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Travel

The Panamanian Village Where Kids Are Named After Dictators

I spoke to a guy called Hitler who used to go out with a girl named Lenin.

by Alejandro Serrano
19 March 2014, 7:00am

Hitler visits Washington, DC

Hitler Cigarruista is the director of The Capital, Panama's largest financial newspaper. He's also called Hitler, which is partly to do with the fact he was born in a village called La Villa de Los Santos, where parents are fond of naming their children after brutal, murderous dictators.

Names like Caesar Augustus and Julius Caesar used to be popular, but somewhere along the way the ancient historical figures gave way to more recent figureheads of war and death, and people began calling their kids stuff like Hitler, Lenin, Fidel and Stalin.

I visited Hitler in his office to talk about the naming tradition in his hometown.

VICE: Hi Hitler. So how did this naming tradition begin in your village?
Hitler:
I really don’t know. The tradition used to be naming people after the saint whose day it was on the day they were born. So I think the idea was that, by being named after such great people, somehow you could also inherit their qualities and be successful. I guess it was also about showing one’s political or ideological affiliations.

There is certain amount of racism in Los Santos – despite the African origin of many of our traditions and folk dances – and it's expressed through names like Hitler. My best friend’s father, for example, who was a member of the Communist Party, named his youngest daughter Lenia [Lenin], and we even dated! Our relationship didn't succeed, but we’re good friends today.

Hitler with some bananas

How has being called Hitler affected your life?
Being named Hitler hasn't been easy. Everyone who meets me for the first time says the same thing: "I hope you’re not as bad as the German Hitler!" 

I don’t recall having any problems as a kid. People joked about it or criticised my father, but I wasn’t aware of it until I turned eight and was baptised. The priest refused to name me Hitler and demanded that a Christian name be used before that one. Since my father didn’t accept that, the priest chose the name José, so my baptismal name is José Hitler Cigarruista.

In secondary school, my main extracurricular activity was sports – I did gymnastics and became national champion in the children’s category, junior national coach and absolute national coach. Names weren't important in that world. However, my father’s ideological view became obvious when I was granted a sports scholarship to practice gymnastics in Cuba and he rejected it, arguing that, if I travelled to Cuba, I could end up becoming a communist.

So your father was a fascist?
My father always said that he chose that name to show people there could be someone named Hitler who was a good person. I often heard him say the world would have been a better place if the Germans had won the war, since there would be “order and discipline”.

Trouble began for me when I became interested in politics. I studied at Panama’s National Institute, AKA “The Eagle’s Nest” [in reference to Hitler’s refuge in the Alps], because of its permanent struggle to regain national sovereignty. As a response to that, I joined quite a radical leftist political student organisation. My education and thinking evolved quickly and I soon became a leader. The organisation was called Movimiento Estudiantil Revolucionario (Revolutionary Student Movement).



You mentioned that most digital platforms won’t let you use your real name. Have you ever tried to submit a complaint about that, or have you just given up?
That’s right. On Google, for example, I can’t write my real name, so I have to use José or Carlos, which are the ones I normally use to introduce myself. The newspaper I direct, though, features my real name – Hitler Cigarruista.

There are some more people from your village called Hitler, and others called Stalin. How do they get on?
They’re the closest of friends. There’s no conflict between Coca-Cola and Pepsi or Nero and Caligula in La Villa de Los Santos – everyone gets along.

Are people aware of their names? Or do they just assume it's normal?
People are aware of their names, but also nowadays assume it's normal. They don’t really worry or feel ashamed about it.

Great. Thanks, Hitler!