September 2023

Why do so many Footballers go by One Name? (Especially in Brazil?)

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Soccer is a global sport that attracts millions of fans and players from different countries and cultures.

related: What is the Most Popular Sport in the World?

But have you ever wondered why some of the most famous soccer stars go by just one name? Think of Neymar, Pele, Kaka, Ronaldo, or Messi. Why do they not use their full names like other athletes do? Is it a Brazilian thing or a soccer thing?

The answer is not so simple, as there are different reasons and traditions behind this phenomenon. In this article, we will explore some of the factors that influence the naming of soccer players and how it relates to talent development and investment in the sport.

Brazilian culture and nicknames

One of the most common explanations for why many soccer players have one name is that it reflects the Brazilian culture and its cordiality. Brazil is a country with a rich and diverse history, where people often use nicknames or first names to show affection and familiarity. According to Alex Bellos, author of Football: The Brazilian Way of Life, “Brazilian football is an international advert for the cordiality of Brazilian life because of its players’ names”.

Many Brazilian soccer players have nicknames that are derived from their first names, such as Marquinhos (Marcos), Fred (Frederico), or Hulk (Givanildo). Others have nicknames that are related to their physical appearance, personality, or origin, such as Cafu (short for Cafuzo, meaning a person of mixed African and indigenous ancestry), Garrincha (meaning wren, a small songbird), or Ronaldinho (meaning little Ronaldo). Some of these nicknames are so popular that they become the official names of the players on their jerseys and passports.

The use of nicknames or first names also has a practical function, as Brazilian names tend to be long and complex. A typical Brazilian name consists of four parts: the person’s first name, a saint’s name, the mother’s last name, and the father’s last name. For example, Neymar’s full name is Neymar da Silva Santos Junior. Using a shorter name makes it easier for fans, commentators, and journalists to identify and remember the players.

Soccer culture and branding

Another reason why many soccer players have one name is that it is part of the soccer culture and its branding. Soccer is a sport that relies heavily on individual skills and creativity, as well as teamwork and strategy. Having a distinctive name can help a player stand out from the crowd and create a personal brand that attracts fans, sponsors, and media attention.

Some soccer players choose to use their first names or nicknames because they are more catchy, memorable, or unique than their full names. For example, Lionel Messi is more widely known as Messi than as Lionel Andres Messi Cuccittini. Cristiano Ronaldo is more recognizable as Ronaldo than as Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is more famous as Zlatan than as Zlatan Ibrahimović.

Other soccer players adopt one name because they want to avoid confusion or comparison with other players who have similar names. For example, Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite goes by Kaka because his brother could not pronounce his first name when they were young. He also wanted to differentiate himself from other Brazilian players named Ricardo, such as Ricardo Oliveira or Ricardo Quaresma. Similarly, Edson Arantes do Nascimento goes by Pele because he mispronounced the name of his idol, Bile, who was a goalkeeper for Vasco da Gama.

Talent development and investment

The final reason why many soccer players have one name is that it relates to talent development and investment in the sport. Soccer is a competitive and lucrative industry that requires constant scouting and nurturing of young and promising talent. Having a one-name player can be an advantage for clubs and investors who want to attract and retain the best players in the world.

One of the benefits of having a one-name player is that it can create a sense of loyalty and identity with the club and its fans. A player who goes by his first name or nickname can appear more friendly, approachable, and relatable than a player who uses his full name or surname. This can help build a strong bond between the player and the club’s supporters, who can feel more connected and invested in his performance and career.

Another benefit of having a one-name player is that it can enhance the value and marketability of the player in the global market. A player who has a unique and recognizable name can generate more interest and demand from other clubs, sponsors, and media outlets who want to associate themselves with his brand. This can increase the revenue and profit potential of the player and his current club, who can negotiate better deals and contracts based on his popularity and reputation.

In conclusion, there are many reasons why some soccer players go by one name, and it is not mainly a Brazilian thing. It is a combination of cultural, historical, and economic factors that influence the naming of soccer players and how it affects their talent development and investment. A one-name player can be a sign of cordiality, creativity, and quality in the soccer world.


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