What’s in a Nombre?


As a child, I always wanted a middle name. Anthony. Alex. David, maybe. Or even Jose. There was something mysterious or beautiful to me about having two first names (or rather a first name and a middle name). Alas, I always felt stuck with a name that sounded boring to me, that is… like the taste of an unsalted, stale cracker.

Yes, there were other Luises around me at school and in the neighborhood, but theirs was part of a two name system: Jose Luis, Luis Alfredo. And even some family members had middle names to call their own. Some of them were not happy with their middle names — Marie, Manuel — but at least they had one, and it would add a certain je ne sais quoi mystique by having a middle letter initial in a written name or — better yet — in a signature.

The story goes that movie producer David O. Selznick, the man behind such films as Rebecca and Gone with the Wind, added the “O” to his name because he had an uncle with the same name. He used the letter “O” in his name as a way differentiate himself from his uncle.

So I know I am not the only one who has been obsessive over his name. I often say that I do not become addicted, I just obsess over things, and my name was one of those.

Who has not written his name over and over and over again on a sheet of notebook paper, or in the corners of textbooks, or on book covers, or — heaven forbid — on desks at school (I do not condone that behavior), but our name is in essence something that symbolizes who we are.

Our name is often the first label that people use to make assumptions about us before they even meet us. Yes, people make assumptions about the type of person we are by our names. Or maybe that’s just me. I try not to make assumptions about people; I try not to “judge a book by its cover,” since I am the person who gives everyone the benefit of the doubt.

There are whole books — who am I kidding? entire websites — dedicated to the meanings of names. People pore over the meanings, the definitions, the origins, the possibilities of names. Baby names. Character names. Stage names. Names are important in stories and in life.

Dorothy Gale, I believe, was named as such to perhaps make reference to the tornado or gusts of wind in one of my favorite stories, The Wizard of Oz. Rita Hayworth, a favorite actress, was actually Margarita Carmen Cansino.

We are all about creating stories, and maybe I felt that my bland name, Luis, did not say much about me or anything else really. Even in elementary school, I felt that I did not stand out. Luis was such a common name. And forget about Garcia, my last name; I think that it is the most popular surname in the Spanish-speaking world — and by now the English-speaking world as well!

I remember looking through the White Pages, which was a sort of printed reference listing for phone numbers of people in the city, before the internet took over. I wanted to see how many Luis Garcia’s there were.

Six pages… front and back. (And some of them had middle names!)

Every year, it was like a ritual, I would look for my name in the newly published book. That is the first thing I would do, and every year the list seemed to grow. There were so many people with my exact name than I cared to count.

So there I was, 8-year-old little me, already growing tired of my four-letter name. I remember telling my mother that I had discovered that adults can change their name.

“And you’re going to change yours?” she asked one day as we were walking to school.

“Yes, I am,” I said proudly.

“Oh?” she asked. “What would you change it to?”

“I want to be known as,” and I thought about it for a few seconds, “Luis David! No, Luis Antonio! Yes, Luis Antonio Garcia.”

“Really?” she laughed.

“Oh,” I remembered, “but I must have the ‘Junior’ there, so it will be Luis Antonio Garcia, Jr.”

“If you change your name, you can’t have the Junior anymore,” she says.

“What do you mean?”

“Junior,” she explains, “means you carry someone else’s name. You have your father’s name. He does not have a middle name, that is why you are Junior.”

I stop walking to think about this.

“How do you think your dad would feel if you change the name he gave you?” she continued.

From that moment, I never wanted to change my name again. I proudly use the “Jr.” at the end of my name, at work, on stage.


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