From German Kevins to the six hundred Brazilians called Lineker: the bizarre history of football-inspired names

Gary Lineker

Can a moniker make or break a career? How did Mighty Mouse become the father of all German Kevins? Huw Davies uncovers the game’s bizarre and at times baffling nomenclature

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English footballers are not sexy. That’s not to say they’re an uglier breed than their foreign counterparts, but while exotic imports impact English culture, from David Ginola hijacking TV schedules with L’Oreal commercials to Paul Pogba collaborating with Croydon-born grime artist Stormzy 20 years later, the favour isn’t returned. You can’t imagine football fanatics in Brazil naming their offspring after a jug-eared tap-in merchant such as Gary Lineker, can you?

Well, actually, there are 606 Brazilians called Lineker. All were born from the 1980s onwards. Lineker is the 5,511th-most popular name in Brazil, and while that doesn’t sound like very much, it’s an Anglo-Saxon surname meaning ‘flax-grower’ being used as a given name in a Portuguese-speaking country. The finest striker to come out of Leicester – sit down, Emile – inadvertently lent his family name to hundreds of Brazilians, both male and female, from a genderqueer pop star to the son of Inter’s Felipe Melo.

And they play football, too. Goias-based outfit Aparecidense have a midfielder named Liniker, while 23-year-old spelling abomination Lynneeker plays in Albania. Meanwhile, the Pinheirense midfielder Lineker Augusto tells FFT, “I once played against a guy called Liniker. Reporters were asking if we were cousins.”

Gary Lineker

We're assuming this kid just liked Gary, but perhaps he was a fellow Lineker?

But it’s not just Gary Lineker who brought a European name to the sport’s most successful nation. The Brazilian game also has, among others, a Raikard, a Rudigullithi and even a Charles Miller, in homage to the father of football in the country. The child who once inspired Bebeto’s baby-rocking goal celebration during the 1994 World Cup is named Mattheus, after Lothar; he’s now 22 and playing for Estoril in Portugal’s top tier. Yes, you are that old.

Inspiration or curse?

The rest of the footballing world reciprocates. Radamel Falcao was so called after the Brazilian Falcao, American frontman Edson Buddle borrows his name from Pele’s full name – his father thought that just calling him ‘Pele’ would invite too much pressure – and South Africa’s youngest-ever player is one Rivaldo Coetzee, who was born shortly after Brazil won bronze at the 1996 Olympics and christened Rivaldo Roberto Genino Coetzee in honour of three members of their squad (Genino being Middlesbrough’s Juninho).

Kevin Keegan’s switch to Hamburg in 1977 kick-started a trend for German Kevins that would eventually end when the name became synonymous with academic under-achievement

And it’s not just Brazilians and future professionals who are being named after famous footballers. All over the world, parents sign birth certificates while replaying goals in their head, setting their child on a path to either inspiration or humiliation. Kevin Keegan’s switch to Hamburg in 1977 kick-started a trend for German Kevins that would eventually end when the name became synonymous with academic under-achievement some 20 years later.

Are these unsuspecting souls destined to live in their namesakes’ shadows for the rest of their days? Or is greatness being thrust upon them? After all, what really is in a name?

Naming children after public figures, celebrities and even fictional characters is not a new phenomenon. Game of Thrones might be responsible for the rise in babies called Arya (280 newborns were registered as such across England and Wales in 2015), Khaleesi (68) and Tyrion (14), but Wendy caught on only during the 1950s and ’60s after Disney’s adaptation of Peter Pan.