The Infamous Nickname Al Capone Hated

Lots of people acquire nicknames. Usually a nickname comes from somebody else — President George W. Bush famously assigned nicknames to advisors, staff, and others. Paul Simon told somebody he would call them Betty, and Betty, for their part, could call him Al. Some nicknames we outgrow; others we don't. And as proof that mobsters are just like the rest of us, Alphonse Gabriel Capone hated at least one of his nicknames: Scarface. Certainly he had others – most people referred to him as Al. According to History, close friends called him Snorky, which was a slang term of the day meaning someone who dressed well. Others, at a distance, referred to him as Big Fellow. And then there were the smart ones, who called him Mr. Capone. Or sir. But it was Scarface, used prolifically by far too many members of the press during his Chicago heydays, that truly rankled him.

Why did they call him Scarface?

Capone acquired the facial souvenirs back in 1917, when he was about 18 years old. He was working as a bouncer and bartender at a Brooklyn nightclub, the Harvard Inn, and made the mistake of insulting a woman within the hearing of her brother. The sibling decided to defend his sister's honor by slashing Capone not once, not twice, but three times on the left side of his face. The wounds healed, but left indelible scars on Capone, physically if not emotionally. Once he moved to Chicago and rose to prominence in those crime circles, journalists started referring to him as "Scarface," which he hated. He tried to shield the scars when being photographed, and even came up with a creative explanation: He tried to convince people that the scars were war wounds, despite the fact that Capone never served in the military in any capacity. By the time he was 35 he was incarcerated in Alcatraz. According to the web site, after serving seven-and-a-half years, and paying all of his fines and back taxes, Capone was released, scars and all, though dying of long-term syphilis infection. Pneumonia and a stroke finished off Scarface — er, Snorky — in 1947.