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How are unit nicknames assigned? Are there any criteria to earn a specific nickname or is it just random from a large list? Does it have any correlation to performance in battle?

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The nicknames are random within the class, as near as I can tell.

You'll only have assaults get nicknamed "Thunder", and only supports can ever be "Angel", for instance.

Battlescape performance is a non-factor; the nicknames are simply assigned when the units get promoted to sergeant.

There does appear to be one exception: Getting promoted to sergeant after winning a mission on December 25th will give your soldier the nickname, "Santa".

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This is correct but a massive disappointment, it would be way more fun if characters earned nicknames based off achievements. –  Quinma Nov 26 '12 at 20:54

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