The Meaning of Chamaco: What It Is and How To Use It

This guide will provide all of the information you need on the Spanish word chamaco, including its translation, origin, synonyms, and more! With this article you can learn new words – or nuevas palabras – fast!

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What does the word chamaco mean in Spanish?

The words chamaco and chamaca are Spanish words that most often mean “kid” or “youngster.” Chamaco refers to a male child while chamaca refers to a female child. This is most often seen in the Carribean, Central America, and Mexico, according to Spanish Dict. In Mexico and Puerto Rico, the term can also mean boyfriend or girlfriend. Finally, solely in Mexico, the words chamaco and chamaca mean son or daughter. 

These are colloquial terms used to refer to others. According to Urban Dictionary, the term can have a slightly negative connotation, and be slang for a brat. These words can be seen in many different Spanish-speaking countries like Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Argentina, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and more.

What is the etymology of the Spanish word chamaco?

According to David Bowles, the word chamaco originated with the Nahuatl verb chamāhua, which referred to a child growing up or filling out. This word was also used to describe maturing maize or cacao plants. Both chamaco and chamaca come from the adjective forms of this verb from this Aztec language from southern Mexico and Central America, chamactic and chamāhuac. These both mean a “big boy” and are used as terms of endearment, often by older relatives who think a younger relative is adorable.

Etimologias De Chile states that it is likely that chamaco and its Nahuatl roots come from a Mayan origin. They postulate that it came from the Mayan chan, meaning “small,” couples with máak, meaning “man.” Due to trade with the Mayans, the Pochtecas could have adopted this word and brought it to Anahuac. From there, Spanish speakers could have adopted it into the word chamaco. They believe the Nahuatl may have pronounced the word chamaco as chanmaak.

What are Spanish synonyms or similar phrases for the word chamaco?

Since there are multiple different meanings of the word chamaco, one must look and multiple different sets of Spanish synonyms. When referring to a child, one can use any of the following words as a synonym for chamaco per Spanish Dict. Many of these have masculine and feminine forms, which are listed below.

  • El niño (m), la niña (f)
  • El chico (m), la chica (f)
  • El muchacho (m), la muchacha (f)
  • El chamo (m), la chama (f) – Venezuela
  • El nene (m), la nena (f) – Latin America
  • El escuincle (m), la escuincla (f) – México 
  • El pibe (m), la pibe (f) – Bolivia, Argentina
  • El guagua (m), la guagua (g) – Ecuador
  • El chaval (m), la chavala (f) – Spain

To refer to someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend, Spanish Dict states that one can use any of the following.

  • El novio (m), la novia (f)
  • El pololo (m), la polola (f) – Chile
  • El jevo (m) – Andes, Caribbean, Central America

When referring to a son or daughter, the most common translations are “hijo” and “hija,” according to Spanish Dict.

When traveling, one should be wary of using colloquialisms or local phrases that are not said wherever they are. Similarly to the United States versus other English speaking countries, Spanish speaking countries do not all have the same slang terms. Always consult other sources before using a colloquialism that may not be present in local vernacular. 

How can chamaco be used in a sentence?

Chamaco has three possible definitions, and therefore can be used in three different ways. The first simply means “kid” or “youngster.” In this first example, an older aunt greets her young nephew at a party. She is excited to see him.

Tía: ¡Javier! Ha pasado mucho tiempo. ¿Cuántos años tienes?

(English: Aunt: Javier! It has been a long time. How old are you?)

Javier: Tengo cuatros años, tía.

(English: Javier: I’m four years old, auntie.)

Tía: Ah, mi chamaco grande.

(English: Aunt: Ah, my big boy.)

Next, the word can be used to mean boyfriend or girlfriend. At the same party, the aunt asks her niece about her boyfriend.

Tía: Estrella, ¿dónde está tu chamaco?

(English: Aunt: Estrella, where is your boyfriend?)

Estrella: Ah, tía, hoy no puede venir. Necesita estudiar para sus exámenes.

(English: Estrella: Ah, auntie, he can’t come today. He needs to study for his exams.)

Tía: Ah, un chico inteligente. ¡No puedes perder a ese hombre!

(English: Aunt: Ah, a smart boy. You can’t lose that man!)

Finally, the words chamaco and chamaca can mean son or daughter. At the same party, the aunt’s brother introduces her to his new baby.

Padre: ¿Lista para conocer a mi nueva chamaca?

(English: Dad: Ready to meet my new daughter?

Tía: ¡Ah, sí, sí! Dame la bebé. Que linda.

(English: Aunt: Oh, yes, yes! Give me the baby. How beautiful.)

The words chamaco and chamaca can be used in many different ways. One should be able to understand which of these meanings one is using based on context, similarly to English words that have multiple meanings.

Overall, the words chamaco and chamaca mean “kid” in Spanish. This phrase is most commonly seen in the Carribean, Central America, and Mexico. The phrase can also be used to mean boyfriend or girlfriend, or to refer to a son or daughter. It is likely that the phrase comes from the Nahuatl language, an Aztec language form southern Mexico and Central America. 

Sources:

  1. https://www.spanishdict.com/translate/chamaco
  2. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=chamaco
  3. https://davidbowles.medium.com/mexican-x-plainer-a-brat-by-any-other-name-b13f4114f2c3#:~:text=Here’s%20another%3A%20chamaco%2C%20my%20dad’s,how%20maize%20or%20cacao%20developed.
  4. http://etimologias.dechile.net/?chamaco
  5. https://www.spanishdict.com/translate/kid
  6. https://www.spanishdict.com/translate/boyfriend
  7. https://www.spanishdict.com/translate/son?langFrom=en
  8. https://www.spanishdict.com/translate/daughter
  9. https://www.spanishdict.com/translate/girlfriend