A big stalwart fellow, named John Little (or John Nailor), who encountered Robin Hood, and gave him a sound thrashing, after which he was rechristened, and Robin stood godfather. Little John is introduced by Sir Walter Scott in The Talisman.
“`This infant was called John Little,' quoth he; `Which name shall be changed anon, The words we'll transpose, so wherever he goes, His name shall be called Little John.”
Little John was executed on Arbor Hill, Dublin.
It will be remembered that Maria in Twelfth Night, represented by Shakespeare as a little woman, is by a similar pleasantry called by Viola, “Oliva's giant;” and Sir Toby says to her, “Good night, Penthesile'a” —i.e. Amazon.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894