What is the Story Behind Nurse Ratched’s Name Tag?

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Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched in ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’, directed by Milos Forman, 1975.
 Getty Images—2013 Silver Screen Collection

The world first met Nurse Ratched back in 1962 thanks to the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. To put it simply, she is characterized in some horrifying terms. She has sudden, unsettling movements, she seems to have cold air following her, she’s all too comfortable unlocking doors, and even her fingernails are horrifying.

Though she is known as Big Nurse in the book, Nurse Ratched seems to love giving patients in the fictitious Oregon psychiatric ward lobotomies on a whim. That is until she meets her match in a disruptive patient by the name of Randle Patrick McMurphy. But the talk can sometimes center around not just Nurse Ratched, but her name tag.

What Does Nurse Ratched’s Name Tag Say?

There is a little bit of a topic surrounding Nurse Ratched, particularly her famous look in the film version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The simple fact of the matter is that the Nurse Ratched name tag is less exciting than it seems.

So, what is the deal with her name tag? Her name, of course. Whether most people realize it or not, her first name was Mildred. So, the Nurse Ratched name tag simply read “Mildred Ratched, RN” designating her status as a registered nurse.

It isn’t the most earth-shattering thing to learn. If anything, it makes recreating the look a little easier given how easy it is to find a name tag. With minimal effort and money, you can create a Nurse Ratched costume effortlessly for any Halloween party.

The Origin Story

Even though there is a debate over the misogynistic characterization of the character, she is regarded widely as a pop culture icon. She is the kind of character that is so strong that it elicits a strong reaction when viewed for the first time. This is to the point that audience members have openly shouted “kill her!”

There is nothing new about giving malicious female characters such as Nurse Ratched their own origin. It gives depth to these iconic characters, building on what we have seen and giving them more to their story. Whether that humanizes the character or furthers the perception depending on the intention of the creators.

It is something that we have seen with other classic female villains before. Harley Quinn of Batman fame got her story both in the comics as well as in her own movie. Cruella de Vil got her own solo story. Maleficent, Catwoman, and so many more explore the backstory of these female villains and the impact that they have had on pop culture.

There are more than a few reasons why Ratched will remain at the top of the pop culture heap, particularly in the eyes of those looking for a strong female character.

The Character Story

Though the story centers around Randle McMurphy arriving at an Oregon psychiatric hospital, it is hard to shake the impact that the villainous nurse had on the story. Ratched is notorious for inspiring patients to rebel against her iron fist rule.

She threatens his attempts to buck the system by threatening him with mild punishments and threats. But then she escalates things, threatening shock therapy as well. This only serves to fuel his rebellious nature.

McMurphy organizes unauthorized parties, bringing in outside guests as well. Ratched catches McMurphy doing less-than-great things, sending him to the doctor’s office in the ward. The entire incident results in a patient taking their own life, which sends McMurphy into a rage where he nearly strangles Ratched.

She has him lobotomized because of his actions, but the damage is done. She was left bruised and weakened, unable to control the ward mostly because none of the patients feared her any longer. It leaves the question of whether she remained in the ward or went on to another hospital to inflict her own brand of terror on the patients there.

Reception of the Character

The character highlights the role that women in the novel and movie portray and what Nurse Ratched herself actually represents. There is a focus on her physical traits and size. Remember that she was originally “Big Nurse” in the novel, but she is perceived as a counter to the male-dominated landscape of the time.

Ratched, though inherently a very bad person, is perceived as a powerful woman who isn’t swayed by men. Despite McMurphy being the protagonist, it is hard to cheer for him after being arrested for statutory rape.

Because she isn’t classified as most nurses of the time were – a sexual figure – she stands so far apart from the trope. Despite her being the villain of the story, she is seen as a figure of power by feminists.


Nurse Ratched, as well as the film itself, has become one of the most iconic things in media. Particularly in the nursing profession, Nurse Ratched has jokingly become a figure that has been imitated in a comedic sense.

Nurses in particular joke about finding their inner Nurse Ratched when dealing with problematic patients. It is also a common Halloween costume given how easy it is to replicate her famous look.


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