Names are important. Expectant parents sometimes agonize over the decision. Books of baby names suddenly become worth buying. Like it or not, our names are a huge part of our identity. Our names are used daily. But, like most things, finding the perfect name is subjective. What one parent might consider the perfect name, another may find odd. Uncommon, hard to pronounce, or perhaps in a language other than English, all names are a window to our families, our history, and our diverse ethnicities. When I say a name of a child incorrectly, I always try to have them help me with it so I can, hopefully, pronounce it correctly. I want him/her to be proud of his/her name and not cringe or look down when asked what it is. I’ve seen that happen all too often. When you hear a name that may be unusual to you, remember that it is special to that person. I remember the line from Shakespeare: “Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?” Perhaps, but it is its rightful name.
I always hated my name as a child. It was a very common, ordinary Mexican name that, in its shortened version, people still always want to change. Sometimes they asked; sometimes they just changed it. I hated that, but I was years from finding my voice to object. I remember the first day of Kindergarten, when I looked all around the room to find my name on my desk. I was looking so forward to finally having my full first name correct, and I could, at five years old, move on with my life feeling good about my name. But, alas, when I could not find my name on a desk, I asked my teacher for help. She looked at me confused. “Don’t you know how to spell your name?” She escorted me over to a desk with that dreaded shortened version and smiled. “I know that you have two first names, but the whole thing is sooo long, so I just put the first part.” I felt like crying, but what could I do? My mother was no help because she, too, was too timid to tell the teacher that she had made a mistake. I sat down and so began 13 years of people calling me THAT name. One of the many reasons I couldn’t wait to go to college was that I could finally clear up that whole name thing. Whew! I still cringe when people ask to shorten my name, but now I have the strength to tell them, “No.” I quickly correct people when they change it. I know my name, thank you very much.
When I got married, I almost did not change my last name. I had established credit and legal affairs under my maiden name. Another reason I resisted: I didn’t want to give up my Hispanic surname. My last name, like all our last names, carries the story of my family and ancestors. So I compromised by becoming one of those hyphenated last name people. Sometimes I regret it. It can get complicated with two last names. People don’t know how to file your name at the doctor’s office; people don’t know how to address invitations to include my husband and myself. But, ultimately, I am thankful for my full, long, complicated, Hispanic name.
When it was time to name my children, I had more than a slight trepidation of choosing the right name. With the first born, we chose not to know the sex beforehand, so we had to choose a name for both a girl and a boy. Again, I wanted names that were meaningful and still nice sounding. For a boy name, we chose the first name of my husband’s late brother and the middle name of his Venezuelan grandfather. The girl name chosen was a Hispanic first name that I had fallen in love with the moment I first heard it when I moved to San Antonio. We could not agree on a middle name for a girl, so thank goodness, we had a boy!
When I was pregnant with my second child, we did find out the sex of the child—we wanted to be prepared! Once we found out it was a girl, we went back to our original first name choice. But we still had the task of finding a middle name. We had to find a name that was a family name or had meaning to us in some way. I searched for names by asking my mother and my mother-in-law. Neither Lillian, Maximina, nor Francisca were cutting it (no offense to all the Lillians, Franciscas and Maximinas of the world). Teresa was the name of one of my grandmothers, but I had too many family members who had already used that one. So we settled for a simple Indian name to give homage to my husband’s Indian background.
Whatever name you were given and whatever name you give to your children, it has a story—and that story will be part of its owner’s story. Some names may be beautiful names or family names; sometimes there may be a funny story behind a name. I know a few of those stories, too! Whether or not you have an easy name to pronounce or spell, your name is a big part of you. Take the time to recognize the diversity and uniqueness that comes with it. Tell your children the story of theirs. They might not like their name, but in the telling of their name-story they may learn to grow into it and, ultimately, own it.