Why are Pepe and Paco the nicknames for José and Francisco?
Thereby hangs a linguistic urban legend…
Most Spanish nicknames are formed with the diminutives -ito and -ita, as in Miguelito (“little Michael”) from Miguel, or Sarita (“little Sara”) from Sara. Others started as acronyms, such as Mabel from MAría IsaBEL, or abbreviations, such as Nando for Fernando. Two common nicknames, though, are real puzzlers: Pepe, the nickname for José (“Joseph”), and Paco, the nickname for Francisco (“Francis”).
When I studied in Barcelona one summer, I was delighted to learn that both these nicknames have religious origins. The explanation in our textbook went something like this:
In the New Testament, Joseph was Mary’s husband, but not Jesus’s father: only his putative (“so-called”) father, or padre putativo in Spanish. Abbreviate this as p.p., give it a Spanish pronunciation (the letter p being pronounced /pe/), and you get Pepe. As for Paco: Saint Francis founded the Franciscan order of monks and was therefore the father of the Franciscan community, or pater comunitatis, in Latin. Take the first syllable of each word, put them together, and you get the nickname Paco.
Since that summer, I’ve often seen this explanation mentioned as fact in various websites about Spanish names, but couldn’t find any scholarly validation of it. So I turned to the ultimate source, querying the Real Academia Española through its on-line consultation service. Their answer was unabashedly negative:
[The] nickname Pepe comes, in reality, from the Italian Beppe, itself a nickname for Giuseppe….In the case of Paco, none of the data on names that we have at our disposal support the etymology of pater comunitatis.
On a personal note, I now deeply regret that I have often passed this delightful but false etymological tidbit on to my students. Never again…Live and learn.
Wikipedia says that Pepe is based on ‘Josep’, an earlier version of Jose, and closer to the original Joseph.
(Spanish nicknames often are based on the end of names).
I would trust the Real Academia over Wikipedia! But that’s an interesting alternate theory.
Sure, trust la Real academia española, but they’ve only given a negative response: “none of the data on names that we have at our disposal support the etymology of pater comunitatis.” That’s what they have to say until they have something substantive one way or the other. If they had said Paco is from blah blah blah according to Profesor Fulano Mengano who attributes that to blah blah blah, then there’d be reason to believe that pater comunitatis is not the origin of Paco. Until then we should keep an open mind and say we’re not certain about the origin of Paco, but we have heard it’s from pater comunitatis.
Sorry. I goofed. I thought you were talking about Paco, but I see you were talking about Pepe.
Totally agree with the previous paragraph.
La Real Academia Española (REA) has their version, but even though they’re the source that everyone regards as the absolute authority in spanish language, it does not mean any other conclussion is false. Webster dictionary is the most used source in English but there are many others as well which are not readily dismissed as La RAE tends to do.
The Real Academia Española (REA) has their version, but even though they’re the source that everyone regards as the absolute authority in spanish language, it does not mean any other conclussion is false. Webster dictionary is the most used source in English but there are many others as well which are not readily dismissed as La RAE tends to do.
Thank you for your comment, Edward. If you know of a published source that supports the religious etymologies for Pepe and Paco, please share them.
In my view, the most reasonable theory for the nickname Pepe it comes from Italian Peppe, which is a (more reasonable) hypocoristic of the name Giuseppe (other alternative Italian hypocoristics are Beppe and Peppino). By more reasonable I mean that it is a reasonable shortening in child talk.
Less obvious, but equally likely, is that Paco is a hypocoristic derived from Italian name Franco in child talk. Franco is a common version of the name Francesco. Actually, Francesco is a diminutive of Franco. It was the nickname given to Saint Francis (né Giovanni) by his father. It meant ‘little Frenchman’.
I don’t really have a dog in this hunt. The Beppe and Peppe hypotheses are very close, and as you said in your comment a little later, “we will never know for sure” about Pancho. “Franco” meaning “French”, as I’m sure you know, comes from the Germanic tribe, the Franks.
The Italians I know personally shortened Francesco to Checco. That’s about a million miles from Paco!
By the way, another theory I like about the source of Paco, which also accounts for the other hypocoristic of Francisco, namely Pancho, is that they both derive from Pa(n)chico, a child-talk version of Francisco. Panchico would have been reinterpreted as a diminutive, and from there we get the back-formed Pancho. Paco is a bit more of a stretch, but it is not an unreasonable result. But we will never know for sure.
You may want to check the language of Catalonia, i. e. Catala, for clues. Jusep is a common name there and may be closer to Pepe than is Jose. Another name in use in Catalunya (for a man) is Sese, which I was told derives from both Jose and Pepe.
Interesting! If you’re into Catalan, you might want to check out this earlier post about Catalan vocabulary, and two posts (here and here) about the Catalan vs. Castellano controversy in Catalonia. Gracias por visitar mi blog.
What happened to my post about the nickname Pepe being derived from Padre Putativo?
I’m confused. On 2016/05/18 you commented on my post about Pepe NOT being derived from Padre Putativo. What do you mean by “[your] post”?
I am the one who is confused – sorry about that. But people in Barcelona today do indeed maintain that Pepe derives from Padre Putativo. Oh, well.
REA says “[The] nickname Pepe comes, in reality, from the Italian Beppe, itself a nickname for Giuseppe”. maybe that’s true, maybe not. but they also do not seem to give a reason why pepe is tied to jose.
