¿Cómo te llamaí? Nicknames in Chile

Name TagEl** Kike, Coke, and Vicho were hanging out with la Maite, la Coté, and la Chabelita before class. The bell rang, they took their seats, and the teacher calls out: Enrique (presente), Jorge (presente), Vicente (presente), and then continues… María Teresa, María José, María Isabel (most women in Chile seem to have double names that start with María).

It took me quite a while to figure out Chilean nicknames. I’m not talking about creatively cruel monikers like “Lentil Face” and “Dog Breath” that kids inflict upon each other. Nor am I referring to typical-yet-curious terms of affection such as Flaca or Gordo or Mi Cachorrito Lindo, which are all worthy of their own post (coming soon!)… And I won’t even waste your time with obvious name-shortening schemes such as Ale for Alejandra or Benja for Benjamín—not when the world is full of Kikes and Cokes and Vichos (which for a long time I thought was “bicho,” which means bug, which seemed especially appropriate because for years the only Vicho I knew was the only brother of 3 older sisters)…

I don’t know where these names came from—nor, I might add, do I know the origins of my own nickname (Peg for Margaret)… but there are plenty of Maites and Cotés, and Chabelas out there—so here’s your guide of standard, everybody-knows-them, commonly heard nicknames in Chile. All of these names can—and often are—made diminutive by adding an “ita” for women and “ito” for men, although it is far more common in the feminine form.

Surely there are more names I’ve left out—would love to hear more!

Women’s Nicknames:

Chela                   =         Celia
Charo                  =         Rosario
Chabela              =         Isabel
Cote or Coté      =         María José
Kena                   =         Eugenia
Lola                     =         Dolores
Maite                  =         María Teresa
Maru                   =         María Eugenia
Maruja               =         María Eugenia
Meche                 =         Mercedes
Nena                   =         Elena, María Elena
Pachi                      =      Paz
Pepa                   =         Josefina
Toya                   =         Victoria

Men’s Nicknames:

Beto                   =         Alberto, Humberto
Checho              =         Sergio
Coke / Coque   =         Jorge
Cucho                =         Agustín
Feña                  =         Fernando
Geno                 =         Eugenio
Guillermo        =         Memo
Jano                  =         Alejandro
Kike                   =         Enrique
Lalo                   =         Eduardo
Lucho                =         Luís
Moncho            =         Ramón
Nacho               =         Ignacio
Nano                 =         Hernán
Pancho             =         Francisco
Pato                  =         Patricio
Pepe                 =         José   (far more common in Spain than Chile)
Pipe                  =         Felipe
Tatán                =         Sebastián
Tito                   =         Héctor, Ernesto
Toño                 =         Antonio
Vicho / Bicho  =         Vicente


* ¿Cómo te llamái? Is Chilean(ish) for ¿Como te llamas?, which means What’s your name?

**In Chile it is very common to include an article (la for female, el for male) before a person’s name, especially for women, and particularly when referring to a friend or relative. This is not standard Spanish, and it tends to provoke smirks from Spanish speakers from other countries… Case in point—when I returned to grad school speaking my article-inclusive Chilean Spanish, my classmates who had learned Spanish in other countries took to calling me “The Peg.” Put it that way, it does sound kind of funny… but, when in Rome and all that…


52 responses to “¿Cómo te llamaí? Nicknames in Chile

  1. in ma family …lizet =nizi laura =nana joaquin =tato daniel =nani carolina =cado angel =pollo (very common ) andres =poti (not common at all )

  2. I know an ‘Alejandra’ usually called ‘Chany’ and ‘Maria Angelica’ called ‘Mary’ but these may just be family names.

  3. Hi Jack-Good to hear from you! I haven’t heard Chany, although it makes sense, as Alejandro is Jano, so the female version could derive to Jana-> Janita-> Chani. Has anyone else heard this?
    And yes, all of the many forms of María-Something are often called Mari (pronounced MAHR-i) or Mary.

  4. Hi Liz- That’s quite a list of apodos!
    I know that Pollo is a common nickname–but it’s not specifically associated with people named Angel, right? But more of an affectionate name that some members of the family end up with… I know a woman called Pollo because her brother thought she looked like a skinny chicken when she was little.

