Apodos: A Latino Art Form. What’s Your Nickname?


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My father says that if you walked up to anyone in his tiny Cuban hometown and asked for El Manco, everyone would know exactly whom you were looking for. It also is likely hardly anyone would know the man’s real name.

“I don’t know if I ever even knew,” my father said, laughing.

Apodos. Nicknames. A Latin art form.

In my family we have Bombillo, Tete, Chino, Chicho and Cuca, to name just a few.

To a couple of my cousins I am Caca or Kaki and to others in my family I am Carilyn, Carucho or Cary. To my mother, I am Caridad! (With the exclamation point, mind you.) My birth certificate says “Carrie.”

So common and ingrained is the use of nicknames in my family, that when my great-uncle Pucho died this summer I had to ask my mom what his real name was. It was Raul. My whole life, he was just Tio Pucho.

Why do Latinos even bother naming their boys beautiful names like Guillermo or Alberto when they will only be known as Guille or Beto? Or, Guadalupe as Lupita or Charo (cuchi cuchi!) for Rosario. Some other common apodos: Pepe, Concha, Paco, Beto, Mano. You can see more here.

Or, what about the even higher art form of nicknames: Soccer player nicknames! Buitre (vulture), Polilla (moth), Tulipano Negro (black tulip). Oh, and the terms of endearment from childhood that follow you into old age: Gordita (see photo above), Bebita, Machito, Papito?

I put the call out this morning on Twitter and Facebook and asked our friends there for their nicknames: Chichi, Navaja, Pajaro, Bo, Raemoz, Nena, Cachito, Loca, Chango, and Joser, who also says he’s Doughboy. Alright!

OK, so what is your nickname? What fabulously, creative ones have you heard?

(disclaimer: That cute kid is wearing a Gordita t-shirt designed by my company, Los Pollitos Dicen.)

Share, por favor!

By Carrie on November 6, 2009 · Posted in featured, latest video post, videos

22 Comments | Post Comment

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Posted on November 6th, 2009

Jackie says:

Chiquitita! That’s me :)

Posted on November 6th, 2009

Melissa says:

In my Ecuadorian side of the family, there was always one that was granted the apodo Negro. Of course it was the darkest of the siblings. My Tio Homero was the Negro of his siblings, and his son, my cousin Byron was el Negro of his bunch. My father was el Flaco after a trait he grew out of with age. In our home the apodos were much more random. My Puerto Rican grandmother called me Nena as a generic term of endearment, because my sister was Nena occasionally, and of course we were all Mamas and Mamis, but my heart fluttered when my Abuela called me Machiqui. Something she just made up, just for me.

Posted on November 6th, 2009

Evenshine says:

My hubs has several. Sometimes he uses my maiden name, sometimes it’s just “nena” or “linda”- at least he shies away from “Gringa”.

Posted on November 6th, 2009

Michele Caridad says:

so…as i said in facebook….I am known as Cachito, Michi, Mich, and some have even named me chelly and even Monga…i call my lil sister Chimi(her real name is jessica ana or jessi to us) and my older one Raqui (Raquel MAria)…My dad is Jaime but they call him Pepin.

i was doing the family tree (which is how i found Marta on My big fat cuban family but as she says…that not important right now :D)… and i found family memebers a couple of generations back in the Cuban “campo” near Pinar del Rio…Congo and one that they called Grifo and no one knew their real name so here’s to Congo and Grifo on my family tree!

Posted on November 6th, 2009

Mirtha says:

I had an apodo in high school. They used to call me “guajira”. because all my friends were from “La Habana” and I was from Banes, Oriente. Til today my friend Pelayo calls me by that name whenever we see each other. We graduated from high school, 45 years ago.

Posted on November 6th, 2009

Chantel says:

I wrote about this topic over on my blog a few years ago (http://yucababy.blogspot.com/search/label/nicknames).

I love nicknames. I always write characters in my stories and books whose names can be “apodo-fied.” Makes me feel like I really know them that way.

