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June 28, 2006

The Name Game

(Administrative note: Michelle tagged me with the "list of 4" thing going around, but I'm not going to do it today, since I had this post mostly finished before I discovered the tag. I'll do it someday, I promise.)

Brazil easily won their World Cup match yesterday against Ghana, the slot that would have belonged to the United States if we hadn’t, well,...I guess if our team hadn’t completely stunk.

Trust me - even if we had survived to the second round, there’s no way we would have given the Brazilians a match. They’re in a whole different category when it comes to what they call “O Jogo Bonito,” the beautiful game. It will be a major surprise if they don’t win the whole deal.

Obviously I’m impressed by the skill of the Brazilian players, but what’s more fascinating to me is the concept of changing one’s name in adulthood, as so many of the Brazilian players do. In fact, 17 of the 23 players on Brazil’s roster go by a single name.

I mean, I’m just full of questions about this: When do the players pick their names – is it some rite of passage in adolescence? Is it when they become professional players, or when they make the national team? Are there guidelines for coming up with a tight name – and if so, how did one guy on this year’s team end up with “Fred”? What do they do if somebody already has a nickname they want (like when George Costanza wanted to be T-Bone on “Seinfeld”) – is there some sort of national team dibs policy, or do they settle it with a penalty-kick shootout? And doesn’t anybody check to make sure their nickname isn’t a slang word for “poop” in another language?

More importantly, if the American players did this...would it make them a better soccer team?

Apparently it’s commonplace in Brazil for people to go by nicknames. There are various cultural theories for why this happens: it could be a way of symbolically cutting ties to the surnames bestowed upon slaves by European landowners, or it could be related to the nation’s high rate of illiteracy. Or maybe they just collectively decided it’s a cool thing to do. Whatever the case, the practice is widespread, even including Brazil’s president, who goes simply by Lulu.

To the rest of the world, particularly Americans, it’s an unusual consideration. I tried to think of some other situations where adults get to pick a new name, and it’s a pretty short list:

1. After being elected Pope
2. Upon entering the witness protection program
3. Converting to Islam, or...
4. Being a superstar musician, a la Bono or Sting (or even Slash).

That’s all I came up with. I think we can agree that all of those, with the exception of #4, are pretty weighty circumstances. But then we have the countless Brazilians who essentially say, “Screw what my parents named me – I want to be called Zico,” and everybody goes along with it.

And you know what? Maybe it would be a cool thing to do. At the very least, it’s a great parlor game: if you could make a new name, what would it be?

I figured that most runners or triathletes would choose something related to the sport or activity they like. Unfortunately, when I posed this question to my group of running partners, the conversation somehow deteriorated into what the best porn names would be for runners (Obviously we're not the most intellectual training group around. If you’re interested, the winning names were Max Stamina and Miles Long).

Clearly, my runner friends weren’t much help. So now I’ll post the same question here. If you could change to a nickname, would you do it? And if so, would it be something related to running, or just a variation of your given name? Or something totally random?

As for me, I’m kind of noncommittal. I’ve always loved the nickname Slash - it implies a perfect combination of speed and toughness, which seems ideal for a runner. During the late 1980s, when I was finishing high school and when all of the Guns ‘n’ Roses guys seemed certain to die of a cocaine overdose, I figured I could swoop in on that name if Slash croaked. Unfortunately he survived (that sounds bad - of course I mean fortunately. Fortunately for him. Unfortunately for my potential nickname. You know what I mean.), and I eventually grew out of the idea of having a cool moniker.

