Batman is running for office in the Brazilian city of Uberlandia. Not one, but two James Bonds are seeking city council seats in Ponta Grossa and Birigui. Elsewhere in Brazil, voters are being urged to cast ballots for candidates with names like Daniel the Cuckold and Elvis Didn’t Die.
Brazil has nurtured one of the world’s most vibrant democracies since its military dictatorship ended in 1985. As campaigning for municipal elections next month intensifies, this vitality is evident on the ballots, which reflect Brazil’s remarkably loose restrictions on what candidates can call themselves.
Ballots are filled with superhero names (five Batmans are running this year), mangled versions of US television characters (like the Macgaiver running in Espirito Santo state, inspired by the MacGyver secret agent series), and an array of raunchy nicknames.
“It’s a marketing strategy, a political program, because if I said Geraldo Custodio, no one was going to recognize me,” said Geraldo Custodio, 38, a teacher of driver’s education who is running for city council with the name Geraldo Wolverine in Piracicaba.
Custodio said he had gotten the nickname of Wolverine, after the Marvel comics character, when he tried out for the reality television show Big Brother Brazil. He did not make it on the show, but the sideburns he adopted, along with his big build, made the nickname stick. He now campaigns with long metal talons. One of his ads says, “Vote for the guy who has claws!”
Creatively named candidates with talons might raise eyebrows elsewhere, but Brazil is a proudly relaxed country when it comes to the names of its politicians.
Consider Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff, almost universally referred to by her first name. Her immediate predecessor incorporated his childhood nickname, Lula (“squid”), into his full name, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Calling him da Silva in Brazil raises hackles.
Some candidates in local elections jump on the bandwagon of a well-known politician, explaining, perhaps, why dozens of candidates across Brazil named Luiz or Luis have incorporated “Lula” into their own campaign names. Then there are the hat tips to overseas personages, reflected in the 16 Obamas running in Brazil this year. Popular culture and religion also inspire: Ladi Gaga (sic) is running in Santo Andre, in the Sao Paulo area.
There are some limits to the names Brazilians can choose when running for office. The law stipulates that the names chosen should correspond to the candidates’ nicknames or how they are commonly referred to.
Judges in some cities have had enough of some especially bizarre or vulgar-sounding election names, issuing injunctions to keep them off ballots.
Such names may attract attention in a complex political system with more than 20 parties of various ideological stripes, but seasoned electoral strategists say they seem to offer little more than a sideshow in many races.
“I don’t know if I would advise my clients to do it,” said Justino Pereira, a political consultant in Sao Paulo who has advised numerous candidates in municipal elections.
Pereira said candidates were particularly inspired after another clown popular on television under the stage name Tiririca, which roughly translates as “Grumpy,” won a seat in Brazil’s Congress.
Of course, some candidates in a country with such a whimsical approach to names have no need to resort to wild nicknames. These aspirants for office already have colorful names bestowed by their parents, reflecting the attention paid in the past in Brazil to some foreign political figures.