By
Felipe Van Cauwelaert

Nicknames in Tango

any of us are familiarized with the nicknames of tango artists but we don’t always know its true reason. Because of that I decided to start a research about some sobriquets, not only of those very popular artists but also of those that today are almost unknown and, due to its curiosity, to comment them is worthwhile. Although many legends or made-up stories about them are known, the ones presented here were told by them personally or through their friends or relatives. For this reason we think that they possess a greater veracity.

Prudencio Aragón: El Yoni
Pianist of the Guardia Vieja (old style) and composer of “El Talar”, one of the oldest tango pieces. His nickname comes from the old habit of christening people according to their origin or to some feature that associated them with some people or ethnic trait in particular. Prudencio’s red hair was associated with Anglosaxon features, then El Yoni stood for Johnny in English.

Francisco Canaro. Pirincho and El Kaiser
From his book Memorias: «At the moment of my birth, my mother was assisted by a midwife named Sara who, when she saw me, exclaimed: «he looks like a Pirincho!», which is a bird with a tuft. And ... it seems that I was born with my hair in an upright position. Before my name I was called that way». In the Sopena dictionary we read: Pirincho; name given in the River Plate area to a kind of gray magpie with black wings.

His siblings and his musicians began to call him El Kaiser, due to his energic temper and his attitude of leadership. They recalled King William I, Emperor of Germany from 1871 to 1888, whose government was hard and inflexible, inspired in the policy of his chancellor Bismarck.

Gabriel Clausi: Chula
It is a case similar to Canaro’s. When he was born, his father exclaimed that he looked like a «chula». It took many years to Clausi to find out the origin of his nickname until he discovered that so is called a small monkey that lives in the countryside of Brazil. Coincidentally, his parents lived there for a time, exactly where Clausi verified that those monkeys with outstanding hair, like his when he was born, dwelled.

Juan D'Arienzo: Grillito and El Rey del Compás
In his beginnings he was violinist, and there is an unanimous agreement in regarding him as a mediocre instrumentalist. To such an extent it was that someone began to call him Grillito (Little Cricket), because the sounds he got from the strings were like the noises this insect produces. With the passing of time it was forgotten and was replaced by El Rey de Compás, referring to the pungent beat that characterized his orchestra.

Carlos Di Sarli: El Tuerto
Not at all pleasant turned out the nickname thrown at him. This story dates back to the time when he was only 13 and took place at his father’s gunshop in Bahía Blanca. Unfortunately one of the employees accidentally shot a gun and wounded little Carlos. The employee was called Roberto Bognoni, he was a man very dear to the family, but in his desperation he left his job and the town. The kid needed surgery and they put a platinum plate in his head and advised him to wear dark glasses, which later would be characteristic element of his image.

Ricardo Brignolo: La Nena
Bandoneonist and composer of “Chiqué”. When he was a child, about 7 or 8 years old, in carnival they took him a photo with two of his little friends. Then he was dressed in gaucho outfit and, as in the old times it was usual with young sons, his hairdo showed a fringe of hair and a loose hair that reached his ears. Years later, when a friend of his saw the photograph exclaimed: «He looks like a girl!». And so it remained. Others have said that it was because of his beardless skin, but it isn’t so, the nickname comes from his childhood.

Vicente Gorrese: Kalisay
Pianist and composer, his public debut was at a kermesse organized by the manufacturers of the Kalisay aperitif. Since then comes his nickname. Some even suggested that such a nickname was a synonym for «cabezón» (big head) because the figure that appeared in the advertisements of the drink represented an old man with a big head.

Vicente Greco: Garrote
His brothers Domingo, Ángel and his sister Elena were also musicians. Instead, his brother Fernando was a butcher and was a stout man. Even though his temper was peaceful, when some impolite bothered him he would strike him some blows without asking permission. His blows were so heavy that in the neighborhood he began to be known as Garrote (Big Stick). Vicente soon was known in the milieu as «Garrote's brother», to finally supress the word brother and leave only Garrote. Another version holds that Garrote comes from a heavy stick that Vicente carried to show off.

Juan Bautista Guido: El Lecherito
Born in the neighborhood of Parque Patricios, his nickname does not hide a very interesting story. Oscar Zucchi comments: «His father was a stubborn Calabrian. He run a milk shop and his son was in charge of the delivery. Hence the nickname. In fact soon he stopped with that task because he brought no money home, he only alleviated a little his father's work. He was soon a carpenter's apprentice.»

Juan Maglio: Pacho
«When I was a kid my father, who was Italian, used to call me crazy in his dialect because of my capers. In fact he called me «pazzo» and as my playmates failed to pronounce correctly that word they uttered «pacho». My nickname became widely known and so they kept on calling me that way; the nickname even surpassed the family name». Maglio's outfit was so popular that Francisco Pracánico told us about an event that happened in his early days as musician. He had to play with one of his first groups and the owner of the venue ordered to print some posters announcing: «La orquesta típica de PAnCHO», with a small n, so that at first sight it would be mistaken with Pacho, with the purpose of attracting a greater audience.

Nicolás Primiani: Pindeca
A bandoneon player in the twenties, he joined the staff orchestra of the Teatro Nacional, along with Ángel D'Agostino, Juan D'Arienzo, Alfredo Mazzeo and José Arturo Severino. According to the stories of the musicians that came to know him, Primiani used to play a funny role interspersing words in «cocoliche» in his chats. So every time he saw a young attractive woman he exclaimed: «What a pretty pindeca!», instead of pendeja (young girl). So his sobriquet became popular. It's worthwhile to remember that the way in which the Italian immigrants used to speak Spanish was known as «cocoliche». It was portrayed in numerous one-act farces.

Francisco Bautista Rímoli: Dante A. Linyera
Even though it is a nom de guerre and not a nickname, we add it because its origin is quite interesting. Many ones when naming him, especially radio speakers, supress the letter A, as if it were a second unimportant name. This should not be so, because that letter has a great importance. Its purpose was a pseudonym with a cacophonic sound similar to Dante Alighieri, author of the Divina Comedia.

José Arturo Severino: La Vieja
This bandoneonist of the Arolas's generation, was born around 1892 in Parque Patricios. According to Héctor Polito, when Severino was a young kid he used to go to have tea with croissants and hid some of them to bring them to his mother, to «la vieja».

According to Clausi who knew him personally: «He already lived alone since an early age and when they met him in the street he invariably said he was going to Mom's (la vieja)». Another version, and according to Clausi the likeliest, is that he was flirting with a woman much older than him. On one occasion, when he was with her, her husband turned up and he fled almost naked through the backyard. He had to jump over a barbed wire fence and one of the sharp ends hurt one of his testicles. When the kids in the neighborhood knew about this, they began to call him «la vieja» remembering that episode.

Aníbal Troilo: Pichuco
In an interview made by Julián Centeya he said the following: «My nickname is previous to my name. Marcos had been the first son and it was agreed that the second male child had to bear my father's name, Aníbal. But long before that I was Pichuco, because Dad had a close friend called that way and there was like a promise ... and so they told me that when Dad held me in his arms I was crying and he said: it's O.K., Pichuco... O.K.»

The kids
Osvaldo Fresedo: The kid of La Paternal
Pedro Maffia: The kid of Flores
Carlos Marcucci: The kid of Wilde



La Paternal and Flores are two neighborhoods of the city of Buenos Aires and Wilde, a locality south of Avellaneda in the province of Buenos Aires. It was a way to differentiate them by their place of residence. All them began to stand out when wearing «short trousers», hence the «kids». The three of them had their fans that called them in such a way to compare the gifts of one and another.