What’s in a Name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

You have probably heard these lines before, but in case you didn’t read the Cliff Notes along with your assigned high school reading of this scene, Juliet is pining away, after meeting Romeo and learning he’s a Montague. The Montague’s are family rivals to Juliet’s Capulet clan. Juliet muses that although her newly beloved is a  Montague, what matters is who he is, and not what he is called. Ah, love.

We all know this is true. What matters is the person you are and not the name you are given. Unless, of course, you are a young boy with a spanish sounding name, growing up in a largely white, suburban neighborhood, like my husband, Juan Rafael. Or Juan. Or Ralph. Yes, Ralph. He became Ralph when he was in first grade and the nuns at St. Hedwig couldn’t say Juan Rafael.  Now, with a name like St. Hedwig, why the nuns felt compelled to give Juan a more English sounding name is beyond me.

Juan Rafael is a beautiful name, and sounds especially nice when it’s said with a Spanish accent. But, when my husband was growing up in the 70’s  and the nuns at his Catholic elementary school couldn’t pronounce his name, they asked him to for the english equivalent. He told them Juan was John, and Rafael was Ralph. They nuns decided to call him Ralph. He was Ralph all though elementary and high school. Even his Colombian family called him Ralph.  When he got to college Ralph took back his name and became Juan. He also changed his political party, joined MECHA and became active in politics, but that’s another story.

So, when I was pregnant with our child,  and Juan and I learned it was a boy, we began to consider names. We knew we wanted something that would translate to Spanish, but we had a hard time agreeing on anything. Then, we recalled where our son was conceived–in Acapulco, Mexico, during a celebratory wedding weekend for some family friends. The groom was named Diego. Diego. It was perfect. Not too ordinary. No tricky spanish pronunciation, but a name that translated to Spanish. We announced to my family our intention of naming our son the Spanish equivalent of James.  My dad, Jesus, loved the name we’d chosen. My dad, whose name is a popular choice among latinos, and who probably fought his own demons because of his moniker, thought Diego was a perfect choice for his only grandson who would be born of two latino parents. But then again, my father, who has a strong sense of pride in our own Mexican culture, would have been happy if Juan and I named our son after the Aztec ruler, Cuahtemoc. My mother wasn’t too sure of our choice. She asked me, “You’re really going to name him Diego?” Yes, I really am.

When our son was born, he did not look like a “Diego.” He looked like, well, a red, squishy faced, hairy little monkey.  One day I sat down to nurse my little monkey and turned on the TV.  As I  changed channels I came across Nickelodeon TV and I I saw this:

What? A kid’s show with a little brown-skinned explorer boy with jungle animals as his friends, named Diego? The show was “Go Diego Go.” It was kind of cute, but still obnoxious enough that I suddenly began to doubt my choice of moniker for my little monkey. How often would he be teased about his name? Would the theme song follow him onto the school yard and beyond? Luckily, I had been living under a rock and didn’t realize how popular the show was. It was a favorite among the pre-school set. By the time Diego entered pre-school, the name had a certain cache to it. My mother even came around, and told me that Diego’s name suited him perfectly.

I felt very pleased with myself about the name we had chosen. I even celebrated it when I planned his 3rd birthday party with a Go Diego Go theme.

One day, not long after Diego entered kindergarten he came home telling me about the friends he’d made. There was Ben, Ethan, Chris, Matt and a little boy with a biblical name, Oshea. Diego asked me why couldn’t he be named something else. Something more simple. Why couldn’t he be called Ben or, even better, Oshea?  Sigh.


15 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. Janie B. says:

    In my family, my father frequently told the story of how he learned his name was Frederic. His given name was Frederic Mason B. His middle name Mason was for the doctor who delivered him. The family always call him Mason. When he was five years old and went to school, the nuns asked him his name. He replied with pride “Mason”. “Oh, no, that can’t be,” said the nuns. Evidently Mason is not a proper saints name. My grandmother chimed up and said, “His name is Frederic”. And that is how my Dad learned his given first name. To me, my Dad seemed to have dual personas. His family and childhood friends still called him Mason; everyone who came later called him Fred. To me he was always Daddy. Amazing the power those nuns had!

    1. That’s a really funny story Janie, and so true about those nuns. Maybe it’s their habit that makes the seem so severe, but even I am a bit intimidated. In my older son’s school there was only one teacher who was a nun, the rest were lay people. The nun was very well-liked but even she would not allow her students to be called by their nicknames!

  2. I love, love, love the name Diego. When my mom was naming my sister and I, she was rebelling against the elaborate and complicated names of her generation, which is why I’m Julie and my sister is Beth, neither of those being short for anything. I got an awesome middle name, though I wouldn’t tell anyone what it was until I was an adult: McCrea. It has a long “a” sound at the end and is spelled differently than 99% of the others, and comes from my mom’s granddaddy Lester (nobody’s named Lester anymore, either).

    1. My best friend is named Julie too. It’s one of those popular names that can be short for something else or stand on it’s own. I like it. I also like McCrea. Very cool that you got a family name too!

  3. This made me think of when my husbands grandparents came to America from Italy. I don’t want to put any last names out here on the interwebz but it was changed from one name to a vaguely similar different last name. The people over at Ellis Island said that the name wasn’t American enough.

  4. I’m glad that that practice has died out, too! I know it was common place, but really demeaning for the children it affected.

    I can’t imagine Diego with any other name. And, the funny thing is…I never even thought of that show in association, but my kids loved that show.

    Loved the story of your husband’s name history!

  5. I’m glad your husband took back his name–and who would not prefer Rafael to Ralph?!

    There is another Los Angeles blogger with a young son named Diego you might want to meet–http://jason-thejasonshow.blogspot.com/

  6. Diana: actually I wanted to name your older brother Cauhtemoc or Moctezuma but had RESISTANCE FROM MOM.. When I think of Diego I wish we could have followed up and named him JUAN DIEGO, linking Juan and Diego as the indian that reported the first appearance of OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE.. Or better yet use JUAN DIEGO acutal NAHUATL indian name…”.CUAUHTLATOATZIN” translation HE WHO SPEAKS LIKE AND EAGLE”
    oh well, maybe my next GRANDSON..

  7. Call me anything you want but “late for dinner”! Ran across your Blog looking for Go Diego Go costume Ideas. Any change you could provide where you found the Dino Safari vest? We are a very “blended” family with a Julie too. Julie is part Step-Monster and Mom. I’m just Dad.

    Boring “John” Alvarado

  8. Hi “Boring John” 🙂 thanks for stopping by. I actually made that vest using an old jacket and cutting off the sleeves. The dino patch was on the jacket already, but I made it look more Go Diego Go by using an iron on Diego logo I got from the Nick Jr website. I downloaded the logo and printed it out on iron on transfer “paper” I bought at Joanne’s Fabrics. Then I ironed it on, and I had a Go Diego Go vest. Good luck!

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