Earn Your Title
This is where a character has a nickname that arose from something they did in the past, usually infamous. This is usually a title gained as a direct result of something they did and is nearly guaranteed to be descriptive of the person it's referring to. This is what usually leads to someone being called The Butcher. Similar to Appropriated Appellation except the person rarely if ever uses the title. If the title is used in a comedy, expect a Noodle Incident to explain how the character earned it. Related to The Magnificent but the title tends to describe the person and more often than not gives at least a little backstory. Sufficiently awesome ones are the Red Baron. Awesome Moment of Crowning is often earned, but earning a formal title of nobility is a significantly differnt concept.
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- Black Lagoon has Roberta, an unassuming housemaid who turns out to be the "Bloodhound of Florencia." So known because she was once an assassin for FARC known for never failing to kill a target.
- There's also Sawyer "The Cleaner". She cleans up messes, usually in the form of people who haven't exactly died yet. Not that it stops her for very long.
- Revy is also known as "Two-Hands". And there's little mystery why..
- Balalaika's unofficial nickname is "Fry Face" for the numerous burns on her face that she received during the war in Afghanistan. I wouldn't suggest calling her that to her face though. Just saying.
- Trigun: Vash the Stampede is known as the "Humanoid Typhoon," mainly because any area he's in usually turns into a disaster zone by the time he's through.
- The Dirty Pair get their show named after their infamy. Just don't call them that to their faces. Their official codename is the "Lovely Angels" (which, honestly, fits them).
- Sanosuke Sagara of Rurouni Kenshin is nicknamed "Zanza" because he wields an oversized zanbato.
- Kenshin himself is called "Battousai" (more or less "kills on the draw") because of his technique or "Hitokiri" (manslayer) because of his former job as an assassin.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: One episode has Barry The Chopper. And it's no surprise why, given that he's a serial killer that chops up his victims in his shop. They could've easily gone with The Butcher for this one - and, indeed, when he returns as a bloodsealed armor, he claims that was one of his other nicknames.
- To a greater extent is the Title given to each State Alchemist, which typically refers to their greatest alchemical strengths or feats - except for Ed Elric, who's title is in reference to his metallic arm.
- Guts from Berserk is known as the "Hundred Man Slayer" due to his single-handed massacre of a hundred Blue Whale Knights at the midpoint of the anime.
- This is also Manji's nickname in Blade of the Immortal for much the same reason, although in his case he earned the nickname in his backstory.
- Guts also gets the nicknamed "Black Swordsman" after the Eclipse, due to wearing a black armour and leaving a trail of destruction on his wake. Most people don't even know the Black Swordsman and the Hundred-Man Slayer ar the same person.
- Common enough among the upper ranks of the titular female warriors in Claymore, usually after a signature technique or ability. The exception is 'Theresa of the Faint Smile' for the fact that she never changes expression in battle. The warrior with the greatest skill at sensing youki also gets designated 'The Eye.'
- In Accel World most of the Kings have nicknames related to their notable attributes but Black Lotus and Blue Knight (aka World End and Vanquish respectively) both also bear the title "Legend Killer" for single-handedly taking on a Legendary level monster in the Unlimited Field.
- In Mahou Sensei Negima!: The Lifemaker, also known as The Mage of the Begining, created the Magic World together with its native inhabitants.
- Lyndess in With Strings Attached starts out as Lyndess Groundburner (Baravadans all have “given” names, some of which they give themselves) and the origin of “Groundburner” is not explained. However, when the four start asking around Ta'akan for her friends, they learn that because of the punishment inflicted on her by the gods, she's now known derisively as “Lyndess the Example.”
- John renames Brox and Co. at the end of the book to reflect their behavior and failure.
- As noted on The Butcher, General "Bloodbath" McGrath in Wild Wild West (1999).
- Boris the Bullet Dodger from Snatch. He dodges bullets.
- Apparently, while lying on the ground.
- There's also Bullet-Tooth Tony, who earned his nickname by being shot six times, survivingnote , and having the bullets melted down into his false tooth.
- "71 Hour Ahmed" from Jingo
Vimes: "Well, that's an unusual name."
