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A Great Selection of Nicknames


Reading some of our WCB comments (read El Pelado’s) it became clear that some people do not understand why Brazil has some funny nicknames. Some people even suggested it was purely for marketing purposes. I’ll explain a little about the truth behind our crazy names.

It is a big contrast when you put some world class player’s names from Brazil and the rest of the world side by side. David Beckham vs. Ronaldinho, Armando Diego Maradona vs. Pele, Zinedine Zidane vs. Didi, Michael Ballack vs. Tostao, Joseph Antony Didulica vs. Garrincha, Ulises De la Cruz vs. Kaka, Francileudo dos Santos vs. Zico… the list is huge, but get this: Even the big names get smaller versions, right? People use only their last names most of the time. Salvatori Schillaci had a cool nickname too, remember? Probably for the same reasons as we have them.

Brazil is a very warm country, with very warm people. We don’t use our last names often. Even in corporate busyness (I worked for Gillette here) people don’t say Mr. Didulica, we would call our boss Mr. Joseph. This kind of formality doesn’t work here. We make jokes about the American habit of not kissing or even touching a girl when your close friend introduces you to her. We like to hug each other, show our feelings and demonstrate that we really exist. I’m here! You can count on me! A friend of a friend is my friend! We have beautiful cities and wonderful sights to be seen, but every time you ask a tourist about what he liked the most about Brazil the common answer is “the people”.

And that is how we call our friends. The diminutive version of ones name is a way to show you care about that person. The augmentative version too. Guys in my band, for an example, the percussionist (Luiz Andre) we call Bibo, the drummer (Carlos Sales) we call Carlão, the solo guitarist (Paulo Afonso) we call Paulinho. Bibo is completely his little sister’s influence (as Kaka), while Carlão (ão=big) and Paulinho (inho=little) are friendly modifications.

But why the names on our player’s shirts have their nicknames, not their real names? Does it have anything to do with marketing? Hilarious theory!!! In 1958 there were no marketing issues going on like we have today. Didi (Valdir Pereira) was one of Brazil’s main players and every radio voice were using his nickname, since nobody would know who Valdir was. Same thing with Garrincha (songbird) when he won the 58 and 62 World Cups. Who the hell is Manuel Francisco dos Santos???? Nobody knows. Really! Nobody knows!!!

This is a cultural treat of our society. This is a normal form of treatment between people that care for one another. My latest boss… I used to call him Zeefeew (short for “my son”) while his name was Antonio Sales. That’s the kind of treatment we give to people we care about. We respect a man for his talent alone. His background is not important, if he grew rich, middle class or inside our slums, talent and respect are absolutely far more important. And the nicknames are a way to show that too.

I can tell you a little story about this fact. I remember one championship (Olympic, I think) that the players had their real names in their shirts and at all graphic informations on the screen. It was terrible. Who the hell would be Ricardo Leite? Oh, you mean Kaka?

In 1942 Zizinho was a top player for my team here in Rio, Flamengo, and not only had him this nickname, but another version of it too: Master Ziza. His name was Thomaz Soares da Silva. It was 1942!!! All this said: that’s how we are.

Here is a list of great players with interesting nicknames and their profiles (with the real names):

Careca, Didi, Dunga, Garrincha, Pele, Robert “Dynamite”, Tostão, Vava, Zico, Zizinho, Dida, Jairzinho, Cafu, Cicinho, Luizão, Kaka, Bebeto, Ronaldinho, Fred, Robinho

  • Brazil Players Nicknames – FIFA World Cup 2006 – World Cup 2006 Blog

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  • Trent

    Hi Euler–

    Great post! Brazilian nicknames are one of the great stories of football history, no doubt.

    Speaking of great footballer names, do most Brazillians consider Pele or Garrincha the best of all time? Or someone else entirely?


  • Trent

    BTW, I meant the player, not just the name. :)


  • Shawn

    I read in a history of Brazilian football that there was an effort about 80-90 years ago among the whites to keep black players out of the game by forcing players to sign in with their names. The thinking was that more blacks were illiterate and then wouldn’t play. But somebody hit on the idea of coming up with these nicknames and got around the new rules. Any truth to that?

  • Euler

    Good question, Trent. General idea here says Garrincha played more beautifully, but most people agree that Pele was more skilled and more complete as a footballer.

    Like the Wikipedia says:
    “Often considered the complete midfield and attacking player, he was completely two-footed, a prolific finisher, exceptional at dribbling and passing, and was a remarkably good tackler for a forward. He was also famed for his speed and kicking strength.”

