From Vinnie Aspirins to Smoked Thighs: How mobsters get their nicknames and why they need them

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Nicknames seem far more prevalent in the underworld, generally, than in other occupations but they are a particularly prominent part of the Italian Mafia.

This might be because Mafia nicknames tend to be more insulting, and hence more hilarious or shocking, which are qualities that transfer well to news reports and movies, making them more memorable and in wider use.

I suspect the biting and colourful nature of mob nicknames is due, in part, to the cross-generational nature of the Mafia.

It starts with the mob sticking with schoolyard policy that a nickname is bestowed by others and not chosen. Since mafiosi are often born into the criminal life and nicknames tend to be coined when criminals are younger, their names can be more ribald or insulting. And, just like in the schoolyard, not every mobster likes his nickname, but nicknames, like gossip, cannot easily be shaken off.

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