- From the book:
Prince Khufurah: (deadpan) "No, the name Ahmed is actually very common where we come from."
- It's eventually revealed that he earned it by killing a guest in his house one hour before the three day period of Sacred Hospitality was up. He'd amassed enough evidence to determine that the man had poisoned a well in a desert and killed several dozen people, waiting the extra hour would have allowed him to escape.
- Feet of Clay reveals that Sam Vimes has earned the nickname "Old Stoneface" in some quarters, which was originally bestowed on a famous ancestor of his who led a revolt against The Mad King and thus brought an end to the monarchy. Said famous ancestor was christened with the rather more unwieldy name of "Suffer-Not-Injustice Vimes," which is quite a Meaningful Name in itself, either for the ancestor or the descendant.
- Lyra Belacqua in His Dark Materials gets dubbed "Lyra Silvertongue" (and occasionally just "Silvertongue") by Iorek, because of her ability to beguile and fool people with her words, and her ability to "talk her way" out of anything.
- Happens a couple of times in the Tortall Universe by Tamora Pierce, which double as Title Drops.
- Keladry is called Protector of the Small near the end of the fourth book by a Waif Prophet and the Chamber of the Ordeal, since she has a habit of doing just that. She considers it to be an Embarrassing Nickname.
- Beka Cooper of the Provost's Dog does this, combined with Title Drop—each book is named after a nickname she is given. As a trainee she's called "Terrier" for not letting go of two old and difficult murder cases. Later she's called "Bloodhound" for tracking down the counterfeiters in Port Caynn, and finally "Mastiff" for hunting down enemies of the realm.
- Among the Heralds of Valdemar, Firestarting is one of the rarer Psychic Powers, and Lavan Chitward is dubbed "Lavan Firestarter" by the King for being better at it than most. He becomes known to history as Lavan Firestorm after conjuring one in a war.
- Also Mornelithe Falconsbane the final name of the Big Bad down through the ages.
- Part of the Tayledras usename custom - while they are chosen by the individual (at least passively, by choosing to respond to an appellation or ignoring it), the names are often associated with some great act they have done or some trait they are proud of e.g. Steelmind for a man who has a prodigious memory who once during an academic debate gave a full speech on one side and then cheekily gave a full speech defending the other side, Frostfire for a Healing Adept who saved a family from dying of frostbite (called "frostfire" in Tayledras language), Darkstone for a cold, impassive individual.
- The only way to get any kind of name in the children's book series The Borribles: until you've earned a name by an impressive feat of daring such as assassinating a leader of a rival gang the best you can expect is to be referred to as "hey, you!" The plot of the first novel is driven by the protagonist's desire to get a second name (which is not unprecedented; one of his associates has several names, each commemorating some memorable deed.)
- In Animorphs, two of the Andalite characters earn titles. Alloran is Alloran the Hork-Bajir killer because he was the one who released the virus that killed so many, an attempt to prevent the Yeerks enslaving them all. And Seerow is referred to as Seerow the Fool, because he gave the Yeerks the technology that let them become planet-conquering enslavers in the first place.
- A Song of Ice and Fire has many:
- Most notably Jaime, whom most characters just call "Kingslayer", after his assassination of a jerkass king he'd sworn to protect.
- Viserys gets several. The Beggar King, after his exile and loss of support leads him to spend some time living on the streets before being taken in by Magister Illyrio. The Sorefoot King, after he is denied the right to ride a horse among the Dothraki, and then the Cart King after they allow him to ride on a cart with the elderly, children, and the lame.
- Davos the Onion Knight, after he saved a besieged castle by smuggling onions to them.
- Most of Tormund's many self-assigned nicknames. Giantsbane is the only one anybody else actually calls him, but the most fun may be Husband to Bears for the story that accompanies it.
- Sam the Slayer, which he earns after becoming the first person in centuries to kill an Other.
Live Action TV
- Spike of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is known as "William the Bloody". It's assumed to derive from his violent vampiric ways for three seasons, then revealed to date from his life as a sweetly dorkish human, when his attempts at poetry were mocked as "bloody awful."