I, unfortunately, was stuck with the horrible “Chantelita.” My older cousin, enjoyed “Chantsmell,” for which I’ve never forgiven him.

Posted on November 6th, 2009

Stacey In CO says:

As you know Carrie, nothing Latin in my DNA, but my mom called me “quiggins” (kwi-gins) when I was growing up. For some reason, I find myself calling my youngest daughter “buckshot.” Maybe because she’s fiery. My oldest, “tricker.” Maybe because she’s a little sneeky at times?? I have many other strange names that just spill out. Aren’t people funny?

Posted on November 6th, 2009

Raul Ramos y Sanchez says:

The Cuban penchant for nicknames was Anglicized among the young exiles I grew up around in Miami. Every kid in our neighborhood, Latino or Anglo, had a nickname. Jorge, who was called “mantequilla” in Cuba, became “Fat” in Miami. (Need I add he was a bit portly?)Enrique became “Bugs” because of his prominent front teeth reminiscent of Warner Brothers lupine cartoon star. I acquired the name “Bobby” which unfortunately occasionally became “Bobo” (best translated as Dum-Dum in English). We also had “Baina, 45, Chiqui, and Dracula,” to name a few. Looking back, the only Spanish nickname in our neighborhood went to a tall, lanky kid named Frank Connor. He was known as “Flaco,” (the skinny one). By the way, without a single formal lesson, Flaco spoke better Spanish than many Anglos I’ve met with graduate degrees in the language.

Thanks for another great post, Carrie. (Or should I say “Caridad!”?)

Posted on November 6th, 2009

Carolyn G says:

Oh nicknames. My real given name is Carolyn. I always alsked my mom why I am a Carolyn and not a Carolina. She said the nurse named me because she wanted us to have an American name. So most of may family and their friends call me Cali (yes like the city). I am Cali to her. Cali has lead to my sister calling me Collie, yes like Lassie. Cali led to Caro, Cala, Calita, and even Cari.

In English it seems to be a problem for many to say Carolyn so I have really good friends who call me Caroline. And somewhere I got the name Caro like the syrup.

I am also mijita, mija, negrita, la chinita (because I have squinty eyes) and in Costa Rica when I visit the family I am La Gringa because I speak Spanish with an american accent.

I have picked up the bad habit of giving everyone I know nicknames as well. My cats have nicknames. My husband has a nickname and My sister Yvonne is not Yvonne to me but Jackie. Don’t ask me why. I also give all my friends nicknames and luckily they are okay with that.

Great post Carrie or should I call you Kaki? ;0)

Posted on November 7th, 2009

class factotum says:

I was impressed when I moved to Chile and people did not seem to get offended by their nicknames of Pelado, Goridita, Negrito, Pancho, and Flaco. Boy. Try that in the hyper-PC US and you’d have a lawsuit. Things are more relaxed over there. I like that. Although I really didn’t like being called “Gordita.” But if the shoe fits. :)

Posted on November 7th, 2009

Elisa Molina says:

jaja. I love this. Yes, apodos are common in the Dominican Republic. To tell you that when I was little my family used to call me Elisita. Then, when the Chavo del Ocho became part of mainstream TV in DR, I used to be called ‘La Chilindrina’ – gotta love that one! As I grew up, I was then called Chilin, since I used to cry when I was called la chilindrina because I didn’t think I was that ugly – Dios! Now, at work I started calling people Chichi as in bebe and to this day that’s what I am called…”chichi, can you send this bla bla bla”; I was very impressed to see that my close coworkers called each other that as well and has become common in the team (excluding the boss of course).

Great post!

Posted on November 7th, 2009

Carrie says:

These are awesome and priceless and creative and poetic! Thank you all for sharing them…and maybe someone can give me a good way to describe the “Negro, negrito, negrita” apodo to American friends….hmmm?

Here’s what I call my daughter: Bug (because it felt as if a bug crawled across the inside of my belly the first time I felt her move); Nena; Beba; Shushi; and Boobie. I have no idea why I call her Boobie, which is the one I use most.

