The True Story Behind Why Pelé Is Called Pelé

Hamish Woodward

When talking about the greatest footballers of all time, one name stands firmly above the rest. With all the incredible Brazil have had, Edson Arantes do Nascimento – better known as Pelé – is the greatest of the lot. He lifted the FIFA World Cup three times (and could have won in 1966 if not for some interesting refereeing decisions) and scored over 1000 goals on his way to becoming the best player in the history of the game.

Pelé is currently suffering from ill health and has spent the last few years in and out of hospital. However, this has only forced people to reminisce more about his career and look back at the incredible decades he spent at the top of the footballing world. He is the legend at Santos, whom he captained to two Copa Libertadores and numerous Campeonato Brasileiro Série A, as well as various localised competitions which were bigger at the time of his playing career.

However, the tale of how he became known as Pelé is one of the most interesting. Pelé explained the situation himself in an article written nearly 7 years ago which fully encapsulates the culture of nicknames in Brazil, especially in the time and place where he grew up.

Why Is Pelé Called Pelé?

Pele himself explained where his name came from, in a column written for The Guardian in 2006. The article, written just prior to the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, explained how he transitioned from being known as Edson Arantes do Nascimento to the worldwide phenomenon known as Pele.

He explained how he was nicknamed after a friend of his father – a fellow footballer named Jose Lino. Lino was known as Bile

It started with a team-mate of my father’s when he played for Vasco de Sao Lourenco. The team-mate was a goalkeeper and was known as “Bilé”. His real name was Jose Lino and at the age of two he still wasn’t speaking. This worried his mother, so she decided to call a meeting of “benzedeiras” – women who performed a kind of witch-doctor ritual on nights when the moon was full. Even when people don’t believe, they still don’t dare to question the effects of the ritual, and Maria Rosalina hoped it would help cure Jose’s silent tongue.

He went on to explain that the benzedeiras chanted to the boy for weeks on end – yelling “Bili-bilu-tetei!”, which translates roughly to the English phrase “Abracadabra!”. Eventually, the boy began to speak, his first word being shouted out as “Bilé”, which he became known as from that day. He then went on to explain he became named after the man and how the name Bilé morphed into Pele.

“Some 20 years later when I was three or four my father Dondinho would take me along to Vasco training sessions. Whenever I could I used to nip into the goal and play around, and whenever I managed to stop a shot I’d shout, “Good one, Bilé!” or “Great save, Bilé!”

“Because I was only young I somehow distorted the nickname and said that when I grew up I wanted to be a goalie like “Pilé”. When we moved to Bauru, this “Pilé” became “Pele“. Either I changed it myself or – according to my uncle Jorge – it was because of my thick Minas Gerais accent. I’d speak one way in Bauru and they’d understand me in quite another. And then one boy – I don’t remember who – started to tease me by calling me Pele.”

You can read the full article written by Pele in The Guardian here.

Why is Pelé Called Edson Arantes do Nascimento?

Pele also explained where the name came from nearly a decade ago. On a Twitter post in late 2014, after Brazil had been humiliated 7-1 by Brazil in the World Cup Semi Final, he Tweeted about how he was named after the famed inventor Thomas Edison.

The American is generally considered to be one of the world’s innovators in Electricity and is beloved across the globe. Pele was named after the inventor the inventor, with his first name Edson (in Edson Arantes do Nascimento) deriving from Edison. He Tweeted out this, confirming that he was named after him due to his hometown only just being introduced to electricity when he was born.

“I was named Edson, after Thomas Edison, because electricity had just been introduced to my hometown in Brazil when I was born”

Most surprisingly, his family neither refer to him as Pele nor Edson. In fact, he has a third nickname that he is known as by his close friends and family. He is known as “Dico” by his family, which he has revealed on many occasions in interviews and in his autobiography, released in 2007.

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