el apodo (m): Nombre que suele darse a una persona, en sustitución del propio, normalmente tomado de sus peculiaridades físicas o de alguna otra circunstancia

Although certainly not unique to the Latino culture, los apodos, or nicknames, are ubiquitous in Spanish-speaking countries whether it be on the playground, within families, or of course, in professional sports. These clever and silly names are an inherent part of Latino culture, yet usually misunderstood by outsiders and miscategorized as offensive.

As the definition states, los apodos are oftentimes taken from a particular physical characteristic. The first time I heard someone being called “Gorda,” I was completely taken aback and my eyes shifted around the conversation, expecting an awkward silence from the offended party. Instead we carried on talking, and I filed away my questions for later.

In Spain, I asked my host-mom why they called her “Gorda,” when she was actually very slim. “Oh, están bromeando.. me lo dicen con cariño,” and she brushed it off. I wasn’t convinced and silently vowed that no one would ever call me gorda no matter how much “love” was added. But was she really OK with the name?

I later lived in Ecuador and lived with a family where nicknames abounded. The son-in-law was “el Chinito,” a daughter was “la Negri,” and I was “la gringuita.” Again, coming from the U.S., the names sounded harsh. Yet for the six months I lived with the family, I never learned their real names because literally every single person called them by their apodos, and I learned to follow suit.

Finally I met my husband, and he explained the nickname phenomena to me:

“We like to laugh at ourselves, and don’t get offended easily. But also, los apodos are a gesture to show inclusiveness into a social group. They become a part of the group’s identity and cohesiveness, since the type of apodo varies based on the social group. For example, on my swim team I was “cebrita” (little zebra) because of a black and white Speedo I had, but with a different group of friends I was “flaco.”

A fellow student at university always wore a sweater to school, so he was known as “Suéteres” (and still is to this day). Another guy liked to eat Cheetos, and voilà: he instantly became “Cheetos” from that day forward. “Jarocho” was the student from Veracruz, and “Topeka” was a blonde guy from Quito, who looked like a gringo from Topeka, Kansas, but spoke not a word of English. An engineer (ingeniero) becomes “Inge,” a licenciado becomes “lic,” a teacher “el profe.”

One of the most famous apodos right now is the soccer player from Chivas and now Manchester United, “El Chicharito.” His dad — also a famous soccer player — had green eyes, and earned the name “El Chícharo” (pea). Once his little son began to play, they transferred his father’s nickname to him.

After understanding their use, I’m a little envious that I don’t have a cool nickname! I’ve been trying to get my husband to come up with one (besides “gorda” because I still can’t get past it ) — at least if not for me, then for my kiddos.

What are the creative nicknames in your family? I love hearing los apodos, and the history and context behind them — share your favorites in the comments!

{Image by  MrGuilt}

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