By Ilse Hoffman
As English-speaking people often call Robert “Bob” and Charles “Chuck,” we here in Mexico likewise often shorten the names of our favorite friends. We call Roberto and Alberto “Beto,” Antonio “Toño,” Soledad “Chole,” Ausencia “Chencha,” Isidra “Chila,” etc.
However, if you read the ‘red page’ in Mexican newspapers, you will find even more unusual nicknames. The names of criminals and even of those simply suspected of crimes invariably carry both their legal names, as well as their nicknames. “El Alacran” (The Scorpion), “El Huesudo” (Bones), “El Calaca” (The Skull). Someone with curly hair is usually called “El Chino.”
If you visit a poor neighborhood and ask for a person by his real name, no one is likely to know who you are talking about. But give them his nickname and you might be promptly shown to his door. Some of those I have come across are: “El Pelos” (The Hairs), “El Bolas” (The Ballsy One), “El Chiquilin” (The Little One, though often he turns out to be well over six feet tall.)
Boys can be cruel in renaming their friends. If someone is not noted for his personal cleanliness, he is often called “El Puerco” (The Pig); if he doesn’t comb his hair, “El Pelos” (The Hairs).
Once a nickname is established, it is very difficult to lose it. My first daughter was renamed “Boti,” which means plump. At age 32, she still is saddled with that same nickname. Another daughter was nicknamed “La Nena,” which means the little girl. Now 30, and with two children of her own, she is still called “Nena.”
In the United States, one would never think of naming a child “Jesus.” But here in Mexico it is a common name, and carries with it no disrespect. The nickname for Jesus is “Chuy” for a boy, and “Chuya” for a girl.
The prefix “Don” and “Doña” before a name is given to older people who are well-liked and highly respected. The diminutive (e.g., “Juanita”) is also given to people who are popular with their friends and neighbors.
By the way, “gringo” is not a derogative nickname. It is the way we Mexicans distinguish Americans from other nationalities. But as in every country, once we come to like and respect someone, we quickly find more endearing names for them.