Thursday, September 3, 2009

What's In A Name?

The start of every school brings many challenges to a teacher. Every class has it's own dynamic, there are different students with different needs and expectations, and there are the names. The kids have it easy, they have to learn eight new names, many of which they already knew. Teachers, on the other hand, have to learn a bunch and, preferably, quickly!

I the States this didn't ever seem to be a huge challenge; if I had a couple Amber's or Dillon's (or Dylan's) they just weren't seated near each other. Amber and Dillon didn't expect me to learn their middle names and call them by it as well. I also didn't run into too many nicknames in the States. Sure, there were a few but the entire class rarely referred to David as "Booger," just his close friends.

Let's travel south to Colombia. I still get that here. It's not uncommon to have a few too many Mateo's, Daniela's, Laura's, or Isabela's. The trick comes when that is not their whole name. The majority of the people here, it seems, have four names. Two first names that they are often called together, and two last names, the first from their father and the second from their mother. (Incidentally, it is very easy to trace family lineage here!)

My first year here I had five Juan Camilo's. (The two names together remember.) I also had a Juan Sebastian, a Juan Jose, a Juan Manuel, a Juan Francisco, a Juan David, and a Juan Pablo. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you want to look at it, none of my Juan Camilo's went by "Juan Camilo" - all went by their last name only; a skill they no doubt learned early on when there are five of you in the same graduating class. That year I also had an abundance of Maria "something's: Camila, Isabel, Paula, Paulina, etc. The last two young ladies both went by an abbreviated "Mapi" and were in the same class.

The first year I was also wrestling with pronunciation. Having that under control my second year, I thought would make learning the names easier. I remember being momentarily pleased to see only one a few Juan Camilo's and no Maria Camila's. Suddenly, however, I had five Santiago's and four Valentina's; I had neither my first year! There were the omnipresent Juan and Maria "something's" but not necessarily in replicate. My bigger challenge turned out to be the nicknames.

The first year there were a few bizarre ones, in the sense that it was not related to any of their given names or surnames at all. There was "Chumba," "Tigre" (who got it when she came to school in second grade wearing a Tigger backpack), "Nano," and "Negro." If there were others, I can't remember, and that is what I call them when I see them around campus.

That second year was a zoo of nicknames, literally. I had "Hormiga" (ant), "León" (lion - although it was also his last name), "Mono" (monkey, and also "blond") and "Pollo" (chicken). Ironically, there was also a guy they called "Chicken" because his last name was Gallo, which is literally "rooster" in Spanish. There was kid who had moved to Cali a year from somewhere along the Caribbean coast so he became "Costeño," a name referring to anyone from that region. And, believe me, there were more...

The class lists this year look pretty tame. Again, I'll be up to my ears in Juan Camilo's and variations of Maria but the Santiago's and Valentina's seem to be in check once again. I do however have two Luis's - a Miguel and a Manuel - so that should be fun. The only new name comes in duplicate with two Tatiana's. There are three Juliana's inconveniently placed in the same period. Daniela seems to be the most popular name of the year with a grand total of four.

So, after I master the three Gabriel's and three Gabriela's from the three Alejandro's and three Alejandra's (and one Maria Alejandra), I should have a pretty easy time. Then I'll start attaching last names...

1 comment:

~Lynn~ said...

Sounds amazing - and year-by-year, you can track baby-naming trends! I have given up on learning people's names here, since no one goes by their real name anyways... everyone has a nickname along the lines of "Bing-Bing", "Jid-Jid", "Precious", or "Cute". One time I visited someone in the hospital who thought I knew, but didn't actually, because I thought "Jid-Jid" got his appendix out...actually, it was "Ji-Ji". That was an awkward 5-minute visit. I have had host relatives for a year, and I don't even know their names! Perhaps I should write a blog about this... Hope all is well, friend!