  • Euler

    Hey Shawn, I’ve never heard of this illiterate version of our that matter.
    I’ll write a little post about that, since it is a nice subject.

  • Shawn

    From “Futebol: Soccer the Brazilian Way” by Alex Bellos (p.33):

    “Vasco’s directors chose the best footballers from the burgeoning suburban leagues — regardless of background or color…the main clubs set up their own league, excluding Vasco…Vasco were invited back under a set of elaborate conditions that, while not specifically banning black and poor white players, was meant to have that effect. Each player had to know how to sign his name. Vasco, with most of its players illiterate, found a way to jump that hurdle. It sent its squad to reading and writing classes and, if need be, changed their names. A player with a complicated surname would become, simply, ‘Silva.’”

  • Euler

    So it must be true after all, but very unknown to general people here. I would like to know if this book was released in Brazil too, in portuguese.

    I’ve done some research today and that issue didn’t came up again.

    I’m editing a post about racism in Brazil’s football for you. I hope you enjoy it.

  • Chuck

    Very interesting, Euler. I am from the United States. This makes me wonder how Roberto Carlos got left out of all this. It seems like most of the top players are known by one name, except for him.

    Would you be willing to tell me what Brazil’s team nick name is?

    I tried to look it up myself, but I don’t know Portuguese. In my search, I came across several names (with my translation attempt in parenthesis):

    Os Canarinhos (The Little Canaries)
    Carioca (Citizens of Rio)
    De Goddelijke Kanaries
    Canarinha (Yellow)

    Does any of these nicknames fit?

  • Euler

    Roberto Carlos didn’t have a nickname from the beginning, and he has one of those names with two first names (Roberto Carlos da Silva).

    Our team nickname is Seleção Canarinho (Canary Selection) but we don’t say the Canary part as often. We use the shortened version, Seleção (Selection).

    Carioca is a person who is born the city of Rio de Janeiro. Not the state, city only. No relation to the national team.

    De Goddelijke Kanaries? Sounds like another language to me. Never heard this before.

    Kanaries (os canarinhos) is not a form we are used to call our players. Probably a mistaken translation.

    Canarinha is our yellow shirt. In Brazil things have gender too. Shirt is feminin, so you can say “the canarinha shirt”. But if you say “i’ll go with my canarinha” everybody knows you are talking about the shirt.

    Maybe I’ll write a post about that too. Even our local clubs have nicknames!

  • Euler

    Canario = Canary

    Canarinho = Little Canary


    The bird:

  • Chuck


    Thank you for answering my questions. Please excuse my ignorance.

    One follow up question I have concerns the use of the word “Canary.” When speaking of the Brazilian team, does this word refer to the BIRD, or are you talking more about the color of the team’s jerseys?

    Thanks again!

  • Euler

    The Canary theme is now more an icon than a bird or a color. If you say canário (canary) you are probably talking about the bird, but when you say it in the diminutive form (canarinho) you are talking about the team, the Selection. We think about the team and it’s shirt. We don’t use it as a color reference, as in “I’ll buy a canarinho car”, for an example. It never replaces the “yellow” word, unless you’re talking about the football uniform or about the team itself.

  • Chuck

    Thanks, Euler, for the clarification.

    And thanks for your suggestion over at my little blog — I about rolled out of my chair when I read it.

  • Ze-Nito

    Im from mozambique and like in brazil we speak portuguese as the official language, the name of the brazilian national team os Canarinhos ou a seleccao canarinha is not solely related to the little canaries, but also to the “Auri-Verde” collor of the jerseys, Auri-verde meaning yellow-green. And roberto carlos name was not just ignored caz he did not have a nickname but because there is a very famous old brasilian love ballads singer named Roberto Carlos, that is why the silva was left out they started calling him roberto carlos of futebol, that’s why silva his surname name was left out. because roberto carlos resembles the name of that famous braslian singer and by the way plenty of brasilian kids a named after this guy(the singer)

    and some nicknames like Ronaldinhos are the short form of other names like we call kids in Portuguese, Ronaldinho derives from ronaldo and means little Ronaldo, so his real name is Ronaldo, the inho is used for little for example me Jose or Ze it woulb be Zezinho but not all short form or nicknames follow this rule for example juninho Pernambucano pernambucano measn from Pernambuco a city from the state of maranhao where he comes from, Ronaldinho Gaucho the brazilian nick from ronaldinho means ronaldinho the Gaucho, gaucho is a nickname for people from the city of belo horizonte state of minas gerais where he played if im not wrong

  • Euler

    Gaucho means from Rio Grande do Sul, a south state of Brazil.

    Look at Juninho’s nickname is also mentioned here:

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