Did you have a nickname in school or college, or even one that has stayed with you to the present day?
In Peru people are very fond of using nicknames which will often follow them throughout life, not just at school or college. Known as ‘apodos’ or ‘motes’, nicknames may be based on where someone is from, a physical characteristic, a play on their name, a term of affection or any other number of sources.
Some nicknames based on physical characteristics may be seen as derogatory or even offensive in the west, but in Latin America it is often just a case of “say what you see”.
Therefore nicknames such as “gordo” (fatty or chubby), “flaco” (skinny), “negro” (black), “chino” (Chinese), “Chancho” (piggy) and “peludo” (hairy), are fairly commonplace, and do not have the same negative connotations as elsewhere. Another common example is that someone with green eyes will often be known as “El gato” meaning “The cat” due to the fact that green eyes are unusual in Latin America.
These nicknames are also often softened by using the diminutive which is done by adding “ito” or “ita” depending on whether the target is male or female, so gordo becomes gordito, flaco becomes flaquito, and so on.
There are a number of nicknames based on where someone comes from in wide use in Latin America, and these can be derogatory or not. Some of these relate to people from a certain country, others for people from a certain city. Probably the best known of these is the term originally used by Mexicans for North Americans, but now widely used throughout Latin America for almost anyone from both North America and Europe which is of course “Gringo”, or the feminine version “Gringa”.
What do Latinos call other Latinos?
Others widely used in Latin America are “Porteño” for someone who hails from Buenos Aires, “Chilango” for residents of Mexico City used mainly by people from Northern Mexico. “Carioca” is for those born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, whilst “Chapin” refers to someone from Guatemala. Boricua is a term for Puerto Ricans (also called Puerto-Riqueños), whilst in Costa Rica they call each other “Ticos” and “Ticas” for men and women respectively.
On a side note, people in the United States refer to themselves as Americans but in Latin America that term can be used for anyone in the New World as of course it is all “the Americas” in both the northern and southern parts of the continent. A little care needs to be excercised with the term as well, given that it is really the indigenous peoples who were the original “Americans”.
A particularly famous nickname is that of “Che” given to the Argentine revolutionary icon Ernesto Guevara by his Cuban counterparts. This comes from an expression commonly used by Argentines in their speech. You too can be a revolutionary if you hang out in Buenos Aires for long enough…
Other commonly used terms amongst Peruvians for girls include: chulita, mamita, mamisonga, mami, bebota, nenita and nena. For boys common terms are: papito, bebo, chulito, nene, nenito and machito.
Finally there is the wonderfully inventive art form of nicknaming soccer players. Try “La pulga” (the flea), “Buitre” (vulture), “Polilla” (moth), “El Brujo” (the wizard) and “Tulipano Negro” (black tulip).
What did you just call me?
Whilst on a vacation to Latin America you may well be referred to by one or more of the nicknames described above. Whilst some are less flattering than others, the best solution is not to take offence but just go with it, as these are commonplace and most likely not meant to offend.
Have you heard any other nicknames on a Peru vacation? What would your Peruvian nickname be?