It seems to me that footballers have curious names. The more famous they are, the “curiouser” it gets. Why should Edson Arantes do Nascimento be called “Pele”? Yes, the name is too long to fit into the standard football jersey— but that’s not the whole story.
Pele’s birth certificate reads “Edison” because his parents named him after the great scientist Thomas Edison. Somewhere along the way it got shortened to Edson; to his family, he was “Dico” —a still more shortened name. As a junior footballer he was nicknamed “Gasolina” (petrol, obviously) because he used to run errands for his seniors. But all these names never gained wide currency. So, why “Pele”? Young Edson admired Goal-keeper named “Bile”, but mispronounced it as “Pile”. So Edson became Pile or Pele. For years he tried to live down that name; but the fans loved it, so he learnt to accept it with grace.
I thought the Brazilian striker Hulk was so called because he looked like the Marvel Comics super-hero. The reason is sillier than that. As a kid he loved the Comic hero, so his friends made him Hulk in real life. Just as well, as his name would not have fitted a football jersey anyway. He was christened Givanildo Vieira de Souza.
Why cannot Brazilian names fit into a jersey? Because in the Portuguese tradition, the offspring take both the mother’s and father’s surnames. And the mother’s name is always first in the list (feminists– please note)! For example, Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite takes his mother’s name (Santos) first and his father’s name (Leite) next. Of course, we were talking about the great mid-fielder Kaka! So named because his kid brother mispronounced Ricardo as “Caca”. Déjà vu!
Zico (the famous White Pele of Brazil) was named Arthur Attunes Coimbra. He was fondly called “Arthurzico” by his family. “Arthur” vanished on the way, “Zico” remained. And thus he was known in all the great teams he played for and coached. Indian football has a Zico too. Zico Zoremsanga, the ebullient captain of Mizoram, led his team to lift the Santosh Trophy (the prestigious Indian tourney) this year. That was a proud moment for our Zico’s father Lalvulliana, who consciously named him after the Brazilian football hero. At last we have a logical explanation for the name!
But wait. Why is the other talented Mizoram player, “Mama”, so called? Surely, not because his nephews* called him so? Mama’s full name is a mouthful: Shylo Malsawmtluanga. Aha, we have now turned 360 degrees back to the football jersey theory!
Some footballer names still puzzle me. Why is the agile and athletic Italian forward called “Immobile”? His father must have been the quintessential (oxy)moron!
* Glossary:In most Indian languages “Mama” means “Uncle”