What’s in a Name?


Many Mexicans love to play about with names. It is something that people do from the moment they meet you, rather than something that happens over time as you get to know them.

I was lucky to be born with a name that is common in Mexico, although spelt differently. However, no one seems to want to believe my name is Susannah or at least they don’t want to call me that. Many old colleagues would call me Susan, even though they could clearly see from every email I sent that my name is not Susan.

I have rung for appointments with doctors, dentists, you name it and once I have told them my name, they reply “Great Susi, we will see you tomorrow at 9” by which I am always taken aback. In England, we probably get to diminutives of names after about a year of knowing someone so the doctor’s receptionist changing my name at the first encounter by telephone is mind blowing to my English sensibilities.

I have noticed that a lot of name changes, alter someone’s name to sound more like the English version of a name too, so Ricardo becomes Richard, Roberto becomes Robert, Alejandra becomes Alex and Susana becomes Susan. It is something that has always fascinated me

Then there is also the diminutive -ita or –ito that gets added to a person’s name for an affectionate nickname. The -ita or -ito ending makes something smaller, for example a house (Casa) would become Casita if it was small. I become Susanita, which I love, Diegos become Dieguitos, and Alvaros become Alvaritos. I especially like Susanita because it often comes accompanied by a little song about a girl called Susanita with a little pet mouse.

But name changes in Mexico get even more confusing than this. So many Mexican names have a completely alternative name that is used as frequently as an official name. For example, if someone is known as Paco everyone will know that their official name is Francisco. This took me a long time to learn as so many of the names seemingly have very little in common with each other. I just presumed my friend Pepe’s real name was Pepe until I realised it was “short” for José. If you have also struggled with this, here is a little list to help you along:

Francisco becomes Paco or Pancho
Jesus becomes Chucho or Chuy, the nickname for Chucho!
Ignacio becomes Nacho
Sergio becomes Checo
Consuelo becomes Chelo
Rocios becomes Chio
Dolores becomes Lola
Jose becomes Pepe
Eduardo becomes Lalo o Yayo
Gregorio becomes Goyo
Socorro becomes Coco
Guillermo becomes Memo
Guadalupe becomes Lupe
Martita and Bertita becomes Tita
Alfonso becomes Poncho

And I am sure the list goes on and on and on…

Photo Credit: Nikhol Esteras Photography
Susannah Rigg is a freelance writer and Mexico specialist. Her work has been featured in BBC Travel, CNN Travel, Conde Nast Traveler, AFAR and The Independent among others . Check out her portfolio here. Contact Susannah by email, info [at] mexicoretold [dot] com and join her on Instagram and Twitter.

15 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. Querida Susi… I always enjoy reading your articles but this one was just awesome. As a Mexican living in London I always find myself in a situation of asking people how they like to be called as soon as I met them (like you, most of them find that a bit strange). So now I am “mexicanizing” or shortening the names of my international friends.
    I also think Mexicans change names as a way of showing affection because we tend to be friendly straight away. Even “Lupe” can be changed into “Lupita”!!!.
    So here are a few names more for your list:

    Margarita becomes Mago
    Jose María becomes Chema
    Alicia becomes Licha
    Octavio becomes Tavo
    Salvador becomes Chava
    Alberto becomes Beto
    Isabel becomes Chabe or Chabela
    Vicente becomes Chente
    Mercedes becomes Meche
    Concepción becomes Concha o Conchita
    Antonio becomes Toño
    Luis becomes Güicho

    … and as you say, the list continues.

    Thanks for your amazing stories, they certainly bright my days even in the cloudy London!!! 🙂

    • Ay mi querida Ceci, Thank you so much for this comment, it absolutely made my morning. I love comments from everyone, but I especially love comments from Mexicans who get a kick out of my writing and who get to feel a bit of Mexico from far away. Thanks for the list. I knew I didn’t have all the names but wow, there are sooo many more! Brilliant!

      Have a wonderful day in that cloudy patria of mine!

    • Hi ceci! I was wondering if you had any info on the origin of Checo-Sergio nickname? The names don’t really sound anything a like, there must be an interesting history that explains the connection! Would be much appreciated.

  2. Also, love the nicknames you are given almost immediately. Very funny, then we found ourselves giving everyone else nicknames, too. Love it. We became los flacos though we are not particularly skinny. Until we learned the language better
    we never knew what they were calling us.

    • Yeah I was thinking of writing a whole separate bog on that because I think it deserves it! haha. I love the idea that you were just being called names that you didn’t understand. Hard to know whether to smile or scowl hahah

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  4. My favourite is Paco, because my Spanish friend once told me a story about a practical joke they played on telly in Spain, showing a picture of Francisco Franco and playing the pop song “Paco! Paco! Paco!” (A dangerous level of disrespect for the decidedly humourless fascist dictator!) Fortunately it was never aired until after Franco died.

  5. I love this post!! I wish that I had known that when I lived there! The only one that I knew of was Jose –> Pepe because of one of my friends…..miss ya Susi 🙂

    • Ahh thanks Elsita! I miss you too! I’m glad you liked that post, sorry I didn’t write it when you were here! 🙂 Enlightening though when you suddenly discover all the names! 🙂

  6. Querida Susi,

    I love this post – and I miss your smile. But I get to see it every day when I admire the lovely tin heart on my doorpost (which, indeed, brought me love). Any LA plans yet?

    Even more – although some of these are more common in other countries:
    Federico becomes Fede
    María José (which, unlike José María, is a woman’s name) becomes Majo
    Rafael becomes Rafa
    Magdalena, Elena, and Irene are all sometimes Nena (which, since it means “baby girl” is also a good generic nickname)
    Refugio becomes Cuco

    …and never mind the fact that everyone gets an epithet, too – gord@, guër@, chaparr@, chin@, etc. One of the places I did research was a town in which there were eight Juanas – nobody ever referred to someone as just “Juana” but rather with a set of nicknames:
    “Juana Nieves” because she liked to eat a lot of ice cream as a little girl
    “Juana de Tomás” for her husband
    “Juana desnuda” because she escaped her parents’ house naked as a child
    “Juana la china” who had curly hair
    “Juana de papel” because I was so damn white

    Con mucho cariño,

  7. Hola Susanita, y tu ratón?? XD just kidding, I liked this post because it’s totally true, my name is Norberto but I’m rarelly called like that, I’ve been called Nor, Norbert, Beto, Betito, Nolito, etc, etc. I like some of them but not all, I think it’s matter of getting used to it. Also in Chiapas there is another nickname for people with curly hair, they’re called “Colochos” and it’s very common to have a friend who is called Colocho (even if he is not colocho XD). Greetings!! 🙂

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