Highnames & Bynames
student of history that I am, I have figured out why
monarchies have not been doing too well, lately. It has
nothing to do with sweeping historical processes such as
the Enlightenment or Hegelian Dialectics or the
guillotine. Quite simply, kings don't have really good
nick-names anymore —or 'bynames,' as they are properly
In the history of Naples, there are a few monarchs with fine, regal by-names: Robert Guiscard really meant Robert the Resourceful; then, there was Robert the Wise, crowned king of Sicily and Naples in 1310; and Alfonso the Magnanimous (1396-1458, photo insert), the one who wrested the Kingdom of Naples from the Angevins in 1442. Other than that, Neapolitan monarchs have been stuck with trifling nicknames. Ferdinand IV (later Ferdinand I) (1751-1825) had two: Re Nasone and Re Lazzarone. The first one means King Big Nose (Naso+ the augmentative suffix –one). The second requires some explanation: Lazarus is the patron saint of lepers, and, by extension, all miserable outcasts. Neapolitan members of the "great unwashed peasant masses" were thus called lazzaroni. In an age of rigid social stratification, it was not a derogatory term —it was a description. Ferdinand was a notorious simpleton and vulgarian, and he enjoyed hanging around with the common folk down at the port. He was popular, and both names were terms of endearment bestowed on him by the Neapolitan masses. He was, thus, the Great Unwashed Peasant King; it was an expression of solidarity with the people, and he took no offense at that term or the one about his nose.
His grandson, Ferdinand II (1810-1859), was nicknamed "Bomba"(bomb) as a result of his bombardment of Messina during the political unrest in 1848. And his son, the last King of Naples, Francis II was known as "Bombalino"—Little Bomb. All of these examples were nicknames but not true by–names—not Someone THE Something!
There hasn't been Anyone the Great in a long, long time: Alexander, Alfred, Peter, Frederick, Katherine and, of course, Charles the Great (commonly known by the Frenchified version, "Charlemagne"). Now that was a name fit for royalty! I bet you could call them that, too. O Great One! Your Greatness! O Generous Dispenser of Greatosity! or maybe, simply, Oh, Great! They couldn't possibly have minded.
Or Leo the Wise and Charles the Noble. Those were names! "Yes, Your Wiseness"; "You Bet, O Noble One!" —and in the case of our Neapolitan, Alfonso, "Count on it, Your Magnanimosity!" Those old rulers knew that 21st–century history students would have attention spans roughly equal to the reign of Harvey the Short Lived, and would not remember complex items like Vth or IIIrd or XXIst, so they tacked on little memory boosters.
Charlemagne's grandfather wasn't taking any chances on not being remembered. He was called Charles Martel —Charles The Hammer! Imagine that! The Hammer! When they were choosing Dark Age kings in the eighth century, they went right around the group:
"OK, which one of you guys wants to be king? Robert IV?…Got any experience, Bob? Junior League jousting coach, huh? Let's see …"
Then suddenly from the gloom in the back of the tent comes that rich Dark Age baritone of command:
"They call me...'The Hammer'!"
Forget 'Will you open the envelope, please.' End of discussion, right there. I'm not so sure you could actually call him that, though. I mean, do you really want to pal around with someone called The Hammer? What happens if this guy has some Thor-like flashback and starts flailing about in a fit of Royal Peevishness? You get one tankard too many of the Good Grape into someone called The Hammer and you can put some serious dents in Ye Olde Royal Happie Hour, and that's the sooth. His son was Pepin the Short! O, Great One! —definitely. Your Wisehood!—yes. And maybe even, under specially contrived circumstances, O, Most Hammering One! But, Hey, Shorty!—I don't know.
A bit on either side of the year 1000 we have Charles the Bald, Charles the Fat, Charles the Simple and Charles the Pious. I recall that two of those terms refer to the same person; thus, one of them was either The Bald & Fat, The Fat & Pious, The Pious & Simple, The …let's see… carry the 2 … well, you can work out the rest.
And what can you say about Louis the Child? If I am intercalating all the leap years in my Dark Age calendar correctly, this guy was an adult whom they called "The Child". Go figure. "Is'm widdle queenie's gweat big kingie-boo? Yes'm is!" On that note, maybe we'd have to ask Mrs. Ethelred the Unready about the real story behind her husband's name.
to portal for traditions and customs to top of this page