When the entire world was losing sleep over whether Brazil will live up to the hype, I was busy 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.
I solved the puzzle when I discovered how Brazilians go about naming their offspring. Apparently, they follow the Portuguese tradition of handing out multiple surnames. So if your dad was a ‘de Caravaca’, your mom a ‘de Cruz’ and your husband a ‘de Vectores’ you might end up with 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 names or nicknames on their jersey. Understandable, no? Edson Arantes de Nascimento, for example, famously preferred to proclaim himself as ‘Pele’.
Analysing the nicknames of legends reveal the friendly nature of the largest Portuguese speaking country on the globe. In sharp contrast to India where demigods are given labels like ‘Master Blaster’ and ‘The Wall’, Brazil believes in light-hearted intimate names.
Midfielder Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri was referred to as ‘Dunga’ (the local equivalent of ‘Dopey’, a dwarf from the Snow White tale). His uncle had bestowed him the nick due to his short stature but the name was catchy and it 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 looking child in his family. His sister used to make fun of 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, earned the name as he 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.