- "Spike" itself is another earned title, given to him by his penchant for torturing victims with railroad spikes (which also tied in to his dorky human years when someone claims he'd rather have a railroad spike driven through his head rather than listen to more of his poetry.
- In Stargate SG-1 the team escapes an alien prison with a wise and helpful old woman; then they learn she is known as the "Destroyer of Worlds".
- In London's Burning, many of the firefighters have nicknames based on their personality traits (ie "Sicknote", because he's always ill; "Bayleaf", because he's cook and mess manager; "Poison", because he's a stirrer and a gossip).
- Kharn the Betrayer earned his title after slaughtering his way through two Chaos Space Marine legions, one of them his own. We're not sure if he refers to himself that way, since he usually only says things like "KILL! MAIM! BURN!," "BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD! SKULLS FOR THE SKULL THRONE!" or "RAAAAAAGGHHH!!!"
- Exalted, naturally, has quite a few of these. Probably the most prominent is the god known as the Unconquered Sun. Guess how he earned the name.
- Both Werewolf: The Apocalypse and Werewolf: The Forsaken feature the idea of "deed names" — that is, werewolves who've attained deeds of great Renown will often take on a name to reflect it, such as "Evan Heals-the-Past" or "Dares-the-Night."
- In BIONICLE, warrior-class Skrall are not allowed to have any sort of name unless they are awarded one for their deeds.
- The Elder Scrolls IV get's you "The Hero of Kvatch" and "The Hero Of Tamriel" from the main quest, Arch Mage (and lesser titles you get as you rise in the guild before that) from the Mages Guild quest, Head of the Fighter's guild, Grey Fox from the Thieves Guild, Knight Of The Nine for the quests from the Knights of the Nine expansion and Sheogorath, god of madness from the Shivering Isles expansion. When you get them, certain NPCs will mention them (most notably the first, which causes the vast majority of NPCs to say "You're the one who closed the gate! The Hero Of Kvatch!?" as their default line and the Mages guild titles, which make everyone in the guild greet you with "Hello [rank]").
- In Overlord your jester follows you around in your castle and hails you with various titles depending on your actions ("Saviour of Elves", "Abuser of jesters" etc). In the sequel his successor also makes little songs to go along with the titles once you take a Harp from the Elves, from which he'll start a band with.
- In Fable I you can either earn your title, or you can buy them from the appropriately named "Title Vendor".
- World of Warcraft lets you earn titles by completing achievements, which you can then chose which one to show, if any. This is just to show off, as NPC's won't care if you conquered Ulduar or became exalted by your factions capital cities.
- The player character of Ace Combat games often pick up nicknames as the plot progresses. They tend to be along the lines of Demon Lord. And in Ace Combat Zero, your wingman is named Solo Wing because he once returned from a mission with one wing shot off.
- Metal Gear Solid 3 shows how Naked Snake earns the title of Big Boss, by surpassing his mentor, The Boss, by defeating her.
- Sewer Shark, where you start out in the opening cutscene as Rookie, then (in the same cutscene) get assigned the call-sign of Dogmeat, earning Ratbreath, Exterminator, then Beachbum as you successfully progress through the levels.
- The NIS Roguelike Zettai Hero Project is all about earning the right to be called the Absolute Victory Unlosing Ranger and the faith of the world. Given that the main character starts out as a level one nameless bystander thrust straight into the Final Boss Battle, this turns out to be quite the endeavor.
- In Dragon Age II, the PC is referred to as the Champion of Kirkwall, although due to the How We Got Here framing device, the player doesn't find out how they earned that title until about 2/3 of the way through the game.
- In Tales of the Abyss, Jade earned his title "The Necromancer" because he would scavenge corpses after battles to use them in fomicry experiments. And he was trying to revive the dead, just not as zombies. Contrary to rumor, all his troops are alive and not even slightly zombified.
