Wednesday, February 26, 2014

In Cuba, trend seen away from eccentric names

Posted on Tuesday, 02.25.14

In Cuba, trend seen away from eccentric names

HAVANA -- Yanitse Garcia has spent three decades correcting people on
the pronunciation and spelling of her first name.

So when her firstborn came into the world three years ago, Garcia
decided to save her daughter a lifetime of grief by choosing a simple
name that everyone knows and which flows off the tongue: Olivia.

"What I liked about Olivia is precisely that it wouldn't be a bother for
her," Garcia, a 32-year-old specialist in foreign languages, said with a
laugh. "It works for both Spanish and English, and nobody ever will
misspell it."

Garcia is part of Cuba's so-called Generation Y, the thousands upon
thousands of islanders born during the Cold War whose parents turned
tradition on its ear by giving them invented monikers inspired by
Russian names like Yevgeny, Yuri or Yulia. The phenomenon was so
prevalent that dissident writer Yoani Sanchez chose "Generation Y" as
the title of her well-known blog; her counterpart on the
cyber-ideological battlefield is a pro-government blogger and tweeter
who uses the handle Yohandry Fontana.

More than two decades after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Cubans are
increasingly returning to more traditional handles for their kids,
saying they believe it will better suit them personally and
professionally when they grow up. More and more, names like Maria and
Alejandro are replacing the likes of Yoleissi, Yuniesky, Yadinnis,
Yilka, Yiliannes, Yonersi, Yusleibis, Yolady, Yudeisi or Yamilka.

"The Y thing was like a fever, a boom. It was (about) doing something
different from the monotony of the Pedros and the Rauls," said Carlos
Paz Perez, a sociolinguist at Miami Dade College and the author of a
dictionary of Cuban slang. "But now that has passed and there is a
tendency to recover traditional names."

Decades ago many Cuban parents named their kids after other family
members or hewed to the common practice in the Spanish-speaking world of
honoring the Roman Catholic saint associated with a child's birth date.

There were only a smattering of eccentric monikers back then, said Uva
de Aragon, a retired Cuban-American academic and writer born in 1944 in
Havana. De Aragon's own name was inspired by her grandfather, Ubaldo,
and she also recalled a family friend named Olidey after the English

After the 1959 revolution and Cuba's subsequent self-declaration as an
officially atheist state, folks really started getting creative.

"As many people stopped baptizing their children, it was no longer
necessary to pick a name that was in the calendar of saints," de Aragon

Inventions like Vicyhoandry began creeping into state birth registries,
as did names such as Daymer — a combination of Daniel and Mercedes — and
backward renderings as in Airam instead of Maria. So too did curious
English-language borrowings: More than a few Cubans can say with a
straight face that Danger is not their middle name, but their first.

Meanwhile, Cold War geopolitics also inspired names such as Katiuska,
after the Russian-made Katyusha missile launchers. Other kids were
called Che, Stalina or Hanoi.

But it was the Generation Y phenomenon that was uniquely Cuban, and
brought out many parents' creative instincts. Consider the name Yotuel,
a mash-up of the Spanish-language pronouns "yo," "tu" and "el," or "I,"
"you" and "he" in English.

Y-fashion spread overseas through migration to Florida and elsewhere,
and some of the most famous examples are found on Major League Baseball
rosters in the names of defected stars Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes.

While there's no public data available, experts and parents alike have
noted a clear trend away from Y-based and other eccentric names in
recent years.

An AP review of one high school class list in Havana turned up a dozen
unusual names including Yuneysi, Luzaniobis, Alianis and Dianabell,
among 40 students. Meanwhile a first-grade class of 20 students had just
two, Raicol and Nediam — apparently the English word "maiden" spelt

"The phenomenon in Cuba got out of control, it got out of hand. Names
are also the image of the country," said Aurora Camacho, a researcher at
the governmental Institute of Literature and Linguistics of Cuba who
called for legal guidelines on the naming of children.

She's not alone. Eccentric names have been popular elsewhere in Latin
America and at times provoked a backlash.

In 2007, Venezuelan authorities unsuccessfully pushed a bill that would
have outlawed "names that expose (children) to ridicule, be they
extravagant or of difficult pronunciation" after two Supermans were
discovered in the registry. A similar proposal failed in the Dominican
Republic in 2009.

This month, the Mexican state of Sonora banned 61 oddball names that had
been found at least once in state registries. They included Facebook,
Rambo, Circumcision, Lady Di and Juan Calzon, or "Juan Underpants."

Recent months have seen articles in Cuban official media warning of the
need to regulate naming practices and urging parents to be thoughtful
when it comes time to register their newborns.

But the simple ebb and flow of naming fashions seems to be turning the
tide even without the heavy hand of the government.

Yanitse Garcia, whose husband is Raisel — a cross between Raimundo and
Elena — said all of her daughter Olivia's cousins also have traditional
names: Ernesto, Gabriela, Carlos and Christian.

"I think there was a saturation," Paz Perez said.

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