‘What’s In A Name?’ or ‘You Say Potato I say Pituka’

//‘What’s In A Name?’ or ‘You Say Potato I say Pituka’

‘What’s In A Name?’ or ‘You Say Potato I say Pituka’


Brett. Not the most common name but prolific enough that I’ve met a few personally. Ironically though it means “man from Britain” although not many Brits are named Brett. Now Pituka, that’s a different one. As far as I know my family is the only Pitukas in the Edmonton phone book although there are probably a few in Poland where the name originated. Rightly enough I got teased about my name when I was a child, things like “Pituka Bazooka” or “Pitooks” and the most recent “kooky Pituky” but that was nothing compared to what I was to face once I started traveling.

I made my way through Guatemala introducing my self as Brett but received many funny looks which told me that people there had never heard of such a medley of consonants amongst the Pedros, Miguels, and Juans. It was when I began volunteering in Nicaragua and received my first response of “bread…like what you eat!?” that I knew something had to change. I couldn’t walk into schools and villages and introduce myself as an edible delight and expect to be taken seriously. I know if someone came to my class when I was 10 and told me their name was soup or pancake that I would laugh and start making fun of them with my friends. I though of an ingenuous plan – take on a Latin name – and the first one that came to my mind was Hernandez. So just like that I was to be known as Hernandez. Little did I know this would cause more eruption of laughter as not many caucasian foreigners (Gringos) who could barely speak Spanish were known solely by a Latin surname. On hindsight I could have chosen a better name so when I went to South America I thought I would overcome the comedy show and call myself Fernando. I was wrong. “Fernando, but that’s a Latino name…ha ha ha…Fernando…” was what I received every time I introduce myself. Fortunately this worked as a great ice breaker which helped me to make friends quickly. At this point I thought I was pretty clever and was happy being in on the joke but when I was asked of my surname I was laughed at instead of with. In the Peruvian amazon Pituka refers to a semi-arrogant suave man who is well dressed and knows it. Calls of “oooh que pituka” or “ooh la la how pituka” as people arranged an invisible bow tie or fixed non existent cuff links was the normal response. The funniest thing was seeing the depiction of ‘a pituka’ on a local soap opera which was paired with an equally cringe worthy music video whose song haunted me months. Even though this was truly hilarious I laughed even harder when in Ecuador I was told Pituka meant “a funny looking potato”. Don’t ask me how a Polish surname became a colloquial term for a root vegetable, or why they even have a slang for an odd spud, but there I was in the thick of it once again the centre of attention. Fernando Pituka, the quasi latin ultra fashionable yet silly looking tattie…Yup that’s me.

Now I’m in India and once again the hard sounding ‘r’ is novel to the native speaker’s ears so I find myself in the same position. Just the other day I was engaged in a great conversation with a young Hindu boy who responded to my introduction with “bread…like the food”? I explained to him my recurrent problem and through his laugher he suggested a better, Indian sounding name: Barfi. He explained the name as an Indian sweet name which everyone would know. I felt honored to be anointed with a new identity, especially since it was from a local rather than simply something I thought sounded good. I went to bed happy that my plight may not haunt me in this new country and was excited to tell my other Indian friends of the name. Well, the laughter continued. I was soon told that “Barfi” is the name of a local candy, so in translation I was introducing myself as “M & Ms” or “Twix”…yup the boy was right the name is a common sweet name, that is of a sweet (my fault for lack of comprehension). Sarah thought this was hilarious and told the next family we met of my new name only to receive the response “ha ha and what’s her name, Slim Jim”; finally the joke was on her too (Sarah the most universally lovely name in all languages).

So what’s a guy to do? Should I be Prabu, Gurdeep, or Vikram? Or should I stay true to my actual identity and be known as the walking loaf of flour, yeast and water? Maybe I should just adopt the Indian version and call myself “Nan”, “Roti”, or “Chapati”. Either way the laughs will come and will be at my expense. At least I find it just as comical as they do.

This leads me to this week’s question:

Do you have a nick-name and if so how did you get it? or Have you ever been involved in giving someone a nick-name?

The story goes on…

by: Brett Bread Hernandez Fernando Barfi Pituka ????

2012-10-26T08:43:21+00:00 October 26th, 2012|Travel|


  1. Vicky October 30, 2012 at 8:07 am - Reply

    Barfi brett, love it :). I was known as biki throughout south america, not very exciting really! I’m glad you guys have a blog, looking forward to reading about all your adventures xxx

    • brett October 30, 2012 at 9:16 am - Reply

      Biki, that’s also short for cookie…want some tea with that? Thanks for the comment!

  2. Shelby Bourassa October 30, 2012 at 10:21 am - Reply

    I think you should just be Brett where ever you go! It’s your name no matter the numerous ways people find to poke fun at it.

