Part of the key to being a truly terrible leader is chosing the right name, something with the perfect evil-with-a-touch-of-crazy that sends people scampering for cover. Here are my offerings for Best Evil Despot names--in order of name appeal.
1. Caligula Ruled from 37 A.D. to 41 A.D. Technically just his nickname but as nicknames go it's pretty fun. This Roman emporor known for his cruelty and insanity was murdered by his own guards and enjoyed enough debauchery to impress even Hollywood (now that's saying something). I can't hear the name without hearing that Muppet Show song "Manamana" only with "Caligula."
2. Robert Mugabe President of Zibabwe since 1980 this tyrant has made life for Zibabweans less than ideal. He gets extra points for dominating a country with a cool name even though his first name is so . . . so . . . well, he gets a spot on the list for a fun last name. You think anyone calls him Bob?
3. Hosni Mubarak Current president of Egypt since the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981 he's Egypt's autocrat du jour. He doesn't get the publicity he deserves because hey, in the middle east you can't swing a dead cat without hitting an evil despot and exercising complete control over one's citizens is too commonplace to be newsworthy but he's making this list for his Jedi-like name. Hosni Mubarak, Jedi knight.
4. Genghis Khan Honestly, Kubla Khan is a better name "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree where Alph the sacred river ran through caverns measureless to man down to a sunless sea" (I love S.T. Coleridge) but Genghis, his more famous predecessor who founded the Mongol Empire in the 13th and 14th centuries has the better name. You could argue he wasn't a despot at all but a military genius but somehow the line between military genius and totalitarian demagogue was rather hazy in the 14th century.
5. Chou En-lai Also perhaps not fully qualified as a true Evil Despot unless you count the fact he was one of the major leaders of Communism in China, bringing on the Revolution and the infamous Cultural Revolution which sent countless Chinese to their deaths. He did eventually switch his policies, shielding many from the effects of the Cultural Revolution, but I can't hear his name without thinking it would make a great name for a bed and breakfast.
6. Pol Pot Here's one who definitely qualifies for the title. Ruler of the Khmer Rouge and Prime Minister of Cambodia 1976-1979, without him The Killing Fields wouldn't have been made. Also know by a nickname which is short for Politique Potentielle (if I'm remembering my French correctly) Pol Pot sounds happy and jolly and delightfully chubby but don't you believe it. He's thought responsible for the deaths of 1.5 million Cambodians.
7. Idi Amin President of Uganda from 1971-1979. History isn't sure how many people he killed, somewhere between 80,000-300,000 depending on who you're hearing. Christians, Indians, ethnic groups, he went after anyone and regardless of his lilting name (which is even better if you add his last name too, Idi Amin Dada) he was a true evil despot.
8. Ivan the Terrible Not necessarily one that trips over the tongue but you have to give credit to the first world leader to get an added name in quotes. Nowadays he would have been a professional wrestler with his own announcer: "And now, weighing in at 320 pounds of pure evil, we have in this corner with his army of conscripted serfs: Ivannnnnnnnnn the Terrrrrrrrible!!!!" and the crowd would then boo.
9. Mommar Qadafi Not only a slippery man but a slippery name. How the heck is this thing spelled? Momar? Mommar? Muammar? Mohammar? Moammar? Kadafi? Qadafi? Gaddafi? Qadhafi? Qaddafi? Gadhafi? You just try Googling this guy, you can't get any info because you can't figure out how it's spelled. No wonder the CIA couldn't get rid of him, they couldn't spell his name.
10. Attila the Hun Feared by anyone with half a brain in 5th century Europe this man conquered anything and everything, creating an empire stretching throughout Europe. He invaded, raped, pillaged, burned and sacked in an effort to rule the world. I bet he was very short.
11. Nicolae Ceausescu A little closer to home historically, I still remember hearing about what this man had singlehandedly done to Romania from 1965 until his execution in--when was it? 1988? 1989? I should say nearly singlehandedly because he had a lot of help from his dear wife, Elena. And as every evil despot knows, behind every truly evil despot there's a truly evil woman. Perhaps several as the men tend to go through them rather fast.
12. Mao Zedong Another hard to spell name. Memo to future tyrants: If you want to get more air time, get a standard Anglicization of your name. One of my kids used to have a stuffed mouse that was named Mousy Tong.
13. Vlad the Impaler The hands-down best evil overlord name in the book. Short, descriptive, terror-provoking, all-in-all the perfect name for one looking to rule the world in complete and total domination. So terrifying he gets his very own vampire alter-ego (Dracula). With a name like Vlad the Impaler I doubt he got many dinner invitations (would they call him Mr. Impaler?) You've got to look twice at a country like Romania when they can produce both Vlad the Impaler and Nicolae Ceausescu.
Honorable Mention: Ayatolla Humani. Just for old times sake. The 80s wouldn't have been the same without him--and the irony that his last name could be spelled Humane is too delicious for words.
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