The Name Game

Call Me & I’ll Score
Another One for You

Every time soccer is in evidence, and obviously the World Cup is a prime occasion for that, people wonder what’s up with this thing of calling South American players by one single name.
It’s usually the first name, a nickname, a contraction, but almost never a last name, as it’s common in the U.S. and most of Europe.
So it’s always good to go over it once again and try to clarify things. One is always surprised by how much you learn about a culture by the way fans treat their idols.

One-Name Stars

In South America, players are almost never referred to by their last names. And it’s not because a great percentage of them comes from poverty, and family ties never been a driving force in their upbringing.
It’s so happens because people relate to each other mostly by their first name on that part of the globe. Despite of that, the greatest soccer player of all time became known by a nickname no one knows what it means. The Brazilian Pelé stands on his own referential, as usual.
But the habit of calling players by a nickname alternates with calling them by their first name too, and many a famous ‘boleiro’ inscribed his own on history books with very few knowing what’s their real given name is.

The Sobriquet

In Central America, is more common to have a sobriquet, mentioned contiguously after the first name. Like, Valdivia, el Mago. Felipe, el Pato, and so on. Incidentally, a similar custom is adopted by bullfighters too.
It’s also similar to the way boxing in particular, and the fighting sport industry in general, operates. Someone, usually the promoter, comes up with a sobriquet, such as, Mano de Piedra, or Sugar, or Smokin’ Joe, etc, to enhance the appeal and uniqueness of each fighter. All for entertainment purposes, of course. And not only in America, as Don King would want it.

The Last Name

In the U.S., as in Europe, the use of first names to identify players couldn’t be more foreign. Too much respect for the family name, perhaps. To the point that, if a son follows his dad’s steps in the same profession, a numeral may be added. Just like royalty. And no one seems to have a problem being the 2nd, the 3rd and so on.
On the contrary, there’s seems to be some pride involved, regardless the fact that the father, and the son, and the son of the son, may have all been beaten to a pulp in successive eras of whatever sport they choose to be professionals of.

The Asian Connection

“Mr. Ban will hold a news conference today,” is a common sentence used to inform the press that the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, who’s from South Korea, will have an important announcement to make. Movie at 11, as they used to say, before 24-hour cable programming took over our TV evenings.
So here we come full circle. A culture completely different than Latin that, you guess it, also uses the first name to identify people, not the family name. It all depends on how well people know each other, of course. But the point is, it also goes contrary to what was stated above, for strong family ties is definitely a trait of Asian societies.

Entertainers’ Secret

Not to leave stone untouched, let’s remember that movie stars, famous musicians, magicians, ballet dancers, authors and who knows how many more branches of artistic expression are there, are card-carrying users of fake, stage names. And many of us, mere audiences, have no idea what their birth names are.
What does Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, John Wayne, Ringo Starr, Elton John, Jay Z… well, you got the idea.
So let’s not make overreaching assumptions about the way we call our beloved heroes, shall we? What we want and like and crave for is their masterly skills, their artistic and athletic abilities, the gift they share with us as if it were ours to keep. Not how we call them, especially when our lives seem to depend on a crucial play of theirs and they, well, mess it all up.

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