Military Facts and Legends: Nicknames for U.S. Marines
Since the days of the Barbary pirates, United States Marines have called themselves “leathernecks.” Legend and lore have it that the term leatherneck was derived from leather neckbands worn in the late 1700s to protect Marines from the slash of the cutlass. Another more likely reason is that the high stocks were worn for discipline to keep the Marines’ heads high and straight. Neither explanation has ever been verified.
Whatever the reason, the name leatherneck stuck and the distinctive dress blue uniform blouse still bears a high stock collar to remind Marines of the leatherneck legacy.
During WWI the Marines fought with such ferocity and valor that they were called GI’s. But Marines hate being called GI’s. They want to be called Marines. Somewhere along the line the GI and Marine got mixed resulting in the word “Gyrene.”
Another nickname given Marines was “Devil Dogs.” According to United States Marine Corps legend, the moniker was used by German soldiers to describe U.S. Marines who fought in the Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918. The Marines fought with such ferocity that they were likened to “Dogs from Hell.” The term “Devil Dog” is historically a well-accepted term of endearment, as a title of honor and is a common mascot in the Corps. Devil Dog tattoos are very popular among Marines.
Since World War II, Marines have been called “jarheads”. The term originates from the “high and tight” haircut that many Marines have, which makes their head look like a jar. When used by civilians or other U.S. military it could be considered derogatory, but it is used often among Marines.
It did not originate from their uniform or cover as is widely believed.
Marine serving aboard Navy ships as sentries, security, orderlies, honor guards for special occasions, and the nucleus of the ship’s landing party among other things are called “Sea-going bellhops”. Sea duty is one of the oldest traditions of the Corps, so this is a good epithet for starting a fight with any Marine, especially if said with plenty of sarcasm.
The phrase “grunt” grew in popularity during the Vietnam War when referring to Marines serving as infantry rifleman. The opposite of a “grunt” is a “pougue”, which is a derogatory reference to pretty much anyone who isn’t a grunt, but normally reserved for Marines who work in an office or some other rear-echelon job as part of their regular duties (“In the rear with the gear”). Call a pougue a “grunt” and they love it, but call a grunt a “pougue” and see what happens 🙂