  5. Raúl Simón Eléxpuru

    A couple of comments: 1) I thought that Chela is nickname for Graciela (not for beer). 2) Beto is for Alberto, Humberto and Roberto.
    Good to hear from you.

  6. Hay algunas veces en donde Sergio puede ser llamado Keko, no se cuan común sea de todas formas.

  7. And in the US we often add an “ie” or a “y ” after a name as a diminutive–particularly with kids’ names: Paulie, Chrissie, Petey, Donnie, etc.

  8. Raúl– Hi! Always good to hear from you too… Thanks for the input. Hadn’t thought about Chile/Graciela, but makes sense… And I’ve heard that Roberto can be Beto, but wasn’t sure… I’ll add them both!
    Paloma– gracias! Suena como variante de Checho ¿alguien más asocia Keko con Sergio?
    Debbie– exactly! And in Spanish it’s ito & ita… and in Chilean Spanish we use a LOT of diminutives–not just for names of people, but for all kinds of things casita (little house), bromita (little joke), autito (little car), enfermito (an affectionate way to say someone is sick), loquita (a semi-affectionate way to say someone is crazy), etc…. (hm-sounds like I need to put another post together on that one!)

  9. Hola! “Chela” is a nickname for “Marcela”, not “Celia. As I’m sure you know, chela also means beer. 🙂

  10. “Chany” lo había escuchado para Roxana, y para los Ricardos, por alguna razón se les dice “Richard” como apelativo más cercano. Para Alejandra, al menos en el sur, no había escuchado antes el “Chany”, pero sí frecuentemente el “Jana” y más allá, “Janita” o “Jandy”. Me da la impresión que el diminutivo tiene un efecto eufemístico, de esa forma se pueden decir cosas que normalmente nos parece sonarían muy cortantes, de una forma en que quede claro que no se busca ofender en lo más mínimo al interlocutor:” ¿Te acuerdas del dinero que te presté? Devuélvemelo.”—> “Compadrito, ¿se acuerda del billetito de la otra vez?, Pucha es que lo necesito un poquito”. (Como si el acreedor luego de usarlo se lo fuera a devolver al deudor, cosa curiosa xD)

  11. Checho is also used for César (my hubby), and brother-in-law Adolfo is called Tacho. And I knew a Graciela who was called Chela. But be careful with the diminutives, My family called me Kacky (instead of Katy) and my kid sister got clobbered several times for adding “-ta”…

  12. Hola Nely- Sí pues– imagínate la pobre chelita en el colegio, cuánto la habrían molestado por tener nombre de cerveza!

    Hola Marmo– Muy buenos puntos. Nosotros tenemos un amigo Ricardo que decimos Richie (de Richard), pero es el nombre en inglés. ¿Habría popularizado en relación a Buddy Richard quizás? y sí, por supuesto, el famos “ito” suaviza todo! Te juro que voy a hacer un post relacionado a lo “ito-centrico” que estamos aquí!

    Thanks Kathleen–never heard Checho–there are so many names!! And funny how little sisters manage to put their own twists on things!

  13. Margaret,

    Fabulous post idea! You’re right, it’s some serious work to learn all the nicknames in Chile. You put together a great list.

    It always makes me chuckle when the nickname is longer than the original…what’s the point (ex. Pachi for Paz)??


  14. Thanks Jared- but nicknames are not necessarily short names–they are often affectionate. Paz is also affectionately called Pacita, and I imagine that Pachi got shortened from that.

  15. Some are widely used across Latin America. Others must apply to Chile only. Never hear Lalo before. Another common name for Jose is Cheo. I have seen Chema used for Jose Maria which is a man’s name.

  16. You’re right Eduardo-not only the nicknames, but the names themselves vary throughout Latin America and Spain. José María is not common here in Chile, nor is Jesús, for that matter, although both are frequently found in other countries. I didn’t include “Paco” for Francisco, for example, because it is rare here, although very common in Spain.

