In early 2019, Eilidh spent a semester at Trinity as a Fulbright Royal Society of Edinburgh Visiting Scholar working with the inimitable Prof Norma Cantú. In our class ‘Latinx Cultural and Artistic Expressions’ we read and discussed Sandra Cisneros’ story ‘My Name’ from The House on Mango Street. Students reflected on the importance of names and naming and wrote wonderful responses that we’ll share with you here.
Some students did this piece of work for Spanish credit, others for General Education or Women’s and Gender Studies, so some will be in Spanish and some in English. This not only reflects the bilingualism of Latinx communities but also showcases the students’ development as they learn how to express themselves in these languages.
Today we share work by Kristi Tilghman:
Whenever I ask my mom why she named me Kristi, she always gives me the same unsatisfying answer…
“I just picked a name”
I pry further to see if I can get a more satisfying answer.
“No pre-thought ideas? A special person I was named after? like… a character from a book that impacted how you see the world! A demi-god? A flower? Something cool?”
“No. I just picked it when you were born.”
“But mommmyyyy…” And that’s all I can manage to get out of her.
It’s a really white name. Kristi. Google Search says that it means “daughter of Christ,” which is funny because I have never consistently been religious. Sometimes I wonder what Jesus would say after hearing about that.
When I go to order a coffee, I swear I am asking for anxiety. Every coffee purchase is the same…
“Hi! A latte with almond milk please.” (Because I can’t have dairy)
“Okay Christine, it’ll be ready soon!”
“I’m sorry, its Kristi.”
“Oh, I’m sorry!” Then the confused barista starts writing in permanent ink either…Christie, Kristie, Christy, Christi, or Kristy.
I used to try and correct them on spelling but it makes me feel guilty for some reason. Why should it matter, it’s just coffee? Sometimes I just use a fun new name to try and make the coffee experience not so traumatic. Pepper. Lifeguard. Shark. Fairy. A name that would shock a barista into making some amusing but concerned facial expression.
Sometimes I want a new name. Maybe Bow, Cody, Rose. I like those names. I have always liked short, simple, lovable names that shy characters in books always have. I like the gender neutral names, they seem so flexible, like spandex…easy to wear, always looks good even if you have a paper flat butt or a little extra seal blubber, and most importantly not breakable. But if I changed my name, it would be like giving up those old pair of jeans that look a little worn, but have that special grass stain. The comfy leg room that only comes from breaking them in.
My roommate’s name is not necessarily gender neutral, but it is amazing. Pallavi. Hard for so many of my fellow Americans to pronounce, but beautiful. It flips off the tongue like a chocolate pancake. It means “Blossom” …I always tell her, “it’s like you were destined to grow into a beautiful flower!” A beautiful woman.
Although it’s beautiful, she doesn’t seem to praise it like I do.
When she gets coffee with me, she has to settle for a new name too. I (of course) have Christine marked down on my cup, and she always settles for “Pal.” We always look at each other with a “This is how the world works I guess” face. Unsatisfying but manageable.
Both our names seem to be too difficult for people. Maybe people are just stupid. But at least within the clam that is hard to pronounce, there is a pearl blossoming inside my sweet friend Pallavi.
I have no pearl inside. It is just a name. A barren clam shell. But don’t worry! I am not unhappy with the thing.
A name is a name. It only has as much power as you give it. In my life I am happy being unhappy with it. In the end I am satisfied with my clam, it is mine, no one else’s. I’ve thought about tossing the worn out old jeans, but I hesitate and pull back every time. It has no deeper meaning, there was no thought given to my name, my clam is definitely not a flower. But why am I hesitating by the garbage? Unable to let it go.
I sigh and put the jeans back in the drawer, defeated by my heart.
This clam has been with me since birth.
A companion I can be proud of. Its kept me company.
I love that rusty old clam.
Permission was given by the author to publish this work on The SALSA Collective website. Many thanks.