Wilson Gray hwgray at EARTHLINK.NET
Fri Jul 16 02:27:49 UTC 2004

It's generally supposed that the African traditions of Cuba, including
santeria, are based upon the Yoruba traditions of Nigeria and not those
of Senegal. Of course, you never know, given that black Americans use
"going to Jenegal" - where "Jenegal" is clearly based upon "Senegal" -
to mean "going to West Hell/the back of Beyond/etc." and survivals of
African traditions are trivial in the US. In any case, Mongo told me
himself that his nom-de-musique was a nickname for "Ramon." Of course,
that doesn't make it true. People don't always wish to explain
themselves to strangers and it's easier to say "It's a nickname" than
to give a full, unnecessary explanation to an idle question from a
nightclub patron.

I first saw Mongo in person in 1958 in a little club in L.A. so tiny
that he and I were less than an arm's-length apart. At that time, he
was the conguero for Cal Tjader's conjunto. During the intermission, my
friends and I, who grew up in Saint Louis, struck up a conversation
with Tjader, who was a native of Saint Louis, and the other guys,
Mongo, Willie Bobo, the timbalero, and Al McKibbon, the bassist.

In any case, it's not always possible to document a nickname,
especially one that may be peculiar to a minority group or perhaps just
to a particular family.

-Wilson Gray

On Jul 15, 2004, at 5:39 PM, Dennis R. Preston wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Dennis R. Preston" <preston at MSU.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: Mongo
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --------
> Several jazz histories say that Ramon Santamaria's father nicknamed
> him "Mongo" after a Senegalese Chief. "Mongo" is indeed a West
> African name, and African traditions are quite strong in Cuba. Is the
> derivation of "Mongo" from "Ramon" (based on the phonology of the
> last syllable, indeed accurate for Cuban Spanish) attested?
> dInIs
>> On Jul 15, 2004, at 3:29 PM, Barnhart wrote:
>>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
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>>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>> Poster:       Barnhart <barnhart at HIGHLANDS.COM>
>>> Subject:      Re: Mongo
>>> ---------------------------------------------------------------------
>>> --
>>> --------
>>> Page Stephens <hpst at> on Thursday, July 15, 2004 at 1:35
>>> PM
>>> -0500 wrote:
>>>> PS I do not have any idea where he got his name.
>>> Or, when???
>> Probably at birth. "Mongo" is one of several possible Cuban-Spanish
>> nicknames based upon the the standard name, "Ramon," pronounced
>> approximately [rra-MOANG], hence [MOANG-go].
>> -Wilson Gray
> --
> Dennis R. Preston
> University Distinguished Professor of Linguistics
> Department of Linguistics and Germanic, Slavic, Asian, and African
> Languages
> A-740 Wells Hall
> Michigan State University
> East Lansing, MI 48824
> Phone: (517) 432-3099
> Fax: (517) 432-2736
> preston at

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