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The Story Of How Edson Arantes do Nascimento Became Known As Pelé

A few tumors and a urinary infection have forced Pelé to visit the hospital a few times this year. Being 81 years old, the concerns about his health are the subject of press articles everywhere, and in reading them, the other day, a question came to mind: how and when did Edson Arantes do Nascimento start to be known as Pelé?

Why Pelé is called Pelé?

Yeah, as you read in the last paragraph, Pelé's name is not Pelé, but Edson Arantes do Nascimento. The fact is well known, but I wasn't aware the decision to name him Edson was to honor the sneaky patent hoarder and wrongly credited inventor of the light bulb, Thomas Edison. 

“I was named Edson, after Thomas Edison, because electricity had just been introduced to my hometown in Brazil when I was born," Pelé said on Twitter a few years ago. 

But why Pelé? Pelé himself told the story in an article titled “From Edson to Pele: my changing identity,” published by The Guardian in 2006.

In the text, he denies the stories about Pelé being the Gaelic word for football or the mangled Portuguese of a Turkish immigrant yelling “the foot, stupid!” at him after a handball.

No, according to the soccer legend, the nickname is linked to a teammate of his father when he played for Vasco de Sao Lourenco, a goalkeeper named Bilé. 

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“When I was three or four, my father, Dondinho, would take me along to Vasco training sessions,” Pelé wrote. “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!’”

Since he was a small kid, the pronunciation was a little off and sounded more like Pilé.

“When we moved to Bauru, this ‘Pilé’ became ‘Pele.’” the three-time World Cup champion said. “Either I changed it myself or — according to my uncle Jorge — it was because of my thick Minas Gerais accent.”

In the beginning, though, Edson wasn’t fond of the nickname. He even fought those who dared to call him Pelé.

“On one occasion, I punched a classmate because of it and earned a two-day suspension,” he confessed.

But the angrier he became, the more kids would call him Pelé until he eventually embraced it. And who knew what a legend he would become. 

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Fun fact? Pelé wasn't the only nickname in his life. When he was a kid, his family usually called him Dico. And when he played for Santos, he was briefly known as Gasolina, after a Brazilian singer. Luckily, it didn't stick.

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