The Strange Romance of Brazilian Names

It’s Friday, so I’m going to let another writer do the talking. Er, writing. This riff from John Lanchester, in his essay about Brazil from the forthcoming The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup (see yesterday’s post), starts with a mention of the captain of Brazil’s 1982 World Cup team, “the chainsmoking doctor Socrates”:

There was something so cool about his being called Socrates, too – all part of the strange romance of Brazilian names, most of which, thanks to the complexity and length of people’s full monikers, and a deep love of familiar forms of address, tend to be nick-names. And then there are the suffixes to consider. The winning coach from 2002, Philão Scolari, has the “ão” suffix meaning “big”, thus Philão is sometimes translated as “Big Phil”. The “inho” suffix means “small”. As Alex Bellos points out in his brilliant book Futebol, the current Ronaldo was once himself known as Ronaldinho, because there was already another Ronaldo in the side, as well as Ronaldão. When the current Ronaldinho came along, this could have meant that Brazil were fielding Ronaldão, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and Ronaldinhozinho: big Ronald, normal-sized Ronald, small Ronald, and even smaller Ronald. Instead, the former Ronaldo dropped out, the new Ronaldo became Ronaldinho Gaúcho (after his place of origin), and the former Ronaldinho was promoted to Ronaldo, a title he still holds. Perhaps this is no odder than the time England had one player called Trever Steven and two players called Gary Stevens (prompting the immortal chant, to the tune of “Guantanamera”: “Two Gary Stevens – there’s only two Gary Stevens…”). 

This still makes me laugh.



About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

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