  17. I’ve never heard Pachi for Paz, but I don’t doubt it. They seem to use a lot of “ch” and “sh.” For instance, lately I’ve heard a lot of “mi guashi” as an affectionate term. When people can’t pronounce my name, Sally, and it comes out like “Sow-ee” or “Sully,” I tell them it’s a diminutive of Sara, like Sarita. Though I don’t hear the name Sara very often here, and maybe they still can’t pronounce Sally, they get the derivative.

  18. Hi Sally-it always seems funny how names that are so common in one language are difficult in another. That’s the main reason I use Margaret here instead of Peg–because Spanish speakers have a hard time pronouncing g at the end of a word. And a friend named Joan often gives up and lets people call her Jo-Ann.
    I’ve known quite a few Sara/Saritas here, and Pachi, while fewer are still common enough…

  19. My first name, Jack, causes some confusion as well. Friends and family manage it but strangers struggle sometimes. I remember one conserje (is that the spelling?) clearly didn’t believe me at first and burst out laughing when I wrote it down for him.

  20. Never thought of the problems that Jack (pronounced “hack”) might cause! And the J-as-in-Jack sound just doesn’t exist in Spanish. But, come to think of it, everyone knows the actor Jack Nicholson, so it shouldn’t really be TOO strange these days!

    On Mon, Apr 8, 2013 at 8:19 AM, Cachando Chile: Reflections on Chilean

  21. I have heard of a few more guys names: Juan Paulo = Juampi; Alfredo = Peto; Adolfo = Peco; My husband’s name is Felipe, but they call him Chipe; and Feña can also be for a girl named Fernanda.

  22. Thanks! Haven’t heard any of these, but they don’t surprise me either. A lot of guys have 2 names starting with Juan and they often combine and shorten them for a nickname. My daughter had a classmate named Juan Carlos that they called Juanco, for example, and I know there are a lot more.

  23. I always have problems if I pronounce my name, Elizabeth, in English, (which I usually do). Sometimes it is easier to say Eli.

    Before I came to Chile I went by Liz, but my husband preferred calling me Elizabeth, so everyone here knows me by that. And at my daughter’s school I am “Mrs Elizabeth”, like the La Elizabeth.

    My husband’s name is Ulises, so sometimes his uncle, (and only his uncle) calls us Uli and Eli! 🙂

  24. I’m surprised people have problems with Elizabeth–except for pronouncing the th at the end (which doesn’t exist in Latin American Spanish). The funny thing is that people almost always spell my name with an h at the end, and the only reason I can think of is that they know that Elizabeth has an h (because it’s a relatively common name here), and since they pronounce it with a final t, then Margaret, with it’s final t sound, must also have a “silent” h.
    The other thing is the difference with using a title (Mr, Mrs, Miss) with a first name. And while “Señora Eli” is just fine, “Mrs Eli” is not. Why that is? Wish I knew! Thanks for writing!

  25. Fantastic post. I was thinking of writing a similar one in my blog. Just to mention some of them are used in Spain (funny Francisco nick names are different in Spain depending on the region or family: Paco, Pancho or Curro). Pepe comes from José being the adoptive father of Jesús (padre putativo. I.e. P.p. to shorten it). For Mercedes we use Merche. In my Chilean family they use Menche, I don’t understand why with an “n”…

    When I get to write my post I’ll link yours.

  26. Thanks Pedro- I almost included “Paco” in the list, but it really isn’t used here (unless as a slang reference to the police). And I read somewhere that PP came from p.p. padre putativo, but had never heard that before so didn’t include it. Thank you for bringing it up.
    And yes- please link this to your post and leave your link here too–I’ll look forward to reading it!

