Donkeys, Lightning and Piranhas — Nicknames in Flamenco

Let me paint a picture. You’re so excited about seeing flamenco in Spain that you want to whet your appetite by reading about or watching YouTube videos of the artists you’ll be seeing on the night. So you start reading their names and they look like this: Antonia González “la Pescaílla Chica”, Lucía Álvarez “la Piñona”, José Carmona “Rapico”, Natalia Delmar “la Serrata”, Antonio “el Ciervo”, “Chispas”… —and you start wondering… “What’s with the quotation marks?”

Well, they’re the performers’ nicknames. Because, the thing is, nicknames are very common in flamenco.

Often, these nicknames may refer to the place where they were born —el Lebrijano, Carmen Linares, Melchor de Marchena, Bernarda de UtreraBut they may also refer to animals —el Piraña (piranha), el Perro (dog) de Paterna, el Mochuelo (small owl); the parents’ names, like is the case of the most famous flamenco guitar player of all time, Paco de Lucía —Lucía was his mum’s name, and he and his brother were nicknamed after her; or even food —el Torta (pancake) or el Galleta (cookie) de Málaga. Sometimes it’s the physical appearance of the artist that gives the nickname: el Mojama (salt-cured tuna) was a rather dark and stiff flamenco singer; and Fosforito, as tall and slim as a match. Or even the way they perform, like el Borrico (donkey) de Jerez, whose loud singing made someone amongst the audience shout out “You sing louder than a donkey!”

Borrico de Jerez

This isn’t new, and it actually is a bit of a tradition in the flamenco world.

Below is a poster for a flamenco show in 1919. Amongst the performers there are Niña Madrid (Girl from Madrid), Niño de la Matrona (The Midwife’s son), Lázaro, el Negro (Lázaro, The Black Man), Gitanilla (literally Little Gypsy Girl), Relámpago (Lightning) and La Reina de los Pregones (The Queen of “Pregones”, one of the musical styles of flamenco).

Nicknames in flamenco - poster from 19th century featuring artists' nicknames

And here’s a personal nickname story. My flamenco dance teacher was going to be travelling for a few weeks, so she’s organised a substitute teacher for us. And she referred to this teacher as “Pezones”, which is Spanish for “Nipples”. It turns out that as well as dancing flamenco, Pezones also likes to dance burlesque. And when she dances burlesque she is often topless and has tassels hanging from her… yes, you guessed it!

Nicknames aren’t limited to flamenco though, lots of people in Spain get them, mostly when they’re young. My brother for example had quite an offensive nickname —poor thing— which I inhereted —poor me! He got called “Monstruo” (Monster) by his classmates at school… guess what I got called. Correct! “Monstrua”! Female monster! That’s the thing with nicknames —you never get to choose it, someone else will for you!

If you’re coming to Madrid and want to know more about this fascinating flamenco world (including, but not limited to nicknames), I offer private flamenco tours during which I’ll give you a full and fun understanding of this fabulous art form, lead you through the city’s flamenco neighbourhood and take you to the best flamenco show, hand-picked by me.

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