I suppose that it must be a global norm that one of the first things that we say to each other when we first meet, is what is your name?
In the business world we always had an agenda item No.1 entitled “Introductions”, and infallibly I would forget everybody’s name in an instant unless I immediately wrote it down.
Living in a foreign country brings an additional set of problems. The names are often unfamiliar, pronunciation can be difficult, and it is not normal social etiquette to whip out a pad and pencil and jot down what you understand to be the name of your latest acquaintance.
Brazilians are fundamentally practical people, and hence the title of this piece can be literally translated to read; “How are you called?”
Thence we depart from the traditional Western concept of a name issued shortly after birth, to a more loosely interpreted idea of what people call you.
That can be a name, or as in the case of a foreigner, you will inevitably become an estrangeiro or “Gringo”.
This may irk you a little, as it is more of a generic title or description, rather than a name, but bear with it for a while at least, because your name may well cause more derision than simply being labelled a foreigner, and it may well be nigh impossible for a Brazilian tongue to get around.
Rs are a case in point. They are pronounced as an H sound in Portuguese, and therefore Randy becomes Handy, Raul becomes Howl, and Brenda becomes Benda.
As your time in Brazil increases, so is the likelihood of you becoming the owner of an apelido, or nick-name.
Ex President Lula is an often quoted example of someone who not only became known in Brazil by his apelido but became a world-wide figure who would have struggled to be recognised under his formal name of Luiz Inácio da Silva.
Apelidos are a fascinating subject, as they not only identify a person, but also convey something of their character and are, in a way, a sort of Brazilian stamp of approval that is only gained when people get to know you.
Mine is “Caqui”. Pronounced as in Khaki and derived from the fact that I give away each year, large quantities of persimmon fruit, (Caqui in Portuguese.), that grow in my garden.
It’s okay as apelidos go but I used to be fond of being called “Madruga” by my ex wife, who always slept late and complained that I got up in the middle of the night.
Hence apelidos can change with circumstances and depend on who is calling the shots.
If I have a longing to become more authentically Brazilian, as many of us do, it would be gratifying to receive an apelido with a Z in it, or even more than one!
My friend Zeca is an example of one who has achieved that indelible mark of Brazilianness.
Zaza Gabor would have been an instant hit here, as would Zorro, and anyone boasting the title of Zanzibar would have found themselves an immediate sensation, even if the R had become an H.