  27. Que tan familiares resulten estos sobrenombres parece depender de la costumbre; a Pedro le extraña que Mercedes se transforme en “Menche”, pero no parece sorprenderse por la metamorfosis de Francisco en “Curro” xD

  28. Jajaja, tienes toda la razón, Marmo. la diferencia es que yo, viviendo en España, he escuchado toda mi vida los Curros (no tanto, es muy andaluz) y las Merches, y cuando voy a Chile el cambio a Menche me chirría en el oído. Por cierto he buscado el origen de “Curro” y sólo he encontrado esta página cuya explicación (deformación de Franciscurro) no me convence mucho…

  29. Siempre hay cosas que nos parecen normales y cuando alguien que no las ha percibido de la misma forma toda la vida te lo muestra, te das cuenta de varias cosas xD, yo al menos he re-encontrado cosas de Chile que en realidad son inexplicables también y antes me parecían de lo más naturales hahah

  30. Sí Marmo, de eso se trata en gran parte Cachando Chile–una conversa en ese espacio entre lo que parece normal a un grupo y diferente para otro. Me encantan que tantas personas (como tu y Pedro) enriquecen el tema (y mi entendimiento de él) a través de sus comentarios!

  31. Pedro- Recién pude ver tu link–Muchas gracias–¡es excelente! Nunca había escuchado el término “hipocorísticos” y lo encontré fascinante!

  32. Para mí también es nuevo, y no te recomiendo que lo uses en una conversación, no crean que los estás insultando “¿que me has llamado hipoquéeee?”. Coincido con ambos, es verdaderamente enriquecedor poder ver las cosas cotidianas desde distintos prismas.

  33. Jaja- sí, de acuerdo que la palabra hipocorístico presta no solo para confusión, sino molestia. Sospecho que no soy la única que haya entendido “hipocrítico” al principio!
    –y me alegro mucho tener este forum para conversar, compartir, discutir y explorar las diferentes nociones de cultura(s)–

  34. I’ve also heard Chileans use “Nacha” which I assume is for “Ignacia.”

  35. Yes, you’re right Kristen. This is the case with quite a few names that have male/female variations–their nicknames will take on the same male/female variations: Ignacio/a = Nacho/a; Patricio/a = Pato/a (although Patricias are more often Patys) etc.

  36. Hahahaha, I love your blog, Margaret! I´ve had a blast browsing through it (I especially loved the “Bad Translation Fun: Menus” section. Sadly, it is quite common to find WAY TOO MANY mistranslations on the street. I feel like you were just scratching the surface with your examples :P)

    Keep ´em coming, Margaret! 😀

  37. Thanks Pablo–and yes, I’ve often thought that the entire blog could just be language oriented! Glad you enjoy it–and please feel free to make suggestions!

  38. Most monosyllabic names have a two-syllable nickname.

    Luis = Lucho
    Paz = Pachi
    Juan = Juano
    Luz = Luce, Luci

    P.P. for Pepe is just an urban myth

    From Wikipedia: Una extendida etimología popular propala que este hipocorístico proviene de las siglas del presunto apodo Pater Putativus (“padre putativo”) otorgado a José de Nazaret como marido de la Virgen María. En realidad, se trata de una forma reducida de Jusepe, antigua versión del nombre en español, análoga a las reducciones de tantos otros hipocorísticos1 en español y otras lenguas romances. Los casos análogos del valenciano/catalán (Pep, de Josep) y el italiano (Peppe o Beppe, de Giuseppe) dan evidencia suficiente de ello.

  39. Hi tocayo,
    I made some research on internet and there is no solid evidence on the origin of Pepe, however the version you quote from Wikipedia indeed makes much more sense than the one I posted. It seems that Pepe origin on “padre putativo” is indeed an urban myth. Thanks for your comment!

  40. Dear, you have some inaccuracies on the nicknames:
    Chabela = Isabel, can also be “Chabe”
    Lola = Not only for Dolores. We call Carola or other names like “Adriana” (really!!!) sometimes Lola. Also, some people’s real name is Lola.
    María Teresa = we also call them “Marité”.
    María Eugenia = We also call them “Kena”
    Eugenio= Keno, not Geno.
    Tito= Popularly used for Alberto, not for Héctor nor Ernesto.
    You also missed other popular ones like “Francisca= Panchi o Pancha”


  41. Also: Pollo = used for people that were (or are) very tiny and skinny.
    Polo = Leopoldo.
    Chela ¨= Marcela or Graciela (Marcela is a common name, not like Celia or Graciela, which are not popular)

  42. Thank you Juan Paulo-
    Are you in Chile?
    BTW- one of our closest friends is Geno, tal cual, for Eugenio. I’ve never seen/heard Keno.

