Thursday, February 14, 2008

What's In A Name

When I first got to Brazil, I kept another blog, and made a post with the same title. One of the things in Brazil that fascinates me are the names parents give their kids. Another is the nicknames people have, and the way they are used in day to day life here. There are two main "types" of names here. One is the "family tradition", of naming all your kids with the same type of beginning. For example, my wife (soon to be, whenever we get around to it) has three kids from her first marriage. They are named Erito Junior (who goes by Junior, I will explain that in the nicknames), Ericka, and Eric. All start with "Er". There are familes with 10 or more kids, and all start the same way. It is common to see something like a set of kids named like this : Jose, Josefa, Jomilson, Joelma, Jonara, Josantos, etc. The "start" of the name is usually taken from either parents name, or a combination of the two. There is also a fascination here with "pop culture" or "historical names". US Presidents as names are extremely popular. The most common are Jackson, Jefferson, Lincoln, Adams, Kennedy, and Washington. Sometimes, this leads to another phenomena, misspellings or misunderstandings. Now, illiteracy is a common problem here. Sometimes parents go register their children and when they give the name, either they, or the person registering the child may not know how the name is spelled. You might see someone named "Washington" who spells his name "Uashinton". Sometimes, a name is misunderstood, and the kid gets a name you never wanted in the first place. Pop culture names are popular. Micheal Jackson is a popular name, commonly seen as "Maicon". There is a family in my neighborhood with four boys named : Jonleno, Paumacatiney, Joeharrison, and Hingostarre. Hingostarre is curious one. In Portuguese, the "R" is mostly silent. Soccer player "Ronaldo" is pronounced "Honaldo". When "Hingo" was registered, either the parent or the person at the registry didn't realize there was supposed to be an "r" there. There is a soccer player whose name is "Creedence Clearwater" (like Dave Barry says, I swear I am not making this up, his full name is Creedence Clearwater Couto). There is another player named "Olywood". In the town where I live, there is not one, but two guys named "Moshe Dianne".
Another popular tradition here is nicknames. There are three very common ones that are actually part of the name. "Junior", "Neto", and "Sobrinho", which mean "Junior", "Grandson", and "Nephew", and are used appropriately. So if a guy named Paulo names his son Paulo, he is known as Paulo Junior. Paulo Junior names his kid Paulo, he is known as Paulo Neto. and if either of the first two Paulo's have a brother, and he names his kid Paulo, he is Paulo Sobrinho, since his uncle is also Paulo (confused yet?). Despite all the thought and originality that goes into these names, it is common to know someone for years and not know their real name. You might be known by your appearance, or your job. It is almost like a mafia gathering. Pedro da pipoca is Pedro, the guy that sells popcorn. Felipe do cafe is Felipe, the dude that works at the coffee factory. Manoel da fuskinha is Manny, the guy that drives the Beetle (Beetle Bugs are known as Fusca in Brazil). "Magro" is a skinny person. Sandro Pequeno is a short person named Sandro. Sometimes, you are known by the city or place you are from. You know Saul Caricoa is from Rio, because people from Rio are known as "Carioca's". Paulista is from Sao Paulo. Some of the players I work with have no idea my name is Daniel, they just know me as "Cubano" or "Cuba". When the team has closed door practices, there is a list of certain fans that are allowed in. When they put the list together, some didn't know the name of others. The list said stuff like "Joe, the guy that sells peanuts" or Franklin (another historical US name) the guy that roots for Flamengo (a popular team in Rio, in fact, the most popular team in Brazil). And these are people who have known each other for years, they get together everyday to watch the team practice. Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite parts of life here in Brazil.

4 comments:

Ms Calabaza said...

Ooops! I posted a comment on this in the next story. Loved it.

britni espears

GringoGene said...

Ought to be some sort of Academy Awards for Brazilian Namer Givers.

Actually, you picked up on something I hadn't run onto before. Must be a NE Brazil thing. I'm down near Brasilia; Goiania, and we don't have this name creativity that you so well noted in your entry. You got some classics there! Loved the Jonleno.

Why do they use these foreign names for their kids?

AkuTyger said...

The most common nickname in Salvador is "Nem." No idea where it comes from. My husband and his friends have a great play at yelling things like "Oi, nem! Acabou, nem! Vc e um bichan, nem!" at great lines and crowds of people, just to see who turns around.

Daniel @ Garanhuns said...

Gene,
I think it may have to do with the "pop culture" factor. Do you have the CD vendors where you live? The most popular sellers here are not Brazilian music, but the "international" ones, which is American and Europe top 40 or classics. They figure the singer or artist is popular, so maybe the name will influence their future somehow. Usually it is a singer or artist the parents like I guess. Look at sports, I know plenty of kids with names like Romario, Ronaldo, Ayrton, etc. Brazil has a fascination with "stars", just watch stuff like "Video Show" and the gossip type shows.

Akutyger,
Maybe, and this is just a guess, Nem comes from "nenem" which comes from "nene" as in baby, and for whatever reason, thats what caught on there. In Pernambuco the common variation is "rapaz", which is used constantly in the day to day conversation.