Beautiful-but-Spiny Latin Names
When I lived in Madrid, my name was even longer than it is now- my mother’s last name tacked on the back. Every child’s name a miniature family tree. Roll call took much longer there. Every morning, I’d listen to the names of the thirty nine other girls in my class and each one seemed like part inheritance, part invocation for the future.
After I moved to the US, roll call became a little more tramautic as I had the only unusual name in my class. My first name, which I love in its entirety, got shortened to Vi (sometimes pronounced “Vee” other times “Vye”). Sometimes, I wanted to not come when I was called, because I didn’t feel they were calling me.
Then, and still now, sometimes, it can be awkward teaching people to say my name. After two failed attempts it’s usually a sign of further trouble. Either they really want to get it but can’t hear the right pronounciation… or they could care less. I actually had someone (a customer service person, no less!), when she finally got my name right, grumble, “I’m sorry I asked!”
Another woman, a neighbor, upon the 8th different occassion she asked for my name, finally shook her head and said, “Sorry, I just can’t remember foreign names. I’ll just yell ‘Hey!’ if I need to get your attention.” I wanted to think she was rude, or a ditz, but she could have been just being honest. Though names in general don’t give me trouble, it’s true that I can remember Spanish-sounding names much better. Maybe it’s just what you grow up with.
I could have made it easier on those around me- one of the benefits of marrying my American-born husband. But by the time we married, my beautiful-but-spiny name was something I’d grown inextricably attached to. It was slightly controversial that I didn’t- refused- to change my name when I got married. Not with my husband, but with a few other, and mostly older relatives. The jangle of el qué dirán: Don’t you want people to know that you’re together? What about your children? You won’t have the same last name as them!
Writer Barbara Kingsolver has a poem called “Naming Myself” in her bilingual poetry collection Another America/Otra America (not a recent release, but I highly recommend it) that I thought of a lot when this kept coming up. In it, she writes:
I have guarded my name as people
in other times kept their own clipped hair,
believing the soul could be scattered
if they were careless…
I could shed my name in the middle of life,
the ordinary thing, and it would flee
along with childhood and dead grandmothers
to that Limbo for discontinued maiden names.
But it would grow restless there.
I know this. It would ride over leaf smoke mountains
and steal horses.
My name is as it’s always been, independent of who I love, though I love these others very much. Whether people can say it, or not, it’s a vital essence of me.
And as it turns out, I am sometimes that mami that likes to torment her children with traditions. All three of our kids legally have both my last name and my husband’s, placed in the traditional father’s first-mother’s second order. They have it all there because I think that name-as-mini family tree- thing is pretty great…although in school, they go by their dad’s last name (I am not so mired in Spanish tradition that I’ve forgotten the value of ease and brevity for a kid in school situations).
Y tu, que opinas? Have you had trouble with your “foreign-sounding” name? Did you change your name when you got married? Was it difficult to agree on names for your kids with your spouse and other relatives? Leave us a comment with how you handle the beautiful-but-spiny Latin names?
*photo by ClavonClavito