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When you are sentenced to time behind bars, chances are you won’t be using your regular name while you are there. The guards and other members of the prison staff will use your last name or your inmate ID number. As for the other inmates, they will either call you by your last name or by your nickname.
Prison nicknames have many different origins. They can be anything from a reference to where a person is from to the crimes they’ve been locked up for.
When I did my four years on a marijuana possession charge, I had two different prison nicknames. Some called me, “Nay-Nay,” which was simply a shortened version of my actual first name — Natalie.
I also earned the nickname, “Google,” because I was one of two college graduates that I was aware of at a camp with 2,000 inmates. And, because I have a head full of useless knowledge.
I always thought my talent for accumulating facts and figures in my brain would have me on the Jeopardy stage competing for thousands of dollars, but instead, this knowledge just earned me the prison nickname, “Google.”
This was because whenever anyone needed to know an answer to anything — from a question on a GED practice test to what actor starred in a specific movie — they would always ask me.
I share all of this because today’s topic is about prison nicknames. Today, we are going to take a look at some real life examples.
In today’s blog post, I will cover the following topics:
The city or state that someone is from is a popular prison nickname. When I was in prison, I came across a ton of these types of nicknames. The ones I remember include Tennessee, Chicago (or Chi-town), Oklahoma, Birmingham, Orlando, and Big Apple.
Sometimes, an inmate’s ethnicity or heritage will be part of a nickname. Native American references are well represented. You can easily find a Tonto, a Geronimo, a Savage, or a Chief in just about any facility.
Another category that is strangely popular with prison nicknames is food. You’ll find Skittles, Chili, Nacho, Strawberry, Hotdog, and Cornbread.
I don’t know why prison inmates often have food-based nicknames, but it’s extremely common. Sometimes, nicknames like Cornbread refer to someone from the south. Chili and Nacho can also be nicknames for a Hispanic inmate, or someone from Texas or New Mexico.
They could also just be creatively telling everyone to, “eat me.” That’s definitely a possibility.
In the Missouri women’s prison where I was incarcerated, there wasn’t much gang activity. But in the more urban areas, gang members are often a significant part of the inmate population in a correctional facility.
Because of this, many prison nicknames are connected to gangs. The letter C might mark someone part of the Crips, or a B for the Bloods. The Latin Kings use, “king,” with their members, and the Simon City Royals use, “sir.” Other gangster terms are, “G,” “OG,” for original gangster or old-timer, or, “blue.”
Another popular category for prison nicknames are simply monikers based on the crime someone committed. You’ll sometimes find a, “Murder One,” or a, “Bank Robber.” It’s also possible to find a Redrum. After all, Stephen King novels are super popular in prison libraries.
Prison inmates love their animal nicknames. If you ever end up behind bars, chances are you’ll come across an Animal, Tiger, Maverick, Rabbit, Mouse, or Wolf. Maybe you’ll find a Turtle, Badger, Bull, Bulldog, or Bird.
If you run into someone named Bear, be careful. He’s probably the guy you don’t want to stand next to in a line. There’s a reason he’s called bear — he smells like one.
Colors are another popular category for prison nicknames, with a hint of irony often thrown in. That means a white guy will go by Blackie, or a black guy will go by Lil White/Wyte. Sometimes an inmate’s nickname will be, “red,” or, “blue,” and that’s usually connected to gangs.
Cartoon characters also get plenty of love in the world of prison nicknames. You’ll often find these names inside prison walls: Smurf, Casper, Ghost, Dragon, Pee Wee, Shaggy, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Clown, Spanky, Bam Bam, Blinky, Bozo, and Richie Rich.
One thing people might know is that each state’s Department of Corrections will include known aliases and nicknames with an inmate’s booking paperwork. So, when you do a search for an inmate in a state’s database, you can see all of the wacky nicknames that prisoners use.
The Georgia Department of Corrections’ searchable online database includes inmate nicknames like:
In Mississippi, you’ll easily find these names: King Pookie, Bull, Ren, Candy, Cowboy, Cracker, Dog, Dragon, Peckerwood, Mafia, Deadeye, Capone, Young Blood, and Nino.
Former inmate, Kenneth Kyle, encountered some interesting nicknames during his 14 years behind bars. He writes:
“There are the ubiquitous ones – Stretch, Preacher, Shorty, Lucky, Cowboy, Solo, Fats, Junior, Nephew, Deuce, and Viking. Sniper’s a little guy, five foot nothing, 100 lbs. wet if he’s lucky, and has Coke bottle thick glasses. Einstein makes rocks look like intellectuals. What about the guys apparently trying to instill fear? Or, are they overcompensating for a “shortcoming” with names like Diablo, Satan, Psycho, Killer, Gestapo, Fatal and Slaughter?”
During Michael Roberts’ nearly 17 years in prison, he has also come across a number of unique monikers. He says that he has met some, “very interesting people.”
“People with nicknames like Baby 8, Baby Boy, Bam Bam, Bubbles, Cheater, Chino, Chico, Chicago, Colorado, Dangerous Dan, Denver, Downtown, Detroit, Demon, Diablo, George the Whore, Giggles, GQ, G-Hung, G-Ride, Kenny G, Honky, Hot Shower, New York and LA. He was gay…
Leukemia Lynn, Money A. Papa T, Papa Bear, Big Bear, Black Bear, Little Bear and just plain Bear. Coyote, Porn Star, Penguin, Roach, Shy Boy, Sidewinder, Snake, Little Snake, Spider, Snoop, Snoopy, Snoop Dog and Special K. Teardrop, Tombstone, Wino, Wobbles, Wolf, Workie, and hundreds, if not thousands, more.”
Sometimes, you don’t know why someone has a specific nickname. But as a rule, they can usually be narrowed down to hometown or home state, a gang, or a unique characteristic. No matter the reason for a nickname, they can have an impact on social dynamics and how someone is treated.
Some nicknames are a sign of respect, others are a sign of weakness. Some nicknames are a warning to others to steer clear of someone. Some are simply a substitute for a name, making things short and sweet. Others are meant to conjure up images.
If you earn a nickname in prison instead of coming in with one, that can be a good thing. Like me and my Google moniker. Sometimes, a nickname can be a mark. Letting others know you can be easily messed with.
What was your nickname in prison? Or, if you’ve never been locked up, what would your prison nickname be? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Do these 25 wacky convict names make you laugh -- or shake in your boots? https://www.macon.com/news/local/crime/article100676727.html#storylink=cpy The Top Prison Nicknames https://www.corrections1.com/corrections/articles/c1-humor-column-the-top-prison-nicknames-89QA8ciPpUyVA67i/ A Short Course In Prison Nicknames https://www.westword.com/news/a-short-course-in-prison-nicknames-5877328 Nicknames for inmates, institutions revealing https://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/2014/10/04/nicknames-inmates-institutions-revealing/16654657/ Prison Nicknames: Bones, Stud-H, Coolio, chihuahua, and more! https://prisonwriters.com/prison-nicknames/
Natalie earned her Bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and has worked in television and radio during her career. When she was a 19-year-old sophomore at KU, she got her first on-air job as a sports reporter for a CBS-TV affiliate. In 2013, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the possession and production of marijuana. She was released in 2017. We've kept her last name off of our website so that she does not experience any professional hardship for her contributions.
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