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What’s in a name?

August 24, 2012

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Really Juliet?

I disagree. Names are contested. (Well, they can be.) Our naming of things, including ourselves, helps us understand the world and our place in it. Changing names , including our own, can be an exercise of power. Renaming allows us to move beyond understanding that which is given.

Renaming can be an act of subversion, and an act of (re)creation.

Resurrected from the archives. I wrote this piece in 1995ish when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland College Park. During this epoch I was in the thick of interrogating my last name. At the moment the piece was written my last name was Greenwell (voluntarily changed through marriage).

The Name

When I was a child. . . Cuando yo era una niña. . . kids made fun of me.  At Walt Disney Elementary School in northern Indiana having The Name was enough to be singled out and hated for reasons that, as a child, I did not understand.  At that time, The Name was mine by blood alone.  It neither gave me a family history nor offered me love.  Instead, The Name left me with memories of a third grade playground; chestnut haired, blue-eyed children; sneering faces; and “Sssspic.”

Years after the playground taunting I went through a physical transformation.  From the round-faced mexicana I grew into a tall wiry gringa.  Once physically assimilated into the mainstream Anglo culture, The Name was more confusing than ever.  Only when my family moved to a café-colored dusty community outside of Fresno, California did The Name begin to make sense.

The skin toasting heat of the San Juaquin Valley embraced The Name.  The Valley surrounded it with smells of pan dulce and sounds of mariachi trumpeting from tricked-out low riders.  Vatos with glistening pompadours, Azteca sun goddesses with five-inch Aqua Net bangs, and migrant farm workers with their tell-tale smell of sweet soil assaulted The Name.

I wondered was this what The Name was all about?  I did not know what to think.  I knew only the generalizations and stereotypes thrust at me by popular culture; Taco Bell, Ricky Ricardo, Speedy Gonzalez, and the like.

In a country as diverse as ours you might think it would be easy to find a place for your Name.  It is not.  Once you conquer your own self-image, you must then begin the fight against stereotypes, generalizations, and the prejudices of others.

My years in the Valley afforded The Name and me our first opportunity to get to know each other.  It was during this period of my life when I made the first steps toward understanding what my media-latina was all about.

As the years passed, I became more knowledgeable about myself, my Mexican roots, and legacy of The Name.  Along the way, I made true connections to the Latino community.  I met friends and colleagues who served as mentors, acted as positive role models, and embraced me as familia.  Their collective support and kindness inspired me to continue my learning.

Fourteen years into my journey I continually strive to understand the human condition.  Finding peace within myself and with my own ethnic identity has inspired me to broaden my understanding and respect for all people.

Today, when I stroll through my mostly Latino and African neighborhood, I converse in Spanish with the Chinese-born restaurant owners.  They express wonder and question how I, a tall wiry gringa, am speaking to them in Spanish.  I simply respond, “Todos somos hermanos aquí.  We are all brothers and sisters here.” –END


Do you really spell your name GNA? With all caps?

Yes, I do.

[Note: This video was recorded as a response to a DS106 Daily Create prompt, “Where did your name come from?”]

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