Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What's in a Name? - São Paulo

Image from google images...

This image is of one of Brazil's greatest soccer heroes. I won't say "hero" without qualification-- he made a major blunder recently by suggesting that stadiums are more important than hospitals in Brazil (he is a FIFA spokesman after all) and has had some interesting "company" at hotels. Never mind. This is not my point. My point is that his name is Ronaldo. I have no idea what his last name is. When he is spoken of by Brazilians, he is normally mentioned as "Ronaldo Fenomeno" or the Phenomenon. This separates him from Ronaldo Gaucho (Ronaldo from the South? Or is Gaucho really his last name? I don't know) and from a Portuguese player named Cristiano Ronaldo who favors tight swimsuits and yachts.

Brazilians are unlikely to use a person's last name. Ever. The president is "Dilma"--my father was just referring to Rousseff and I was thinking "who is this Russian with the same issues as Brazil has?" No, that's not true, I do know her last name and I think most Brazilians do. They simply dispense with it.  On the other hand, the vice president is referred to by his whole name of "Michel Temer" but since "Temer" means "to fear", it really does go pretty well. I definitely fear he ever becomes president.

If you don't know someone's name at all, you refer to them by a physical or cultural or imagined trait. My white-blond haired son is "Alemão" or "German." This tends to make my Dutch-background family a little crazy. At the club we belong to in São Paulo, I am "the gringa." Basically there are no others. At least none as nutty as I am. My husband who attended the air force academy for college in Brazil has no idea what the last names are of most of his classmates. I think he believes one of the last name's is "Jacaré" which means alligator and I have my doubts.

While some of the nicknames and first name calling can make me uncomfortable--calling the president by her first name seems a bit lacking in respect, and I never could call one of my coworkers "Cabeção" or "big head" as the local boss did--it is a cultural norm. It is not meant to be insulting or disrespectful. It is a way of showing closeness or friendliness. I have grown used to it.  I actually prefer it to some of the formal speech where I will be called "A Dona" in third person, or "A Senhora". That's weird. If I am standing right there, I can be addressed as "you" or I start looking around for this lady called "A Senhora."

The key is probably to choose your nickname before someone chooses it for you. Trust me.

1 comment:

  1. I will keep in mind, should I ever visit, so that I have my own nickname prepared in advance. Suggestions are welcome.