If you look up the word “compadre” in the dictionary, you will find two definitions which may seem at odds with each other: a close friend, and the godfather of someone’s child. Sounds confusing? If you know a bit about Hispanic culture, these two definitions make perfect sense.
Since the majority of people in Latin America are Catholic (at least culturally, if not religiously), certain aspects of this Hispanic religion have become such a part of the culture that they transcend the religious context. One of these is the concept of compadrazgo (“co-parenthood”), or the relationship between a parent and the godparents of his or her child.
Compadre: A Commitment for Life
For a Catholic family, choosing a godfather (padrino) and godmother (madrino) for their child’s baptism is a very big deal.
The compadrazgo is more than just standing in front of the church on the day of the ceremony, it is a commitment for the life of the child and of the parents.
The words “compadre” (co-father, or the godfather of my child) and “comadre” (co-mother, or the godmother of my child) literally reflect the intention of godparents to assist in raising the child and, should something happen to the parents, to take responsibility for him or her.
Compadres and comadres also are taking on the responsibility of making sure that the child is raised Catholic.
Being a compadre is an honor that is only bestowed on someone that the parents trust, respect, and want to have as part of their lives. This generally means that this person is a close friend; if not, it means that they will become so.
Perhaps most interestingly for a non-Catholic is the fact that at the time of baptism you form two sets of relationships: one between the child and the godparents (padrinos), and one between the two sets of parents (compadres).
This close relationship has since been reflected in the use of compadre to refer to a good friend. You can even use it to refer to the intense friendships that arise between soldiers during war. Eventually, it also has come to be used as a general term for friend, especially amongst Hispanics in the United States.
What Defines a Compadre?
The compadrazgo is considered one of the closest and most significant bonds in Hispanic culture. In fact, some suggest that the relationship between the parents and godparents is even stronger than that of the godparents and their godchild.
Keep in contact with each other
The word comadrear (from comadre) means “to gossip,” likely due to the godmother and the child’s mother having a close relationship and tending to be in close contact.
Not only Latin comadres had this strong relationship: the word “gossip,” in fact, comes from “god-sib” (as in, god-sibling) and is a 12th century holdover from Catholic England.
Treat each other with respect
In certain parts of Latin America, compadres even switch from the informal “tú” form to the formal “usted” form, as a sign of respect after the ritual of baptism.
So if a Hispanic friend asks you to be a compadre or comadre, take it as both a big compliment and a big commitment.