Be sure to click over to La Flaca Chantel’s post about nicknames.

And, here is the NPR story link she mentions, which is great:

Posted on November 9th, 2009

Elizabeth says:

I love this! My name is chivet. So much so that when my little sister was in fourth grade a teacher said she saw her sister, Elizabeth, and my little sister said she didn’t have a sister Elizabeth.

And a few years ago my cousin Jasmine asked me why our Tio Cheke called me something weird earlier that day, but she couldn’t remember what it was….Changa fea? No. Gorda? No.


Yeah! Why did he call you that?

I then had to explain to my 9-year-old cousin that Elizabeth is my name, but chivet is really my name…you know ;-)

Posted on November 17th, 2009

Sr Pena says:

Soy maestra de espanol basico aqui en los Estados Unidos, y siempre llamo a mis estudiantes mijo, mijito, papi, papito, nene y la version femenina a las chicas. Al principio me preguntan que es eso, les digo q es como decirles Honey. Y tambien us el diminutivo -ito & -ita en sus nombres (ellos adoptan un nombre en espanol para la clase).

Posted on December 2nd, 2009

Bonnie says:

I am laughing out loud!! My nicknames were Bon, Bon Bon, and the unfortunate Boner. Oh, yes and Big nose Bonnie..I still have a complex.
I have a Tio Tito, and I am not so sure that was his real name or his nickname.

Posted on December 19th, 2009

Giselle S. says:

My Cuban grandmom used to call me “pioja” or “pelusa.” I once told an American friend that it meant “lice” or “tiny lint ball” in English and she was completely confused as to why that would be endearing. My grandmom still calls me by these names when she hasn’t seen me for a while or during sentimental moments. It is amazing how being called lice or tiny lint ball is so comforting. And so Yaya!

Posted on December 29th, 2009

Jessica says:

So true!

Lets see my name is Jessica Marie and I am known as YayYa (Most Common), Mami, Mari, Jayka, and the craziest one is Penny (because my mom worked at JC Penny when I was little?!?)

Posted on December 29th, 2009

Carrie says:

Can I tell you all how much I love and adore the sharing of your apodos?

Giselle, my aunt calls my cousin pulgita too. I love it…and indeed, non-Latinos have a hard time wrapping head around it being sweet…hell, even I do sometimes.

Jessica, good thing your mom didn’t work at Wal-Mart or Osco!

Bonnie, I am all about the Bon Bon, pero Boner, no guay!

Chivet, cua cua cua!

Posted on December 30th, 2009

Handmade Con Amor says:

That´s a good one…apodos! Ok, so my dad is Chino (Victor), my mom…hold on to your hats, is Toya, Toyis, or the mexican version I recently integrated, Toyitzin but her real name is: Maria Victoria Patricia Alessandra Rosa (aha, for real…!) Sisters: Mina, Minis (Sabrina), Gaviota (Gabriela) and me Guaya (Claudia). Ufff, I feel better now…

Posted on January 4th, 2010

trigu3na s0y says:

My apodos that mainly just my Dominican mami and my oldest hermano called me growing up were Chichióque(means God has shared blessings), Chichi and Cheech(which are obviously derivatives of it. I had an idea why they’ve always called me that but it turns out my imagination was wrong! lol My step-dad also still calls me Sunshine, even in my adulthood, and I call him Papa Bear. Anyway, thanks for this post! Also, I agree that it could be considered a Latino art form, yet I’d like to note that in Dominican tradition, the apodos we give our children can also be due to superstition, I won’t get into the eery part of the reasoning on here (google: Dominican tradition/superstition) but typically the apodos we give have nothing to do with that child or persons real name but more to do with how they look, a physical characteristic so they’re personal identity is kept secret. By using their real name it risks someone trying to curse them. I’ve read similar reasoning in other Latin American/Caribbean cultures. Just some interesting info to share!

Posted on February 23rd, 2010

miri says:

miriam is miri pronounced mee-dee. my daughter raquel is raqui.

Posted on January 28th, 2011