- In Neverwinter Nights 2, you gain various History Feats as the story progresses, some of which fit this trope. One example is "Master Orator", awarded for completing your trial for the Ember massacre by not just being acquitted, but by calmly and systematically destroying your accuser's arguments with your skill checks. The feat text reads:
"Your considerable skill in the courtroom is the talk of Neverwinter's legal community. Local barristers will be studying the transcripts of your trial for years to come and comparing their performance against yours."
- In Mass Effect, two of the choices for Shepard's service history work like this. Picking "War Hero" causes you to be occasionally hailed as "the Hero of the Skyllian Blitz", while "Ruthless" gains you infamy as "The Butcher of Torfan".
- A game mechanic in Star Wars: The Old Republic allows your character to earn titles based on their in-game decisions, completion of certain quests, or as part of the storyline. The Sith Warrior ends his story as "The Emperor's Wrath" where a Jedi Knight ends hers as "The Hero of Tython." Consulars are called "Barsen'thor" (translates to "Warden of the Jedi Order"). An Inquisitor ends as Darth Nox (Dark Side), Darth Occulus (gray), or Darth Imperius (Light Side). Other titles include "The Backstabber", "Titan of Industry", "Black Bisector," and "The Heartless"
- The Didact and Librarian from Halo. The Didact was a teacher at a War College, and the Librarian was known for browsing through great stores of knowledge
- In the Ork campaign of Warhammer40000: Dawn of War: Dark Crusade, the Ork warboss Gorgutz 'Ead 'Unter awards himself a new name after defeating each faction: Demonkilla (Chaos), Deathkilla (Necrons), Ragescreamer (Taunote ), Bloodspilla (Blood Ravens), Gunsmasha (Guard and their Titan gun), Ghostkilla (Eldars).
- Richard from Looking for Group has so many of these it's used for a Running Gag.
- They're based on kills.
- To specify: He is the "Chief Warlock of the Brothers of Darkness", "Lord of the Thirteen Hells", "Master of the Bones", "Emperor of the Black", "Lord of the Undead", and the mayor of a little village up the coast. During the story he also names himself "Lord of the Dance" on a whim and "Mistress of Magma" after he kills the previous holder. On a more serious note, he has also been referred to by a demon judge as "Lord Ashendale".
- In an early Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures story, it is revealed that Dan's full title is "Daniel Ti'fiona: warrior for hire, slayer of the doomknights, bringer of peace, friend of beer-wenches". Lampshading quickly ensues.
Mab: Friend of beer-wenches?
Dan: Hey, now! I earned that title just like the rest!
- Danial the destructive, from Never Ending Nights. He isn't a bad person, be he screws up in such ways that is causes a lot of destruction.
- Too many, some of whom probably didn't deserve them.... 'Vlad the Impaler' probably deserved his, though.
- The monarchs of England mostly earned theirs: William the Conqueror conquered England; Richard the Lionhearted was a valiant soldier; Alfred the Great saved his people from being wiped out by invading hordes of Horny Vikings; and Edward the Hammer of the Scots hammered the Scots (and the Welsh; and the Irish; and the Jews...) However, YMMV as to whether Bloody Mary and Good Queen Bess deserve those nicknames.
- Often the case with nicknames one earns from one's peers in the military.
- Most people called "the Great" got their title for killing lots of people, but in the Middle Ages, Albert the Great (Albertus Magnus) got his for knowing lots of stuff. Guess they were just not very civilized back then.
- Similarly, the Polish king Casimir The Great (Kazimierz Wielki) earned his title because he transformed a poor country that was devastated and depopulated by decades of warfare, into an economic and military powerhouse. His economic, legal and educational reforms and heavy investment in infrastructure made Poland an European superpower for the next three centuries. Today most Polish people are actually unaware that he was also an accomplished and victorious military leader. He is the only Polish king to have been given the title of Great.
- Emperor Charlemagne aka Charles the Great, who started the Carolingian renaissance and whose regime ended the Dark Ages and lifted the Central Europe off the centuries of barbarism. His title, Charles le magne has 'become'' his name in English: his buddies called him Carolus.
- Peter the Great and Catherine the Great are subversions. Though both were relatively good rulers by Russian standards, they earned their names by sheer physical size.
- Alexander the Great