Here in Peru, everyone has a chapa (nickname). I’m not exactly sure when you pick up your nickname but it’s generally based on your appearance. If you’re chubby, you’re going to be called Gordo or Gorda the rest of your life. It doesn’t seem to affect Fatty’s self esteem, it’s just his/her name. If you’re skinny, flaco. If you’re short, chato. If you have kind of slanty eyes, Chino. If your face looks like a sock, Cara de Media. It doesn’t always go on appearances. One of the guys I work with is called Chacalon after a famous Peruvian crooner from back in the day (talent skips a generation here too because Chacalon Jr., son of the singer, just got arrested with guns and drugs). If they’re fond of you, they’ll add –ito to the end. Gordito, Flacito, Betito.
I guess nicknames are special to me in that no one ever, ever calls me by my real name Albert except when followed by the phrase “… step out of the vehicle please”. Here, rather than going by the name Win, which is hard for them to pronounce and I don’t want to explain my name to everyone I meet, I go by Beto. Why Beto? When I was born, my folks were trying to come up with a nickname for me since Albert III and Albert Jr. were still around. My grandmother, a Mexican woman of German descent, wanted to call me Beto, short for Alberto. My mother the gringa would have nothing to do with having her first born run around with a Mexican name so I got the nickname Win, short for Baldwin. I’m not sure why it took my mom well over 30 years to tell me this but since then, all my closest friends who speak Spanish all call me Beto. And here in el Peru, everyone hollers out “Beto!” when I’m walking through the town. Well Mom, you may have won the war, but your dear mother in law is winning this battle for now.
A couple of theories regarding chapas floated around by some of the volunteers here 1) You’ve lived in the same town with the same people all your life and you can’t remember their real name and are too embarrassed to ask what it is after all these years so you call ‘em Fatty. 2) In a town with 59 different Juans, you have to differentiate somehow between them. 3) Personally, I think they use nicknames just because they’re a lot more fun than the boring-ass name your parents saddled you with - Albert Baldwin Williams IV, for instance.