What's in a name?

Brazilian making a name for himself at Whitecaps FC

In soccer – and in Brazil especially – a great deal resides in a name.

Look no further than the very top of the soccer echelon. If you were to tell someone that Edison Arantes do Nascimento is the greatest soccer player to have ever played the game, that person might reply with a puzzled look on their face. However, if you said the name Pelé, then any soccer fan would certainly know who you were talking about.

The two are in fact one and the same. Edison Arantes do Nascimento is Pelé, with the latter being a nickname bestowed upon him at a young age. The eternal legend, though, was known simply by his nickname, and that’s what he had on the back of his jersey – Pelé.

That’s commonly the case in Brazil, but truth be told, Pelé wasn’t initially a fan of his own nickname. He thought it sounded horrible. He was proud to be named after Thomas Edison and wanted to be called “Edson”. To his family, meanwhile, he was known as “Dico” – a name they still call him. But destiny ultimately dictated otherwise.

His favourite player growing up was a goalkeeper who his dad played with known as “Bilé”, but he would mispronounce it as “Pilé”. When he moved to Bauru, his accent caused his uncle to understand it as “Pelé”. Kids at school would tease him about it, and the nickname caught on. Eventually he realised it wasn’t up to him what he was called. The rest is history (read more here).

Brazil consistently produces some of the top soccer talents in the world, and most have a story behind their single name. The list includes players such as: Ronaldinho, Dida, Juninho, Kaká and Hulk, just to name a few.

Here in Vancouver, Whitecaps FC have found their own samba flair with a shifty attacking player who has been spotted weaving around defenders and entertaining the crowd on Bell Pitch at Empire Field.

His name? Well, that’s not entirely clear.

Making a name for himself

There have been many reasons suggested as to why Brazilians use nicknames, or contractions of their given names. One explanation is that their full names are simply too long to remember. Would Pelé really have become as popular as he was if he went by Edison Arantes do Nascimento? It’s certainly not as catchy as his two-syllable moniker.

Another reason – and perhaps more importantly – is to celebrate individuality. Each player brings their own personal flamboyance to the game, and with a short name – and the story behind it – a more intimate and romantic relationship is created with fans.

We’ve come to expect the beautiful game at its finest from Brazilians, but when Whitecaps FC initially invited Brazilian Camilo da Silva Sanvezzo on trial during the preseason, many fans were calling him no-name.

He came to Vancouver with an impressive strike rate in the Maltese Premier League, leading the league with 24 goals. But that was in Malta. The question was whether or not this mysterious player could produce in MLS? Fans knew of Ronaldinho and Robinho, but no one knew Camilo.

"Everyone I talked to said, 'There's a lot of qualities there,' or, 'There's more to come,' and when you hear those consistently, you're excited to get a guy," head coach Tom Soehn told The Province in April.

Three games into the season, his identity became clearer. With striker Eric Hassli out of the lineup, the lively South American got the start up front. He was active all game, constantly creating chances but denied time after time by a brilliant goalkeeping performance from Kansas City’s Jimmy Nielsen. Down 3-0, he could have been left frustrated, but he kept pushing. After assisting on the first goal of the rally, he scored two goals in stoppage time to earn his team a dramatic 3-3 draw, and the adoration of Whitecaps FC fans.

Still – after a sensational performance – fans were left to contemplate, what should we call this Brazilian wonder?

To be, or not to be

Camilo da Silva Sanvezzo, that’s quite a mouthful.

Through the first five matches of the season, the Brazilian had Sanvezzo on the back of his jersey. That’s normally the case in North America, with players having their last name on their uniforms. However, for Mr.Sanvezzo, that was not initially his wish. Like his compatriots, he wanted it to read his short name – simply, Camilo.

The problem for Camilo was that after changing his jersey, he was no longer scoring. His breakout performance came with Sanvezzo on his back. Not only that, but he also scored two matches later in Houston, giving him three goals in three starts with his family name, and zero with Camilo.

Looking to break the hex, he has now changed back to Sanvezzo, and his explanation for doing so is as simple as it seems. “With Sanvezzo, I score. With Camilo, I don’t score. So I go with Sanvezzo.”

He’s rounded back into form since making the switch, finding the net another five times – including a goal against English Premier League giants Manchester City.

While the debate for the Brazilian has been between Camilo or Sanvezzo, his wizardry on the field has led to a new nickname from fans: O Mágico (Portuguese for ‘The Magician’).

In the end, no matter what they call him, what’s important is who is wearing the jersey, and Camilo da Silva Sanvezzo has proven to be one of the most exciting players in Major League Soccer.

But it always helps to have a good story too.