It’s because Giuseppe is Italian for José.
For what it is worth…
I have always understood that Pepe was a nickname for the son of Jose, of which is named after his father (Jose II) the second. Much like ‘Chip’ in English ? (Chip off the old block)
That’s a new one for me and I don’t understand how it explains the form of the word. That is, why is it “Pepe” and not some other sequence of sounds? It’s safest to stick with the RAE explanation, methinks…
Pepe has Latin, Italian & Iberian Castellano (Castilian or Spanish) origins. In Northern Italy, Beppe or Pepe is a pet form of Giuseppe (Joseph) … Giuse-PEPE.
In Latin, Saint Joseph’s name is always followed by the letters “P.P” for Pater Putativus because he is the accepted step father of Jesus. The letter “P” is pronounced “peh” in Spanish, which gave rise to the nickname Pepe for José.
Laura, if you reread the blog post you will see that the Real Academia has debunked the charming Pater Putativus origin story for Pepe.
No offense, but some guy providing a short answer an online inquiry isn’t particularly persuasive, even if he works for a trusted institution. Did the Academia employee provide a citation to someone’s research?
My blog post doesn’t include the RAE’s actual answer to my question. I have copied the full answer below. You will see that it does mention sources (“los repertorios onomásticos que tenemos a nuestra disposición”), though the only one it names is Albaigés (1993):
En relación con su consulta, le remitimos la siguiente información:
Como se indica en la nueva Ortografía de la lengua española, los métodos de formación de los hipocorísticos son muy diversos y van desde el diminutivo regular (Anita) hasta la acronimia (Mabel de MAría IsaBEL), pasando por la abreviación (Nando de Fernando o de Hernando) o la dislocación acentual (Míguel).
A veces, el hipocorístico que tradicionalmente se asocia a un nombre puede no presentar una relación formal aparente con él (Curro, de Francisco; Goyo, de Gregorio), por haber sufrido distintos tipos de transformaciones fonéticas; en otras ocasiones, ambas formas se hallan emparentadas solo de manera indirecta (como ocurre con José, cuyo hipocorístico Pepe proviene, en realidad, del italiano Beppe, a su vez hipocorístico de Giuseppe). En casos como estos, al hablante no avisado le resultará difícil desentrañar el vínculo existente entre ambos.
A menudo es complejo determinar cuál es el origen exacto de la forma del hipocorístico, de manera que los existen teorías contradictorias e hipótesis fácilmente calificables como etimologías populares. En el caso de Paco, ninguno de los repertorios onomásticos que tenemos a nuestra disposición aporta la etimología de pater comunitatis.
Únicamente podemos indicarle que J. M. Albaigés recoge en su Diccionario de nombres de personas:
Paco. Hip. de Francisco por síncope: de Phranciscus a Phacus y de este a Pacus, posiblemente por influencia de Paciaecus.
Reciba un cordial saludo.
At the famous art museum in Madrid, the guide pointed to a Renaissance painting of the Holy Family, and Joseph had a small “PP” next to the painted figure. The guide explained the Pater Putativa meaning. So that is not a myth at all, but an historically accurate derivation of the nickname.
This is cool, but I’d trust the Real Academia Española over the Prado staff as a linguistic authority.
My uncle’s name is, Josepe. We are Galician from La Coruña. We call him Pepe. Never heard it related to anything religious.
The religious angle has been proposed as the historical origin of Pepe. Nobody is claiming that people who use the nickname today have a religious motivation.
Vox Populi Says Pepe derives from Padre Putativo. I prefer to believe Vox Populi Rather Than RAE.
By the way in many latin countries is much more popular Chepe than Pepe and Chico than Paco. Perhaps because many nicknames derives from the way children starting to speak pronouce de words and personnel names.
Excuse me, english is not my mother lenguage and never studied it seriusly.
May I know what textbook you were quoting n your article above, the one that mentions the religious origin of Pepe as derived from pater putativus/padre putativo? Thank you.
I’m sorry, I don’t remember. I didn’t think much of the textbook in general so I abandoned it in Barcelona. If you are really curious you could contact International House, which is a chain of Spanish language schools. The Barcelona branch is now closed but they probably all use the same textbooks.
Perhaps there are more issues to debate. Just be happy to remember Paco = Francisco, Pepe = José.
There are many levels at which to enjoy a language! For me, knowing word origins (including doubts) adds extra spice at many levels, including vocabulary.
How did Jose Luis become Chema in Basque?
Do we have any clues on how Joseph became Italian Giuseppe? Couldn’t this “…eppe” come from P.P. and not the other way around? As I don’t see any P in the Joseph Hebrew origin.
– absolute stranger
I don’t have a deep knowledge of the history of Italian, but the /p/ makes sense to me as a linguist because it is closely related to /f/. Both sounds are produced at the very front of the mouth, and both are voiceless consonants (their voiced counterparts are /b/ and /v/). In fact, in Hebrew /p/ and /f/ are spelled with the same letter, except that for /p/ a dot is added to indicate that the sound is a ‘hard’ consonant.
In this day and age, some people are afraid to use religious references in fear of offending someone. To me, the first explanation makes sense because it seems to have a meaningful basis. The REA explanation sounds like something someone made up due to fear or ignorance. Under whose authority is that one derived? I choose to use the explanation that makes logical sense the religious one. OMG, did I just admit that aloud? Yes! Fear not!