    I have many many nicknames. Some were given to me by you . . . I in return have given you nicknames. I take full credit for “Kooky Pituky” and when I hear “Marcy Pricey” I will forever know I’m being summoned by my dear friend.

    I’ll be curious to see what we’ll be calling each other in the next 20 years!

    • brett October 31, 2012 at 3:11 am - Reply

      We’ve got a whole new set of ammo now that you’re Bourassa hey Bouraselot?

  3. Kim October 30, 2012 at 11:13 am - Reply

    Hi Sarah and Brett! Thank you very much for taking the time to blog about your adventures! I think you should keep Brett (aka Bread). It suits you: warm, sometimes soft, can be dressed up with various toppings, sometimes crusty hahaha (teasing). My nickname, although only a select few know it and use it…Mitch. Michele is my middle name and that is how Mitch came to be.

    • brett October 31, 2012 at 3:08 am - Reply

      Crusty but never stale! Thanks Mitch, or should we keep that a secret?

  4. mom (Bonnie, actually Bonita) October 30, 2012 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    Little did Grandma and Grandpa Pakan know when they named me that it would fit better in so many countries in the world better than it fits in Canada. Needless to say, I have no problems getting into Mexico!! Try telling people your Polish last name before your ancestors immigrated into Canada – Pitula – you may be getting better results than being a good looking potatoe. I have had two nick names over the years, one was from Grandpa Pakan when I was little, which was cockroach, since whenever he was home (he worked shift work so I did not see him much) I would be crawling all over him for attention. Later when I was in high school I was known as Pochahontas since I had such long hair and usually wore it in braids, with a darker complexion, it did look like I had some aboriginal in me, even though the coloring came from the Ukrainian side. Glad things are going well with you two, I miss you both lots and lots

    • brett October 31, 2012 at 2:53 am - Reply

      In Spanish Bonita means “Beautiful” and so was Pocahontas, so that rules out cockroach. Thanks for the well wishes, talk soon.

  5. wilma goldie findlay October 31, 2012 at 10:11 am - Reply

    well as you can see there is plenty scope for name calling at school it was goldielocks and I think this was tongue in cheek as I had the furthest thing from golden locks with dark thick wirey curly hair, then I was called flintstone then it changed to wilma the witch and being born on halloween did not help but I married into the findlay name and now name calling or nick names have run out so it is plain old wilma findlay which is good with me.

    • sarah November 3, 2012 at 8:47 am - Reply

      Wilma the witch! Haha, I won a completion at bellfield library for name the witch, a box of chocolates which I’m sure I shared????.
      You also gave me the name wee hen, thanks thats a nice one.

  6. Marj meiers November 3, 2012 at 1:54 pm - Reply

    I too have a couple of nicknames and strange they are! My dad, Terry as you know him, has always called me “hutchie baby” not sure how to spell it and also, no clue where it came from? Guess I’ll have to ask him that one day soon. My other most common and frequently used nickname is “foufie or fouf.”my brother Andy gave me that one when he was little and couldn’t say Marjie-Lou so he shortened that to Lou Lou which came out as Fou Fou and I’ve been Fouf, Foufie or Foufie Lou ever since!

    • brett November 6, 2012 at 5:35 am - Reply

      It’s funny how some nick names just seem to appear without cause, however I can understand the progression to Foufie (which sounds quite french…oooh la la mademoiselle Fou Fou) 🙂

  7. Paz November 12, 2012 at 6:47 pm - Reply

    I was called smash for a few years after i smashed three cars in a row at the same time when i worked as a hotel valet .. How was i supposed to know the first gear was backwards on that car ???the other cars were just parked too close!!!

    • sarah November 12, 2012 at 10:55 pm - Reply

      Yeah it’s their fault not yours! Hope it wasn’t a Maserati…

  8. Trevor November 13, 2012 at 12:05 am - Reply

    Keep going with Barf, then you could be Barf Pukea, that would be great! Or just go with Trevor. It’s globally known and renowned as only given to the most handsome, noble, well built, debonair, intelligent men in all the lands! You can use it in your travels if you want. Its never let me down (probably cause I’ve never failed to live up to the legend of the name). It’s my gift to you! Enjoy!

    • brett November 13, 2012 at 9:33 am - Reply

      Trevor eh, I think that will probably come out as teebor…sure sounds like a handsome debonair gentleman. Maybe it can be shortened down to Teebs to make things easier. That’s what I’ll call you now…my intelligent brother Teebs!

  9. Vincent January 6, 2013 at 5:45 pm - Reply

    For me, Vincent has been rather universal so far: Vincent (French), Vincent/Vince/Vinny (English), Vicente (Spanish), Vicenzo (Italian). But I’d be curious to know how Indians would pronounce my name! Bincent?

    • brett January 10, 2013 at 3:35 am - Reply

      Yes Vin, you have a very easy name to contract…even the simple ‘V’ sounds good. As far as India goes you’re right on the money Binny:)

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