So I think I’ll just stick with what my momma gave me. Unless, of course, someone determines that a nickname can somehow make me a faster runner. In that case, I’ll quickly throw myself wide open to suggestion.


backofpack 6/28/06, 9:15 AM  

Well, now. Have you seen that kids book, "Capitan Underpants"? There's a little code for figuring out your alternative name. Mine came out to Buttercup-something. I've always kind of liked Buttercup. In fact, Rob and I were just discussing that name this morning...There are also some in the running group who call me "Queen" or "Princess". Personally, I'm going for a higher denomination...I'm thinking "Goddess" would do! My Dad just calls me Shell. My kids just call me Mom. Those are pretty sweet too and rank in my favorites. Obviously, I am a woman of many names!

matt 6/28/06, 10:15 AM  

i actually think your last name would make an awesome 'one-name' nickname. i can imagine fans along a crowded italian street chanting "BURAGLIO...BURAGLIO...BURAGLIO!" as you make your way down a steep turn to the finish line.

Running from my House 6/28/06, 11:42 AM  

found your site through amazing hipster, and i'm a convert. thanks for taking the time to write the well thought out, well written posts that make me laugh, and think about changing my name to lightfoot (no relation to gordon)

Thomas 6/28/06, 11:50 AM  

Many years ago I came up with the name of Duff for myself. It was derived on a very roundabout way from Duffy Duck (don't ask), and it stuck for a while. When Guns'n'Roses became big, and I was a massive fan, everyone assumed I had adopted the name of their base player. To this day nobody believes me when I insist that it was a complete coincidence.

jeff 6/28/06, 12:58 PM  

hah...i already picked one, and it was already refrenced in one of your comments. how kickin' is that? haha

i'm with matt, though. buraglio is a rockin' chant name. if you decide to forgo that, though, 'il corridore' is pretty groovy.

Anne 6/28/06, 2:55 PM  

This brings up an interesting point. I've come across several running bloggers who use a false name (which isn't obvious since it doesn't appear to be a blatantly fictitious name...just a different one, such as someone named Scott going by George in the blogosphere). What happens if you meet up in person, say at a race? Do they 'fess up they are actually known as someone else and ask you to use their real name, or do they then adopt the fake name as an adult nickname by default (even if no one else besides running blog readers identify them as such)????

angie's pink fuzzy 6/28/06, 8:02 PM  


I always wanted to be Anne, instead of Angela. (Yes, Anne with an e. I was a huge fan of Anne of Green Gables)

Angeleena (a combo of my first and middle names...some people actually call me this)

pinkie (as in pink fuzzy) this was given to me by olga. it's sort of sticking.

Deene 6/29/06, 8:43 AM  

these guys are celebs in their countries though.
i was disappointed when at the las vegas marathon they didn't print tenderfoot on my bib as i requested. maybe i haven't earned it yet.

Darrell 6/29/06, 10:39 PM  

A name change is a tough thing among people who already know you. A Romanian guy at work named Alex changed his name legally to Tom when he became a US citizen. The name lasted for about a week. No one could call him Tom, years later he's still Alex to us. Maybe he should have picked a cooler name. (Not that Tom isn't a perfectly acceptable name, it just didn't stick in this case). You'd be "The Big D" to me, I like using people's initials.

Mike 6/30/06, 2:00 AM  

damn, could you imagine the pressure of picking your own name....I wouldn't want to open up that can of worms....I know I couldn't handle it. If forced, I would just pick a number ala George Costanza....yeah, "Seven"..has a nice ring to it

Downhillnut 6/30/06, 9:19 AM  

LOL! Love your questions about name-changing guidelines! My 13 y.o. soccer-playing son says you could probably go with anything but "duck".

I'm pretty happy with downhillnut for the moment. It goes with my blog name, fits with my love of trails, and so far my IT band doesn't mind. It probably wouldn't work well on a soccer jersey, however.

Go Germany!

TJ 7/1/06, 3:30 AM  

My first week of college, me and a few friends decided to use fake names at an off campus party. Mine was "Andre" (I have no idea why). I met some people there who remained my friends through my 4 years in school. I finally broke down and told them after a few months into the school year. But even by my senior year many of them were still calling me "Dre"

So I guess that's the name I'd have to adopt.

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