"Epithet", "sobriquet", "moniker"… All three are related words, the relation being that each is a form of nickname. But all my efforts at figuring out what distinctions exist between them have been futile; several sources treat them as essentially synonyms, while others claim there are differences but clash with each other on what those differences are (and that's assuming that a given source actually has a concrete idea of what said differences ought to be).
Take Merriam-Webster, for example:
- epithet: a characterizing word or phrase accompanying or occurring
in place of the name of a person or thing.
- sobriquet: a descriptive name or epithet; nickname.
- moniker: name, nickname.
Now let's look at Wiktionary:
- epithet: A term used to characterize a person or thing; a term used
as a descriptive substitute for the name or title of a person.
- sobriquet: A familiar name for a person (typically a shortened
version of a person’s given name).
- moniker: A personal name or nickname; an informal label, often
drawing attention to a particular attribute.
And finally, consider the Collins Dictionary:
- epithet: an adjective or short phrase which is used as a way of
criticizing or praising someone; a descriptive word or phrase added
to or substituted for a person's name; an adjective, noun, or phrase,
often specif. a disparaging one, used to characterize some person or
thing; a descriptive name or title (Ex.: Philip the Fair; America the
- sobriquet: a humorous name that people give someone or something; a
humorous epithet, assumed name, or nickname; a nickname, an assumed
- moniker: a person or thing's name, especially when it was changed; a
person's name or nickname.
Honestly speaking, none of these definitions seem to be that distinct from one another, and some even clash with how I've seen the words get used; Collins, for example, claims that an epithet is often disparaging, but most "epithets" that I've seen called as such are nothing of the kind.
Also, take note that although the actual definitions don't say anything about this, what is said about epithet "accompanying or occurring in place of the name of a person or thing" apparently also applies to sobriquet; the Wikipedia article certainly says as much, and even has a long list of examples that illustrate this.
So here I am, asking for assistance. Are there any appreciable differences in the meanings between these three words? If so, what are they?