my dear father has a tremendous knack for coming up with nicknames, or apodos. like me, and apparently most other costeños, he can’t remember anyone’s name so he makes up nicknames instead. he’s like an apodo prodigy, generating whip smart associations with speed and charm. por ejemplo, a few years ago my family went on an ecotour in mexico and there was a group of texan women with us. one of them was named ginger. my dad’s brain: ginger – ginger cookie – cookie – spanish cookie – galleta – galletica. henceforward, she was “la galletica.”
latino folk love nicknames. some names come with their own: jose can be “pepe,” francisco is “pacho,” gerardo “che,” luis “lucho,” etc. then there are generic terms of endearment: nena, papi, mami, muñeca, reina, amor, corazon, mi vida. these are quite useful for name forgetters like myself, and create an immediate sense of intimacy embraced by our culture’s more porous boundaries. you can go deeper and choose one based on an attribute: from “blanca” to “morena” to “negra/o” depending on skin tone, “flaca/o” for “skinnies,” “gordo/a” for chubbies, and so on. but the very special ones come from some terribly embarrassing thing you did when you were little or some very unfortunate physical characteristic: big ears, big cheeks, big ass, rat face, pants wetter, shit eater, etc. it adds a splash of humor, joy, and self-deprecation to our every day.
i’ve always wanted an apodo. the closest i got was as a fatty kid when my dad called me “baby shamu.” it wasn’t his best work and thankfully it didn’t stick. regardless, my heart fills with giggles when i get called “nena” or “flaca” around here. i know i’m getting the generic misogynistic apodos -and without the article “la” attached, i know they’re fleeting- but for that brief moment, their mine! it’s all i’ve got. i try engaging in novel behavior and exaggerate my more prominent features in an effort to inspire, but no one’s ever watching, it seems.
i believe an apodo of my own will fill some of the gaps in my colombian identity. it will bring me closer to my latino brethren and help me understand costeño rapid fire spanish; all their slang and all their sayings. my grammar and vocabulary will impress others. i’ll get invited to parties and know how to dress to fit the occasion. everyone would wave.