Juan of Words

What’s in a Latino Nickname?

Chato, Chuy, Chepo, Chela, Chana, Chango, Mono, Memo, Meche,  Monce, Nini, Gordo… Flaca – it’s a mouthful, I know.  En verdad, we could go on forever, pero mejor let’s get to the point.  That being, of course, the fun that are our nicknames in Spanish, better known as apodos or sobrenombres.  You know what I’m talking about.  That nickname that nobody but your family members and very, very good friends are supposed to know.  The one that always makes you cringe whenever somebody new hears you being called that!

What's in a Latino nickname?
Do you know all of these characters by their ‘apodos’?

For me, with a name like Juan, there really aren’t too many ways you could play with my name.  I think the worst nickname I ever got was Juanito.  It was annoying to me because it made me sound so young, but now como que hasta quiero for somebody to call me Juanito, LOL!  Most of my siblings, however, weren’t so lucky.  Let’s see – hopefully they don’t beat me up for this – we’ve got a Lola, a Tina, a Chuy, and a Lluni in the familia.  Not to mention the nicknames for my parents that their friends and other adult family members came up with for them.   My mom was Bocha.  My father, Chello.  Strangely enough, we were never allowed to call them by these apodos at all!

I think they were just shorter ways of saying their real names.  What was funny though, was that sometimes when we would meet one of our distant relatives for the first time, we’d always end up having to say sí, yo soy el hijo de Chello y Bocha (yes, I’m Chello and Bocha’s son).  I always got a kick out of that for some reason.  Anyhow, our nicknames for each other were a little less friendly, to say the least.

Now when I say each other, I mean my brothers, my cousins and my schoolmates.  We used to assign apodos to each other based on our physical attributes more than anything else.  The kid with the football shaped head was called Football Head; the girl with the extra long neck was Giraffe; the super thin kid was Toothpick; and desde luego the kid with a couple of extra pounds – yours truly – was just called Fat Ass!  I still hate that nickname to this day, though back then it was just another reason to come up with even meaner names for everyone else.  We won’t be discussing any of those today, jaja!

In all honesty, it was a reader who kind of got me thinking about just how creative and fun our nicknames for each other are in Spanish.  This was his original message:

Ese Juan, I once wrote an article about Chicano nicknames – with astonishing responses with whomever I’m talking to.  Our nicknames/sobrenombres are more creative than Bubba, or Yogi.  Think about it.  Guero is either real fair skinned or bien prieto.  Same for Flaco – bien gordito or super thin.  I know this guy, aquí in Dallas, that we call “Rock.”  I asked why and he told me that when he was young he could not say “verdad que sí“.  (Instead) he just said “Rock que sí“.  Thus the name stuck. – Chicano playwright, Chris Beal

It’s true!  It’s true, jajaja!  One of my favorite things to do has always been to add La or El  in front of somebody’s name just to make it more fun to talk about them.  Hence: La Lopez, La Mari, La Chupis, El Mono, El Gordo, El Robert, etc., etc., etc.  What’s your nickname?  Will you share it with us here?  It’s okay.

We won’t tell anyone!

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