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Childhood memories are vivid, almost indescribable in their detail, and impossible to forget. A Christmas memory I have is that of a black velvet dress  a family friend gave to me for my seventh Christmas.
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El Cocotaso

Submitted by on August 12, 2009 – 8:53 am4 Comments

When I was born, my parents didn’t name me immediately.  Okay, I reason, I was the youngest of six and they were just a little tired and feeling uncreative.  Could happen.


But then, I argue, they had NINE WHOLE MONTHS to give this issue more than a passing thought. I’m not bitter, or anything. I just keep wondering, “what were they thinking??”  I don’t want to paint my parents as anything but the amazing people they are (or were, in the case of my Dad), it’s just that this whole story is a tad astounding to me, but I digress. . .

My oldest sister was into movies and thought Marilyn, as in Marilyn Monroe, would have been a good name, so that’s what she called me.  Only she used the Spanish version, which sounded like “Mah-ree-leen.”  The nanny we had at the time, liked the name Virginia, so she just called me that. In Spanish, of course, which sounded like  “Veerr-Hee-Neeah.”

My mom, who didn’t like either name, resorted to calling me the all-inclusive “La Niña.”  But that quickly became confusing, because there were FIVE niñas in our family.  So she started calling the two teenagers, Las Muchachitas.  This still left three niñas in the equation.  (see? I can do math! =D)  Clearly this became problematic, but as the MONTHS (!!) wore on, naming the baby was still clearly not a priority. So, I became La Nena or La Gordita or even Papita.  So, a quick recap:  anyone called me whatever they wanted and everybody was okay with that. (??)

Then *”El Cocotaso” happened.  (*Cocotaso is a hard rap to the head. Usually inflicted by an angry parent or sibling with a closed fist, but that’s not important right now.)

My mom took one of the muchachitas and the other niñas to a local fair, leaving Me/Mareeleen/Veerheeneeah with the nanny for an afternoon.

In Cuba, mosquito netting was a comfort requirement in all homes, but you wouldn’t want to smother the baby, so my crib had built in netting around the sides and it had a lid with the netting also.
The quick version: I was crying. Nanny picked me up and her stomach pushed the crib back against the wall, causing the crib lid to fall, landing squarely on my head. (I know. I know. This explains so much!)

The terrified nanny grabbed a bottle and quickly shoved it in my mouth before I had time to catch my breath and scream, effectively blocking my air flow and causing my eyes to roll back in my head.  Obviously I don’t remember all this. (I was four months old, for goodness sake!)   This is a family story but because it’s about ME (=D) I know the details well.

My oldest sister, Ofie, responded to the cries of distress coming from the nanny and screamed (in her best Drama Queen voice) “YOU KILLED HER!”  To which the freaked-out nanny responded by shoving the baby (me) into my sister’s arms and running screaming from the building.  I guess finding good childcare was a problem back then, too.

The quick-thinking cook, who heard all this commotion called a neighbor to go fetch my mom, who then called the doctor.  While waiting for him to arrive, the (devoutly-Catholic-to-the-point-of-superstition) cook pleads with my mom to pray to **Santa Marta and make promises to her.

(**In English, St. Martha was the sister of Mary and Lazarus, who is known for being all worried and distracted over serving dinner for Jesus while her sister Mary sits at the feet of Jesus. According to Catholic.org, she is the patron saint of servants and cooks (!!). Who knew?)

So, my disraught and slightly hysterical Mom makes a promise to the virgin-of-the-day, Santa Marta, (I’m not saying I condone this, you understand, I am just relaying the story) that if the baby is okay, she will name her Marta.

So they finally got around to baptizing me in October (I was born in May) as “Marta Maria Verdés y Perez-Puelles.”  And the rest, as they say, is history. . . or is it??

Fast forward a few years and add coming to America.

In English, Marta has an “h.”  Martha?? I bristled against this immediately. I’ve just lost my home, are you telling me I’ve lost my name, too?

I quickly learned to spell it out. “T- A – no H.” It was an uphill battle against the Irish-Catholic nuns (sigh).  They could roll their R’s with the best of them in that inimitable Irish br-r-rogue, but couldn’t wrap their brains around a hard consonant sound.  So my name came out sounding like “Mar-r-r-fa.” As if assimilation wasn’t difficult enough!

My close Cuban friends called me Martica and eventually just Marti. That stuck. Most of my close friends still call me Marti.  (I like to look at maps of old Havana and see Paseo de Marti  written right on there.


My sister, Alina, calls me Martilla (or Little Hammer, which I use when producing our short films. that’s why they say “A Little Hammer” Film).

My cousins in Cuba still call me Marta Maria or La Primilla (the little cousin – what is UP with all these diminutives??)  With the exception of an aunt who calls me Martona – Big Marta.  I suppose if I were a biker-chick that might be appropriate, but I’m NOT.  So don’t even go there!

I am still having a sort of identity crisis.  Different people call me different things. (For example, Eric, my husband, calls me Honey.)

But I will tell you this:  that I answer to Marta NOT Martha. Never Martha – still feeling the assimilation pain on that one, but I’ll forgive you the first time. =D

Or you can call me Marti, all my friends do.  The nieces and nephews call me Aunt Marti or Auntie M.  My Spanish speaking friends call me Martica and there are four people on the planet who call me Mom. =D

p4227145You can call me any of those things.

Just don’t call me . . . late for dinner!

(originally posted in a different version on MBFCF)

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  • Catherine says:

    “Big Marta!” Cubans really are too witty for their own good! Sometimes I worry about what I’ll call my children (when I do have them) because all the English names that I like will be butchered by my immensely big Cuban family. They can barely pronounce Catherine. (The “th” gets them all confused and worked up.) However, “Cocotaso” I’ve heard in many different ways, mostly as a promising threat from my freakishly strong grandmother. But NEVER as a nickname.

  • Chantel says:

    My mom is a Marta, too. When she was born, her six year old sister declared, “Se llama MARTA” and so it was. My poor grandmother had had her heart set on SONIA…One wonders if there are ANY Martas whose mothers actually CHOSE the name beforehand.

  • Carrie says:

    Marta, I love this story so much. It is hilarious and sad and quirky — and I think it says a lot about you and your BFCF! (I have a couple of Tia Mar”T”has.)

  • Barbara says:

    Marta, great story! I guess lots of us were named by our Cuban mothers making a promise to a saint. My mother named me Barbara because when she was pregnant with me she got into a car accident and she was fearful that something would happen to her baby so she made a promise to Sta. Barbara that if her baby was all right and if her baby was a girl, that I would be named after her. Fast forward 30 something years and I made a promise to la Virgen de la Caridad that if my fiancé would make it out of Cuba and to the U.S. that our daughter would be named after her… so our daughters middle name is Carys (our anglicized version of Caridad). BTW she was also born in May and baptized in October! …but we had her full name picked out way before she was born.

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