Thursday, May 19, 2011

What’s in a name?

Thursday, 5-19-11

That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet (Shakespeare). My students are sweet too –most of the time– and they’d probably be the same even if I changed all their names. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s possible. So yesterday and today, just for fun, I decided to teach my students their names in English. The kids are always asking me how to say their name in English, so not only would this be fun for them but it might prevent them from asking me their names over and over and over again in the future.

Last week I had them all write down their first name on a piece of paper and turn it in to me. I knew there would be several names I didn’t know the translation for in English and probably some that didn’t have a translation to English. So I took the names home to look them up on the internet. I had a fun time looking up different names and learning some names I wasn’t familiar with. I don’t know all my 300+ students’ names that I teach so this exercise also gave me a better idea of the names of kids in my classes.

Several names of my students are fairly common in the US and are spelled exactly like names in English. The only difference is pronunciation. Some of these names are:


There were a lot of common names that I saw repeated in different classes. In fact, 21 of my students had the name José (Joseph). I have at least 2 José’s in every class. I also have a lot of Kevin’s; 16 to be precise. 5 of those Kevin’s are in one class. Other common names are:

Josué     Joshua
Juan       John
Julio       Julian/Julius
Luis        Louis
Miguel    Michael
Carlos    Charles
Cristian  Christian

There were several names that I could not find a translation for. I had a ask Cecilia about a couple because the handwriting was hard to read and I wanted to be sure I was spelling the names correctly:


I noticed that a few of the names that I usually see spelled with a “v” were instead spelled with a “b”. The letters “b” and “v” in Spanish sound exactly the same in Spanish words. Thus, a lot of times people misspell words like vender (to sell) and saber (to know). This happens even with people who have an education. However, kids using a “b” instead of a “v” or vice versa in their name does not mean that they are spelling their names wrong. This might be the way the parents wanted them to spell it. Or it’s possible that the parents named the child but didn’t know how to spell their name; there’s a lot of illiteracy here. Thus, when the child went to school and sounded out how to spell their name they used a “b” instead of a “v.” It’s hard to know. Here are some of the names:

Ever          Eber
Vladimir    Bladimir
Alvaro       Albaro

There are also a lot of Christian names at the school. Like I said before, José (Joseph) is hugely popular, just like I know the name María (Mary) is popular with women. Other Biblical names in my classes are:

Josué          Joshua
Noe            Noah
Saul            Saul
Isaias          Isaiah
David          David
Gabriel       Gabriel
Daniel         Daniel
Nahúm       Means “comforter” in Hebrew
Obed         Means “servant, worshipper” in Hebrew
Ezer          Means “help” in Hebrew
Esau          From the old testament, Esau was the elder of the twin sons of
                 Isaac and Rebecca

One of the kids in my 6th grade section A class wrote down a word that was not a name, although I didn’t know that when I first looked at it. The word was “javali.” I couldn’t find a translation of it online so I asked Cecilia about it. She told me that it was an animal. Then I noticed that it looked like the word “javelina,” which is a type of wild boar in the southwestern US. I looked it up online and sure enough, it meant javelina in Spanish. Also, the student had misspelled the word. He wrote “javali” when it’s actually spelled “jabalí” (a perfect example of mixing up “b” and “v”).

I had a lot of fun with the kids teaching them their names in English. They wrote down all the names of all the students. For the names that didn’t have a translation, I told them that their name was special because it did not exist in English. I also told the kids that some of the names were names of famous actors (Orlando, Hugh). I told all the Kevin’s that my father-in-law’s name is Kevin so they were also my father-in-law. That got a lot of laughs from the class.

My name in English is Alisha, but when I’m here people call me Alicia, which is my name in Spanish. I’ve heard a few kids call me Licha, which I recently learned is a common nickname for people named Alicia. I also have several nicknames. The ladies at the house call me Alicia María though I’m not sure why. When they asked me what my middle name was I told them Lorraine. They asked what Lorraine was in Spanish and I told them it was Lorena. So now they sometimes call me Alicia Lorena.

But my most famous nickname is Chelita, which is Salvadoran slang for little, light-skinned one (Chele=light skin, –ita=little [feminine], so Chelita=Alisha). I earned this nickname when I was here last year for 6 weeks. And when I’m covered in dust from the canton roads or my skin is darker because I’ve been in the sun then the ladies call me Cafecita. Café is a word for the color brown here and also means coffee. So Cafecita means little, brown-skinned one. I’m not sure if it’s an actual word or if it’s just something Cecilia made up.

Other people at the Pastoral House also have nicknames. Kathy is usually called Katy (kah-tee) because the sound “th” is hard to make for Spanish speakers since it does not exist in Spanish. Sometimes the ladies call her Katy María too. We often call Cecilia “Ceci” and Alejandro “Ale.” I’ve heard Blanca’s niece and husband both call her “Blanqui” before though I’ve never personally called her that. And one of Cecilia’s younger brothers, Mauricio, is called “Kiko” though I had no idea why. I need to get the story on that.

And now, some fun quotes about names…

A name pronounced is the recognition of the individual to whom it belongs. He who can pronounce my name aright, he can call me, and is entitled to my love and service.
Henry David Thoreau

No orator can top the one who can give good nicknames
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Our names are labels, plainly printed on the bottled essence of our past behavior
Logan Pearsall Smith


Andy said...

My wife and I read your blog religiously before our big move to El Salvador, and still do! we love it! thanks for keeping it going.
and we put a link to your blog in our links section. We love your very different perspective on life here!

We would love it if you would put a link to her blog on your blog as well.-->
Thanks so much and keep up the great work!

Matt said...

Differences in language are so interesting. It's great that the kids can have fun while learning as well.