Nicknames (and Confusion) in Latin America

I used to live in Chile and at any given moment there was 3-4 people within my immediate circle of friends nicknamed “Pelado”.

That means “Baldy”.

In fact, within almost any circle of friends, there is bound to be multiple ‘pelado’s. As well as the following nicknames and their female equivalents:

  • Gordo (fat)
  • Flaco (thin)
  • Negro (black)
  • Chino (Chinese)

This makes casual conversation very, very difficult to follow, at times. For the non-native Spanish speaker, at least. Like me, the bewildered gringa trying to piece together why this very average-sized person in front of me is called Gordo.

And how am I supposed to know if Jorge’s talking about his brother El Negro, or his best friend Negro, or the guy we met last week named El Negro, or this guy he works with nicknamed Negro?

I don’t listen at 100% strength ALL the time, so sometimes I miss important details. Like those used to differentiate between Brother Negro, Friend Negro, New Acquaintance Negro, and Coworker Negro.

One of my least favorite things in the Spanish language is the following question:

“Hablaste con Flaco?” (Did you talk to Flaco?)

Because what the hell Flaco are you referring to? In order to discern this, you must begin by taking into account who is asking you the question: is it your roommate, who knows 3 of the 6 Flacos that you know, or a coworker who only knows one of those 6 Flacos? Perhaps it’s your mother-in-law, who has five family members nicknamed Flaco?


I’m convinced there is a fair degree of telepathy that accompanies casual conversation in Latin American countries.

Other nicknames common in Spanish-speaking Latin America are diminutives of the first name. Some examples are:

  • Roxy (from Roxanna)
  • Lili (from Liliana)
  • Nacho (from Ignacio)
  • Goyo (from Gregorio)

The same way that we shorten Elizabeth to Liz, or Richard to Dick.

Those I can handle a bit better than the vague reference to one of the thousands of flacos, negros, pelados and gordos that constitute our social circle.


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