33 Crazy Gangster Names And The Even Crazier Things They Did To Earn Them

Published June 25, 2020
Updated May 1, 2024

From "Cadillac Frank" to "Tick Tock," these mafia nicknames reveal some of the craziest characters and stories in the mob's bloody history.

Al Capone With Scars On His Face
Israel "Ice Pick Willie" Alderman With Priests
Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll Leaving Court
Philip "The Chicken Man" Testa
33 Crazy Gangster Names And The Even Crazier Things They Did To Earn Them
View Gallery

Al Capone hated his nickname. Though he earned the moniker "Scarface" after a bar fight in 1917, it was only after rising in the ranks as a mobster in the 1920s that the press popularized his epithet.

As an 18-year-old, Capone had yet to be invited by mob boss and mentor Johnny Torrio to relocate to Chicago, where he'd ultimately make his criminal mark on the world. Over drinks at the Harvard Inn, the low-ranking thug made the mistake of insulting a female patron — whose angry brother got revenge with a broken bottle.

While Capone tried to explain the marks away by claiming he'd gotten them in a war, other gangsters embraced their nicknames. Not only could they avoid naming lawbreakers by their legal names, but they could also instill fear almost immediately — a bonus for those in such a brutal line of business.

From Tommaso "The Boss of Two Worlds" Buscetta to Albert "Tick Tock" Tannenbaum, gangster nicknames let everybody know who it was they were dealing with. While the former was dangerously operating on both sides of the law, the latter was so nervous his clock-like banter never stopped.

The history of gangster names preceded the subsequent adoption of this practice by everyone from musicians to athletes. A chronicling of its beginnings and exploration of 33 captivating cases only serves to clarify how this practice came to be.

The Origin And Use Of Gangster Names

It wasn't uncommon for one mafioso to never learn another mobster's full name. Joining a secret society requires discretion and illegal endeavors benefit when individuals know as little as possible about each other.

A New York Post interview with former gangsters on how criminals get their nicknames.

Another largely overlooked factor is that a large swath of Italian men had the same exact first names, as a result of the predominantly Catholic heritage that relied on the names of saints. Nicknames were thus partially a necessity, as well as an element used for furthering intimidation.

The Stories Behind Mafia Nicknames

In June 2018, Francis "Cadillac Frank" Salemme was found guilty of murdering a South Boston nightclub owner in 1993. The former New England Mafia boss was long suspected of the crime, but there hadn't been evidence to formally charge Salemme until they dug up a body in Rhode Island in 2016.

While it was previously assumed he garnered his nickname by working at a Boston autobody shop, the truth is more indicative of the gangster's immoral resourcefulness. Salemme purportedly employed a friend to key and scratch every 30th or 40th new car — so he could charge to repair it.

Oddly enough, Salemme didn't even like Cadillacs. The now-incarcerated mobster owned BMWs, instead — one of which he was driving when he survived his assassination attempt in 1989.

Gangster Names

Jeffrey Markowitz/Sygma/Getty ImagesSammy "The Bull" Gravano garnered his nickname at 13, after fighting off thieves who had stolen his bike. A group of onlooking gangsters noticed his resilience at taking on several guys at once, remarking that he fought "like a bull."

Israel Alderman was what is commonly referred to as a mob enforcer. The ruthless killer was a reliable tool for higher-ups in need of a clean and discreet hit that left no trace to the client. As the "Ice Pick Willie" sobriquet implies, the Minneapolis-based gangster had a brutal weapon of choice.

Alderman typically stabbed his victims though the ear drum with the unnerving bartender tool. By puncturing the brain, he left no other sign of foul play or defensive wounds during subsequent autopsies. Alderman said he murdered at least 11 people this way at his own speakeasy in town.

The method that earned him this nickname was particularly practical as the victims would simply slump over the bar and appear to have had one too many. Alderman or his men would then simply drag the lifeless body out of the bar without a single second guess from unsuspecting guests.

Not unlike Al "Scarface" Capone, "Ice Pick Willie" was only nabbed by the Feds for tax evasion rather than his violent crimes. He went to prison, but only after becoming a Las Vegas casino investor and manager — where God only knows how many slumped-over drunks were escorted out.

After learning about the 33 most fascinating gangster names in modern history, take a look at 25 astounding Al Capone facts. Next, check out 21 chilling photos of history's most infamous mob hits.

Marco Margaritoff
A former staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Marco Margaritoff holds dual Bachelor's degrees from Pace University and a Master's in journalism from New York University. He has published work at People, VICE, Complex, and serves as a staff reporter at HuffPost.
Jaclyn Anglis
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.
Citation copied
Cite This Article
Margaritoff, Marco. "33 Crazy Gangster Names And The Even Crazier Things They Did To Earn Them." AllThatsInteresting.com, June 25, 2020, https://allthatsinteresting.com/gangster-names. Accessed May 24, 2024.