How Ruth Bader Ginsburg Got Her 'Notorious RBG' Nickname

The Supreme Court justice reportedly gave Notorious RBG T-shirts as gifts.

by Morgan Brinlee and Bustle Editors
Originally Published: 
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images News/Getty Images

On Friday, Sept. 18, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away at age 87. Along with being a women's rights activist and Supreme Court justice, the legal and pop-culture icon was also the heroine of children's books, a beloved Halloween costume for both babies and adults, the star of her own coloring book, the subject of a documentary film, and, lest you forget, the Notorious RBG. But exactly who coined Notorious RBG, Ginsburg's nickname?

Ginsburg was first crowned with her Notorious RBG moniker — a play on rapper Biggie Smalls' Notorious B.I.G. nickname — in 2013 when New York University law student Shana Knizhnik created a Tumblr bearing the name to highlight Ginsburg's dissent in the landmark Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder.

Here's how Ginsburg described the origin of her Notorious RBG moniker in 2017 in a video from NBC:

[It was] a second year student at NYU Law School who started the Notorious RBG as a Tumblr. This young woman was, to put it mildly, disappointed by the Supreme Court's decision in the Shelby County case — the decision that held a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 no longer constitutional. She was angry, and then it came to her that anger is a useless emotion. It doesn't win any friends or make any changes. So, instead of being angry, she would do something positive. And the positive thing she did was to put on that blog the announcement of my dissenting opinion in the Shelby County case, and then it took off from there.

The name was a hit, to say the least, and as Ginsburg's popularity and reputation grew, so, too, did use of her Notorious RBG nickname.

In an interview with Dahlia Lithwick of Slate in 2015, Knizhnik explained that it was the juxtaposition of Ginsburg's small size and tremendous trailblazing force that inspired the name. "I was mostly thinking of the catchy nickname and how she was such a powerful force," Knizhnik said. "Here you had this diminutive person, this tiny human, and nobody saw her as a badass. But when you see what she has done, over years, with such dignity and grace, it represented that."

So, what did Ginsburg think of the moniker?

"People ask me, 'don't you feel uncomfortable with a name like the Notorious RBG?'" Ginsburg said in February 2017, as NBC reported. "Why should I feel uncomfortable? We have a lot in common. First and foremost, we were both born and bred in Brooklyn, New York."

According to Biography.com, Biggie Smalls, aka the Notorious B.I.G., was born in Brooklyn on May 21, 1972, some 39 years after Ginsburg was born in the same borough.

In 2017, Ginsburg also told Charlie Rose she was fully aware of who Notorious B.I.G. was and thought the comparison "seems altogether natural."

Ginsburg was such a fan of the name that, in 2014, she admitted to keeping herself well stocked with Notorious RBG T-shirts, which she reportedly gave as gifts, according to Time magazine.

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