Throughout the years and after all those wars, soldiers had this habit of giving their comrades and enemies nicknames. Some were laudatory, others were derogatory, while some were just plain shorter names to save a few syllables whenever referring to them. Here are some of the other names that the US soldiers earned throughout the years and their possible origins.

Doughboys

We are not exactly sure who started calling the US soldiers of World War I doughboys, but there were some theories on how they earned the moniker.

World War I "Doughboy" Statue Memorial
World War I “Doughboy” Statue Memorial on the south side of the Taunton Green. Massachusetts. (Kenneth C. ZirkelCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The infantrymen deployed to Europe as part of the American Expeditionary Forces were mostly referred to as the doughboys. In an article written by History, the term could be dated back from 1846-to 1848 during the Mexican War. The American soldiers would trek over dusty terrain that would make it look like they were covered in flour or dough. Thankfully, they didn’t choose “flourboys,” as that wouldn’t sound as appealing.

A slightly different version was that the dust that covered them was of adobe soil, so they were called “adobe,” which then later evolved to “dobies” and then to “doughboys.”

Another theory was that during the 19th Century, enlisted Americans would “polish” their uniforms and belts with a fine whitish clay called pipeclay. It worked great in making them look sharp in their uniforms until the rain poured down and wore off the clay off their outfit, turning it into doughy blobs. So the soldiers would march in the rain looking doughy.

The last one would be that the American infantrymen’s rations were often doughy flour and rice concoctions that they would cook over a campfire.

Jarheads And Leathernecks and Snuffies

The Jarhead nickname refers to US Marines generally, and while others embraced the name, there were some who didn’t like it.

A theory was that it referred to Marine’s high-collar uniform made of leather (thus the ‘leatherneck’ nickname before) that made it look like their head was sticking out of a jar. Combine it with their trademark haircut that is short on the sides and square and flat on top that looks like a jar lid. This led to the moniker “jarhead.”

One more possible reason they were called that was Marine’s attitude: they endure tough and physical training, which makes them look hard on the outside while still holding whatever beliefs or orders are provided to them on the inside. According to WFRE.com, this could be more accurate, “since, as early as 1918, “jarhead” was a slang term used for a mule. Since mules were considered loyal & hardworking animals who can follow orders, it’s possible the “jarhead” nickname was ported over to Marines, who considered it a favorable comparison.”

The term Snuffy or Snuffie was less common in use and referred to junior Marines below the rank of Lance Corporal. It probably comes from the hapless cartoon character “Snuffy Smith” by Billy DeBeck.

Dogface

Definitely not because people think the soldiers looked like dogs (dogs are unarguably cute anyway). Veteran Philip Leveque of 354th Infantry explained:

Perhaps I should explain the derivation of the term “dogface.” He lived in “pup tents” and foxholes. We were treated like dogs in training. We had dog tags for identification. The basic story is that wounded soldiers in the Civil War had tags tied to them with string indicating the nature of their wounds. The tags were like those put on a pet dog or horse, but I can’t imagine anybody living in a horse tent or being called a horserace. Correctly speaking, only Infantrymen are called dogfaces. Much of the time, we were filthy, cold, and wet as a duck hunting dog, and we were ordered around sternly and loudly like a half-trained dog.

The term was popularized when it was used in the Hollywood film To Hell and Back in 1955. This movie was based on the autobiography of the most decorated US soldier during WWII named Audie Murphy, who later became an actor. In fact, he was the one who played himself in the movie. The film’s song titled “Dogface Soldier” became a hit that the 3rd Infantry Division even adopted it as the official song.

Here’s them performing a revamped, rock-like version of their division’s song.

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GI.

During World War I, the soldiers called the German artillery shells “GI cans, ” but that’s not where they got this nickname. Items from the government were referred to as “Government Issue” or “General Issue.” when the Selective Service System (also known as the draft) in 1940, the term GI also became widely known and used, replacing the “doughboy.”

In 1944, a radio drama series titled “They Call Me Joe” referred to its fictional American soldier as a GI named Joe. By 1964, GI Joe action figures were introduced by Hasbro that would later inspire a film series of the same name in 2003.

G.I. Joe character figures
G.I. Joe character figures. (Photo from Big Bad Toy Store)

In 1945, General Eisenhower used the term saying, “the truly heroic figure of this war [is] G.I. Joe and his counterpart in the air, the navy, and the Merchant Marine of every one of the United Nations.”

Grunts

This is the modern term used to describe the infantry in both the Marines and Army.  It is applied to the enlisted ranks of E-3 and below, though NCOs will also adopt the moniker on the honor of having once been at those ranks.  It comes from the low, grunting pig like sound of the infantryman doing the “Grunt Work” of carrying, lugging, humping, hauling or anything else involving something heavy that has to be moved, or any other task of manual labor delegated to them by an NCO who generally supervises the work rather than do it themselves.

The funny thing about these terms is that they are really only approved for use on an internal basis between servicemembers among the various branches of the military. It would be a social faux pas for a civilian to call someone a “Grunt” or “Jarhead” without the possibility that it would cause offense.  This is not true among veterans or those on active service where the conversation might go like this:

Veteran One: “Did you serve?”

Veteran Two: “Yeah, I was a grunt. How about you?”

Veteran One: “Uh-huh, Navy. I was an airedale.”

Don’t get us started on numerous nicknames Sailors are referred to in the Navy, most of them are all but unknown to civilians and are used internally between sailors. Terms like Snipe, Deck Ape, Twidget, Airedale, Crank, Skivvy Waver, Pecker Checker, Grape, Black Shoe, Brown Shoe, NUB, Shellback, Pollywog, and Bubblehead.  Or how it is possible for one sailor to call another a “Black shoed, pollywog, Bubbleheaded, Snipe,” and have it all be true and insulting at the same time.

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