What's In a Name?

Toto - nomi | Picking baby girl names by p!o on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license]Catalina, Katia, Katherine and even Katu. All of these names appear on the list approved by the Civil Registry of the Province of Buenos Aires. The name "Katie," however, is absent from the list and with good reason: virtually no one here seems to be able to pronounce it.

Although a bit frustrated, I am no longer surprised by the reaction I get from the vast majority of Argentines when I tell them my name. The scene, without fail, follows this script:

1) With a kiss on the cheek, I introduce myself to my new acquaintance. I watch as the official list of names unfurls in her mind; she scrolls through the familiar Argentine standards such as Ana, Florencia, Gabriela, Laura, María, Teresa.

2) After a moment or two – once her neurons return the "File not found" error message – she does a double take, and her face screws into an expression of puzzlement.

3) She asks me to repeat my name at least two more times, as she bends and contorts the English sounds to conform to her Spanish ear.

I've been on the receiving end of many odd looks and responses regarding my exceedingly common English name. For example, the 80-something seamstress who made my choral uniform exclaimed, "¡Qué nombre rarísimo, che!" ("Boy, what a strange name!") when I first met her, while a worker at the immigration office in Quequén recently rechristened me "Chicha" because he couldn't pronounce my name.

I frequently find myself feeling slightly embarrassed and apologetic as a result of my name, and I wonder if it would just be easier to adopt a more Spanish-friendly pronunciation or to simply change my name altogether. Occasionally, in one-off situations where I'll never meet the person again (for example, when reserving a table at a restaurant), I'll give my name as Kati (Kah-tee) to avoid the otherwise inevitable explanations and/or butchering of my moniker.

Other times, I feel a bit indignant and determined to teach people the right way to say those two syllables, no matter how many times I have to repeat myself. After all, a little old diphthong and an American 't' can't be that bad, can they?

Although I wouldn't exactly characterize Argentines as conformists, few people stray from established naming conventions. [Read more about rules for selecting a child's name in Argentina at yanqui mike's blog.] In my chorus, for example, seven out of the 20 women have a name that includes María: María Nelly, María Fernanda, María del Carmen, María Angélica, María Ester, María Teresa, and María Guadalupe.

Names that deviate from the official list prepared by each province must be submitted to the Registro Civil, along with a fee of $50 pesos, for approval. It seems that most parents are content to name their little one Facundo, Valentina, or Nicolás, and they later shake things up with one of the countless nicknames that exist here.

I applaud a bit of diversity and originality in names, and I'm proud of my own strange, yanqui name; however, some days, I admit that I just wish I were a María.

[Photo credit: p!o]

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