I wanted to have a name in Spanish and English like my dad. I learned names can be adaptable.

Woman wanted her name to be in Spanish
The author's dad is Chilean and went by a Spanish and English version of his name.Courtesy of the author
  • I had three other Lauren's in my class, and I secretly wanted to be the only one.

  • My chilean father went by George, as a way to assimilate to his life in the US.

  • I wanted to have a name in Spanish and English, like he did.

My first day of 5th grade continues to be memorable decades later. When the teacher did roll call in a class of 30 students, three of us had the name Lauren. I was surprised. I secretly wished I was the only one.

I've always loved my name, and up until age 10, I had no idea Lauren was popular. Over the years, I'd become used to parents in the early 80s naming their kids just like me.

My Chilean father, Jorge, moved to the United States when he was 28 years old. Everyone called him George. His official documents, such as his passport and driver's license, had his birth name — Jorge. Like most immigrants, he did his best to assimilate. Adopting an English version of his name was one way to minimize calling attention to himself and help him blend into the melting pot of the United States. He made it easier for his colleagues and clients to say his name.

As a kid, I thought it was cool that he had two names — one in Spanish and one in English. I wanted to have two names, too, like him, even though my dad didn't teach me Spanish.

My name doesn't exist in Spanish

When I'd visit my abuelita a couple of times a year, who didn't speak much English — she learned it when she was 50 years old, I'd always ask her, "How would you say my name in Spanish?" Her reply was always the same — "Your name doesn't exist in Spanish." I felt let down, bummed.

I didn't understand it at the time, but I was seeking and wanting to be a part of something bigger — intangible, of course. I wanted something that seemed within reach and yet so far away. I understand now, as an adult, that I wanted to be a part of my dad's culture and connect with him and his family, including my abuelita. I wanted to feel like I belonged.

Questioning whether my name existed in Spanish was my way of creating a connection with my abuelita despite language differences. After all, neither one of us spoke the other's native tongue. I may not have been successful or received the answer I was hoping for, but now I understand my question had a deeper meaning.

I started saying my name differently when speaking in Spanish

In my late 20s, I moved to Spain to teach English as a language assistant in a high school. My real goal was to learn Spanish and speak fluently. I quickly learned that when I said my name, whether it was to make a reservation at a restaurant or deal with in-person bureaucratic paperwork, most Spaniards would ask me to repeat my name numerous times. Over time, I stopped saying my name as if I were in the United States (Lor-in). Instead, I deferred to pronouncing my name as it sounds in Spanish (Lao-wren) to save myself time and frustration from reiterating it too many times.

Similar to what I imagine my dad must have experienced living in the United States, I learned it's easier to adapt. Not only is it more convenient for the other person, but it also saves me the hassle of repeating myself and being reminded constantly that I'm foreign.

It turns out my abuelita wasn't exactly right. Lauren may not be a Spanish name or have a direct translation, yet it's possible to pronounce it in Spanish. My name is adaptable in both languages. I appreciate that my name can have two pronunciations, even if it's a reminder that I'm from somewhere else. And as a daughter of a Chilean immigrant, it may be ironic that I was always seeking to blend in and belong.

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