about the person or thing it is attached to. For example, mobsters are sometimes known by epithets which they earn through (usually reprehensible) behavior. Jimmy "the Weasel" Fratianno, for instance, probably earned his sobriquet by behaving in a weasel-like fashion. Likewise, Joseph "the Animal" Barboza acquired his sobriquet by committing brutal acts of violence (or maybe, hopefully, he’s just a messy eater). The criminal underworld, however, does not have a monopoly on sobriquets. In fact, William Shakespeare, usually considered one of the paragons of Western literature, is often referred to by his sobriquet "the Bard." And famous athletes also frequently bear sobriquets, "Babe" Ruth probably being one of the best known examples. Even places and things can have sobriquets! Paris is known by its sobriquet "the City of Light," and New York is frequently termed "the City That Never Sleeps." In each of these cases, the sobriquet is a nickname which communicates something particular about the person or place in question, and this is usually how sobriquet is employed. Occasionally, however, sobriquet can refer to nicknames which do not communicate something true about the thing being named but instead merely shorten a name or make some play on a name's spelling. Examples of this kind of sobriquet would be something like shortening Leonardo to "Leo." This kind of usage of sobriquet has become accepted, but more often sobriquet is set apart from other terms like "nickname" by indicating a meaningful connection between the name and the name-bearer.

Example: Kristina, who did not function well in the morning, smarted under the cruel sobriquet "Zombie" which her coworkers promptly attached to her.

Example: Andrew Jackson was widely hailed by the affectionate sobriquet "Old Hickory," which he acquired in his military service.


Sobriquet was first used in English in early to mid-17th century. It was appropriated into English from the French sobriquet, which refers to a nickname. That word comes from the Middle French soubriquet which means "a jest" or literally "a chuck under the chin." The word's origin beyond this point is unknown, although it is speculated that soub- may come from the Latin prefix sub- (under).

Similar Words

Soubriquet (plural: Soubriquets) is an alternative spelling for sobriquet.

In Literature

From George Elliot's Adam Bede:

However that might be, it is certain that shortly after the accident referred to, which was coincident with the arrival of an awakening Methodist preacher at Treddleston, a great change had been observed in the brickmaker; and though he was still known in the neighbourhood by his old sobriquet of "Brimstone," there was nothing he held in so much horror as any further transactions with that evil-smelling element. 

Here, Elliot uses sobriquet to refer to the now-ironic nickname "Brimstone" attached to the reformed brickmaker.


  • For most of us a sobriquet

    Is a name that only our loved ones say.

  • “Dry Guy” might be the sobriquet for one who practices sobriety.


Names, Nicknames, Pet Names, French

Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of sobriquet. Did you use sobriquet in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.