When the entire world was losing sleep over whether Brazil will live up to the hype, I was wracking my brains about why footballers from that region have names longer than reticulated pythons. I mean, why on earth, would a mom give her child a 48-letter moniker like Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira?
Then, I discovered that Brazilians name their offspring by following the Portuguese tradition of multiple surnames. So if your dad was a ‘de Caravaca’, your mom a ‘de Cruz’ and your husband a ‘de Vectores’ you might have a name like Julia de Caravaca de Cruz de Vectores. Got it?
Although saddled with a conveyor belt of letters, nearly all Brazilian players opt to flash only their first or nicknames on their jersey. Understandable, right? Edson Arantes de Nasci-mento, for example, famously proclaimed himself as Pele. Analysing the nicknames of legends reveals the friendly nature of the largest Portuguese-speaking nation. In contrast to India, where demigods are labeled Master Blaster and The Wall, Brazilians believe in lighthearted, intimate names.
Midfielder Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri was referred to as ‘Dunga’ (equivalent of ‘Dopey’, the dwarf from Snow White). His uncle had bestowed it on him due to his short stature but the catchy name stuck even as Carlos bloomed into a five-foot-nine-incher!
The best dribbler in history, Manuel Francisco dos Santos, suffered a similar fate. He was the puniest child in his family. His sister used to tease him by calling him ‘Garrincha’ (the little wren). Pity, that’s how the football world remembers him even today.
Careca (literally: bald head), the star of the 1986 World Cup, used to be a fan of the clown Carequinho. Kaka’s real name was Ricardo. His kid brother could never get it right. He kept muttering ca-ca. Hence the nickname. Marcos Evangelista de Moraes, the most capped Brazilian, was luckier. He was a livewire forcing his team mates to draw a parallel to another attacking player who went by the name Cafuringa. As a nod, they called him ‘Cafu’. He went on to be the game changer, we know today.
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