By John Leaf Special to Published Nov 05, 2011 at 10:06 AM

Ever think about the possibility of nicknames in other countries and cultures? Probably not. But only a myopic dingbat would think that there is something uniquely American about nicknames. And here are two examples from other countries. One is from Mexico, the other from Thailand.

One of my Twitter connections was born in Mexico, and is now living in the United States. She actually lived in the Milwaukee area for awhile. She sent me this tweet last week, after looking at the nickname website, and it reminded me of just how international nicknames are.

Lisette said verbatim, in her tweet, " dad called me 'pitufina' (smurfette in Spanish) and 'prieta' which means 'dark-skinned' so no, no good (nicknames). Lol."

Well there you go.

Edgewood High School in Madison has a relationship with a school in Thailand that involves exchange students. There is a brother and sister from Thailand currently attending Edgewood High, living with a family in the Madison area.

The boy's nickname, for real, is "Donut" and his sister's nickname is "Cake." Sounds like a perfect recipe for a bakeoff. And likely far easier names for fellow students to deal with than their legal birth names from back home.

Fair enough, but why?

Seems that when mom was pregnant with the boy, she craved donuts, and when little sis came along, the craving shifted to cake. Makes perfect sense in this imperfect world.

And, as I have come to quickly learn, nicknames are a very significant part of the culture in Thailand.

According to Wikipedia:

"Thais universally have one, or occasionally more, short nicknames (Thai: ชึ่อเล่น play-name) that they use with friends and family. Often first given by friends or an older family member, these nicknames are typically one syllable (or worn down from two syllables to one). Though they may be simply shortened versions of a full name, they quite frequently have no relation to the Thai's full name and are often humorous and/or nonsense words. Traditionally call-names would be after things with low value, eg 'dirt', which was to convince evil spirits lurking in the vicinity that the child was not worth their attention.

Some common nicknames would translate into English as small, fatty, pig, little one, frog, banana, green or girl/boy. Though rare, sometimes Thai children are given nicknames after the order they were born into the family (i.e. one, two, three, etc.). Nicknames are useful because official Thai names are often long, particularly among Thais of Chinese descent, whose lengthy names stem from an attempt to translate Chinese names into Thai equivalents, or among Thai with similarly lengthy Sanskrit-derived names."

Clearly "Donut" and "Cake" qualify and meet Thailand's cultural standard for nicknames; even if they are right out of an American cookbook.

So what about the role of nicknames in other countries like Akrotiri, Belize, Ethiopia, France, Senegal Tangier and Tuvala? Yep, I'll bet you dollars to donuts they are out there, in numbers like a baker's dozen, and will be the subject of an upcoming blog.

John Leaf Special to

John Leaf was born in western Illinois, a mile east of the Mississippi. College in Chicago. He holds a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Leaf was goalie on the soccer team and captain of the golf team in college. He cut class to ride the "L" to see Cubs games, hung out for hours at the Art Institute and bent the brain doing graduate school in Theology.

He spent three mind-blowing summers in coastal British Columbia, as a resort photographer. He worked and lived in Minneapolis. He did hard time at a bank on LaSalle Street in Chicago and learned about PR, working at big firm a block off Michigan Avenue, while living in Evanston.

Now Leaf is just living the dream, under the radar, in Cedarburg. He's passionate about nicknames and launched his website three years ago.

He dabbles in yoga and cycling. Fishtailing as always, and taking a whack at life, like everyone else.