With the World Cup kicking off on Thursday, we will once again be reintroduced to Brazil’s uncommon tradition in which many of the players are known simply by their first name, a variation of their first name, or a nickname.
Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior is known around the world as Neymar, Frederico Chaves Guedes is better known as Fred, and Givanildo Vieira de Souza goes by the menacing nickname, Hulk.
Unlike most other countries, these names are also used on the back of their jerseys, as opposed to the more common use of a player’s surname.
The use of first names and nicknames is a Brazilian tradition that dates back to the country’s days as a colony of Portugal.
Alex Bellos, author of “Futebol, the Brazilian Way of Life,” told the UK Telegraph that using just a first name or a nickname is much easier for children since most are named using the Portuguese tradition of using four names.
The practice continues into adulthood to reflect the more personalised and informal culture of Brazil that embraces individuality.
Even former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was widely known by his nickname, “Lula,” which was legally added to his name.
The tradition has also been embraced by Brazil’s national football team since at least 1914 when a player went by the name Formiga (Portuguese word for ant).
Some star players were briefly referred to by their given names in the 1960s, including Pelé, whose given name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento. However, that media-led change quickly died.
Brazil is not alone. Players known by a single name are also found on the rosters of Portugal, Portugal’s neighbour, Spain, and another former Portuguese colony, Angola, who is not in this year’s World Cup.
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