Neymar, Pelé, Kaká — what do these Brazilian soccer icons have in common?
If you said that they’re FIFA World Cup legends known by just one name, you are correct.
The list of notable past and present Seleção players who are known by one name include World Cup-winning stars like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Romario, Zico, among many others.
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So why do Brazilians forgo last names or use nicknames in their professional careers? Here’s the history behind the tradition of mononymous soccer players out of Brazil:
How do Brazilian names work?
Brazil, a former Portuguese colony, typically follows Portuguese naming conventions which combine elements of both parents’ surnames. The first name is often followed by the mother’s maiden name and ends with the father’s last name.
Some Brazilian surnames include da, de, do, das or dos, which are forms of the preposition “of.” The history of the prepositions dates back centuries, when slaves were often referred to by the name of the family who owned them. That’s why it is common to see last names with and without the preposition. For example, there are Silvas and da Silvas, which translates to “of Silva” implying past ownership.
Why do so many Brazilian players go by one name?
The reason why many Seleção players stick to one name is pretty straightforward — to avoid confusion..
While shortening the name makes it easier for fans to cheer players on, it also makes athletes more recognizable by international fans.
The origin of these mononyms range from simply first or last name, a mix of both or a symbolic nickname.
Why do so many Brazilian names end in “-inho”?
The suffix “inho” is used in Brazilian culture to emphasize “smallness, shortness, youth, fewness, etc.” It is similar to adding “junior” to someone’s name.
For instance, Ronaldinho means “little Ronaldo.”
While this suffix could be used to describe someone’s stature, it’s more commonly applied to descendents with the same name. Families and friends typically refer to the son or grandchild who is named after their father and grandfather as “-inho” to distinguish who they are speaking of.
What is the origin of some of the most famous Brazilian players’ names?
Much like Brazilian culture at large, the soccer team is a reflection of the many different naming traditions throughout the country.
For example, Neymar is just a shortening of his complete name, Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior. Similarly, Casemiro is simply the surname of Carlos Henrique Casimiro.
Meanwhile, Kaká is a nickname for Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite. Kaka’s younger brother reportedly couldn’t say Ricardo, often settling on calling him “Caca” and a nickname was born.
Notably, the most famous Brazilian footballer’s name was also a nickname.
Pelé, born Edson Arantes do Nascimento after Thomas Edison, was originally called Dico by his family. However, he struggled to pronounce the name of one of his father’s teammates at Vasco de Gama, goalkeeper “Bilé,” another nickname “for complicated and very Brazilian reasons,” according to the legendary footballer. That ultimately stuck and when he made his debut on the world stage as a teenager he became forever known as Pelé.