From ‘Sleepy Eyes’ to ‘Rocket Man’: a look back at President Donald Trump’s belittling nicknames
The president simultaneously mocked North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, his regime’s missile arsenal and alluded to the popular lyrics of Elton John. But it was not the first time he has used such tweet baiting
Midway through his Sunday morning Twitter storm, US President Donald Trump assigned his latest in a long line of nicknames – this time to the leader of nuclear-armed North Korea, Kim Jong-un, henceforth known as “Rocket Man”.
Without addressing the geopolitical wisdom of tweet baiting an unpredictable dictator, even some of Trump’s critics had to admit that he had come up with a pretty clever name.
In a mere nine letters, the president simultaneously mocked Kim, belittled his regime’s missile arsenal and alluded to the popular lyrics of Elton John.
But that really should not surprise anyone. A brief review of his long history of Trumpisms shows that regardless of how he is doing as leader of the free world, Trump has really stepped up his name game.
I spoke with President Moon of South Korea last night. Asked him how Rocket Man is doing. Long gas lines forming in North Korea. Too bad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 17, 2017
— CNN SUCKS (@Fuctupmind) September 14, 2017
While it is hardly his most famous creation, one of Trump’s oldest and most enduring nicknames is reserved for Chuck Todd, or “Sleepy Eyes” as Trump has repeatedly called the NBC host.
Trump started using the term on Twitter during the 2012 presidential election, when he decided Todd – “an absolute joke of a reporter” – was too friendly to then president Barack Obama.
But Trump has kept “Sleepy Eyes” around into his own presidency, most recently when he complained that the soporific journalist was paying too much attention to “the Fake Trump/Russia story”.
By then, “Sleepy Eyes” shared Trump’s imaginative landscape with many other characters, like Senator Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren, whose name he explained this way: “I find it offensive that Goofy Elizabeth Warren, sometimes referred to as Pocahontas, pretended to be Native American to get in Harvard.”
Academics occasionally try to analyse the nicknames Trump invents, seeing in them either genius or a psychological malady. A writer for Psychology Today once called the names “a symptom of nounism” – in other words, the result of Trump’s compulsion to simplify people into objects, good or bad.
Last year, a communications professor at the University of Wisconsin told Business Insider that the nicknames were crafty politics that allow Trump to reference his enemies’ scandals and embarrassments in a breath, as prefix, every time he spoke their names.
As he fought his way through the Republican primaries last year, Trump experimented with various insults for his many rivals.
He briefly tried out “Robot Rubio” for Senator Marco Rubio of Florida but found an alternative that was far more successful when the two men met on stage at a debate in March 2016.
“I have a policy question for you, sir,” the moderator told Trump.
“Let’s see if he answers it!” Rubio said.
“I will,” Trump replied, stone-faced. “Don’t worry about it, Marco, don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about it, Little Marco. I will.”
Rubio tried to get in a comeback over the cheers.
“Well, let’s hear it, big – big Don, big Donald!” he said.
But Trump just talked over him, not even looking at Rubio and simply repeating to wild applause, “Don’t worry about it, Little Marco.”
Less than two weeks later, “Little Marco” Rubio dropped out of the race and Trump moved on to his next big rival, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, aka “Lyin’ Ted”.
Over on the Democratic side of the primary, Hillary Clinton was having none of this name-shaming business.
“Clinton’s campaign and her allies are planning an aggressive, sober defence of their candidate in response to businessman Donald Trump’s trademark personal attacks, which he has already aimed her way,” The Washington Post wrote in April 2016, as Trump barrelled past “Lyin’ Ted” and every other Republican.
The Democrat resolved to ignore whatever insult Trump came up with, which at the time was “Incompetent Hillary”, a clunky prototype of the term he would crystallise two weeks later while speaking to reporters in New York.
“You know the story,” Trump said. “It’s Crooked Hillary. She’s as crooked as they come. We are going to beat her so badly.”
And he did beat her, though Clinton’s primary contests with Bernie Sanders took so long to resolve that Trump found opportunity to nickname both Democrats.
“I don’t want to hit Crazy Bernie Sanders too hard yet because I love watching what he is doing to Crooked Hillary. His time will come!”
We do not pretend this is a comprehensive list. The nicknames that Trump has come up with are probably uncountable, extending from his real estate and celebrity days into his presidency.
They encompass non-human antagonists, like the “Failing New York Times” and “Amazon Washington Post”, collectively part of the entity he deems “fake news”.
And some monikers appear to live only in the president’s mind, or at least his private conversations. Like “Mr Elegant”, whom Trump referenced in an interview with The Wall Street Journal last month, leaving everyone confused about who he was talking about.
Finally, after all those people, there are the self-referential nicknames – the autotrumpisms.
Trump is hardly the first politician to refer to himself occasionally in third person. But he has done so over the years with a typically Trump-like inclination toward brevity.
His first tweet, in 2009, invited fans to “tune in and watch Donald Trump” on late-night television. By 2013, as Trump congratulated himself for the success of his reality show, he had moved on to the more familiar “Donald”.
“The Apprentice was the #1 show on television last season on Sunday from 10 to 11 – congratulations Donald!” he wrote.
As election day approached last year, Trump had reduced himself to a single character – “Vote ‘T’.”
We might chalk that up to the 140-character limit of Trump’s favourite medium. But he did it again a year later, as he complained of the FBI investigation around T’s young administration.
“Since the Obama Administration was told way before the 2016 Election that the Russians were meddling, why no action? Focus on them, not T!”
This is not to say that Trump will always be “T”, nor that Hillary must be crooked, or Chuck Todd sleepy.
In fact, as Sunday’s “Rocket Man” saga showed, nicknames are a little like nuclear weapons. They risk retaliation: “Tiny Dancer Mocks Rocket Man,” tweeted @KevinMKruse.