  43. I am chilean. I love this page.
    Someone may be called Geno, but is not common. But there are a lot of Kenos around.

  44. To me Keno is very common. This is the first time I hear of a Geno. Many years ago Queno, Quena and Quique were much more common than Keno, Kena and Kike. Even I know a Kako whose name is Isaac.

    Tito is a common nickname not only for Alberto, but also for Héctor and Roberto. I don’t doubt that some Ernestos are called Tito. The reason is simple: Albertito, Hectito (funny, but that what I was told by an Héctor), Robertito, and, I suppose, Ernestito. The shortening is obvious.

    PS: you have a spelling mistake in the title of this post. It’s “llamái” not “llamaí”. However most Chileans don’t bother to put the stress mark.

  45. dear margaret, I gave you a Liebster prize, although I am not sure if your blog is too big for this, in any case i hope you start posting again!! http://palabradechile.blogspot.com.es/

  46. I just found your blog and it warms my heart! I lived in Chile lindo for 1.5 years and have fond memories of all the chilenismos. While there, my American friends and I got such a kick out of the use of the definite article before a name that we still refer to each other by adding “the” (in English) in front of each other’s names.

  47. Sebastian – Tatán
    Guillermo – Willy
    Elisa – Licha
    Verónica -Vero
    Pilar – Pili
    Alicia – Ali
    Margarita – Marga, Magi
    Eduardo – Edu , Lalo
    Roberto – Tito
    Alberto – Beto
    Mónica – Moni
    Yolanda – Yoli
    Victoria – Vicky
    Patricia – Pati
    Patricio – Pato
    Antonio – Toño
    Antonia – Toña , Anto
    Manuel – Manolo, Manu
    Francisco – Pancho
    Ignacio – Nacho
    Victoria – Toya
    Teresa – Tere
    Monserrat – Monse
    por dejar algunos 😀

  48. I came here late but i want to say that Maite is a name, not a nickname and that people with the name maria are like really old ladies, no one is named maria now, no one likes it

  49. @fefs, i disagree, Maite is teh hipocorístico (nickname) for Maria Teresa. It may happen that someone liked this nickname and started using it as a first name, but its origin is definetely Maria Teresa, as Lola or Lolita come from Dolores, but some people has started to use them as first name.

    And with regards to María, In Spain is still largely used, although i understand Chile is a different story.

  50. A las Adriana llaman NANA, Nanita; a Carolina = Carola; a los Vicente= Tente; a los Sebastian= Tatan;a los Nicolas=Nico; a las Tamara= Tama…son apócopes y usualmente provienen del lenguaje infantil…Es muy usual nombrar por estos apócopes de todos los nombres: la tere (Teresa), la Eli (Eliana), el Juanjo (Juan José), la Pili (Pilar)…
    Los nombres de pila tienen reglas basadas en las costumbres, las leyes,la tradición familiar. El hijo (a) mayor lleva el nombre del padre/madre por lo que se agrega el diminutiva para diferenciarlo del progenitor ( como el Junior en ingles).Suele llevar como segundo nombre el del padrino o madrina o de los abuelos.

  51. el contexto histórico, el origen de la familia (migrantes), lo político , lo cultural, lo religioso determinan en distintos períodos el nombre de un niño/a. La fecha de nacimiento- el día y el Santo católico que corresponde -se asigna al niño. Los nombres en ámbitos rurales y urbanos tienen reglas diferentes y hay legislación que en distintas épocas regulaban qué nombres podían usarse.
    Los artistas de cine y TV, los acontecimientos sociales marcaron épocas y tendencias, por ej.: la muerte de JFK marcó las Carolinas en los años 60 y hoy encontramos en el mundo popular los nombres de cantantes, actores y actrices, y otros de origen extranjero antes no permitidos por la ley. Los años setenta trajeron los de orígen político, como los Lenin, Tania, Tamara,Wladimir, Camilo, Salvador, Luciano, Miguel, según las militancias de los padres….

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