Why Does “José” Become “Joe,” But Not The Other Way Around?
Recently I was picking up my dry cleaning when the attendant asked me for my name. “Sara Calderón,” I told her, trying to shorten my name a bit to make it easier and quicker for her to look up. “Is that like ‘Sarah’?” She asked me a few times in a few different incarnations. “Um, it would be like Sarah, except my name is Sara, so no. It’s S-A-R-A.” I told her.
As I left the dry cleaners, a flood of memories hit me. Moments with my father starting from the time I was just young enough to be proud of spelling my name in its entirety. “Te llamas ‘Sara Inés’ no ‘Sarah,’” he would tell me. “No permitas que te llamen ‘Sarah’ porque eso no es tu nombre.” Don’t let them call you Sarah, that’s not your name. It was lost on me as a kid what a valuable gift my father gave me by demanding I make a distinction between these two names, but as I’ve grown up and come to understand the history of this country, I’m grateful everyday for being Sara and not Sarah.
My family is from the border region in Texas, a place where — almost by a miracle — Latinos with Spanish names are awarded English nicknames almost as soon as they walk in the door. José becomes Joe. Francisco becomes Frank. Rogelio becomes Roy. María becomes Mary. Josefina becomes Josie. And so on. You might think this inconsequential, but the buck didn’t stop there, it went further.
No speaking Spanish in school, by penalty of a beating sometimes, and so an entire generation of Franks and Joes and Josies who don’t speak Spanish and cannot properly pronounced their names was born. And so their children and grandchildren travel to Spain to learn Spanish, and in just a few generations, people forget who they are, where they came from, and what their real name is anyway.
My father the historian, in the conversations we came to have as I grew older, would tell me that this type of memory cleansing is what control is really about. Because if you think about it, people named “John” never become “Juan.” A “Margaret” never transforms into a “Margarita” spontaneously in conversation — so that must mean something, right? It means one conversion is acceptable, whereas the other, is simply not.
Going back to my own name, I’m proud to have what some have told me is a somewhat complicated and long name. Although it may not be easy to pronounce, I appreciate it when people try, and although it may not always be popular to correct the pronunciation of my name until people get it right, I’m not about to let somebody else tell me who I am.
Follow Sara Inés Calderón on Twitter @SaraChicaD