How American Outlaws Got Their Names



by David Nevins




North America has a rich history dating back thousands of years, including native American civilizations, the colonization of the east coast, the American Revolution, and the Civil War.
With all this history, there are hundreds of different areas to study. Despite the vast number of options, the wild west is one of the most studied and enjoyed periods.
The wild west is famous for several reasons, but the biggest reason is the American outlaws. These outlaws have a rich history and culture that helped shape our modern culture, even if what they did was criminal. These outlaws were known as gunslingers, sometimes called evil men, and they operated when people didn't have much law enforcement to rely on. This meant that if you were an honest citizen looking for justice, there needed to be more help from the government.
That's why some Americans turned to crime instead—they couldn't get what they wanted any other way! Still, others joined forces with these criminals for adventure or simply because it was their only option at the time.
If you've heard of some of the most famous outlaws, you may realize that many of them don't go by their given names. Many believe there is a set pattern to how they got their names, but that isn't necessarily the case. The following examples show how some famous outlaw names in American history came about:
Billy the Kid
Billy the Kid was a gunfighter who participated in various activities, including cattle rustling, a stagecoach robbery, and murder. Despite his laundry list of crimes and even being arrested on a few occasions, Billy the Kid never was convicted to the point of being hung or killed by gunfire, despite being common practice at the time. The story goes that Billy the Kid was killed while sneaking into a room and was shot by Sheriff Pat Garrett, who was investigating another criminal.
You may wonder how he got the name Billy the Kid if he was such a vicious criminal. The answer is basic; he had a youthful and innocent appearance.
Sundance Kid
Part of Butch Cassidy's "Wild Bunch," the Sundance Kid, or Harry Longbaugh, was known as one of the best western shots. While not known for killing sprees, he traveled far distances, from New York City to South America, and never stayed in the same spot for long. On his travels, he would rob banks, mines, trains, and stagecoaches but would be out of town before anyone could catch him. In 1909, he and his gang were surrounded in Bolivia, where he was shot before he took his own life.
But where did the Sundance kid get his name? Ironically, it was the name of the first and only town he was imprisoned in. And no, it wasn't for murder, arson, or grand theft; he stole a horse.
Bandit Queen
One of the few well-known female outlaws, the Bandit Queen, or Belle Starr, was famous for providing a place for Jesse James and his gang to hide out following some of their crimes. The Bandit Queen wasn't known for personally committing crimes but was an asset for others as she would act as a front for bootleggers and fugitives. She married three fugitives during her lifetime - Jim Reed, Bruce Younger, and Sam Starr.
After getting arrested for helping bandits with robbery, the local newspaper wrote an article that dubbed her the "Bandit Queen."
If there is anything to be learned about American Outlaws and their names, there isn't a set pattern. Just as each outlaw had their style and story, the way that bandits earned their nickname was individual.
If you are interested in seeing what kind of nickname you may have been given if you lived during the wild west era, check out the name generator from, which will provide you with ideas and examples of how to create your own name.