la china has a name

la china has a name


Rodolfo F. Acuña

Names have meaning. They tell you an awful lot about people. In my case I remember faces but have a hard time remembering my students’ names resorting to giving them nicknames. It is easy for me to rationalize the habit since I come from a culture where it seems as if everyone has a nickname. Many of these names in English would be offensive. For instance, in some places in Mexico if a person is chubby we call them la gorda or el gordo. In English it would be crude if not offensive to refer to someone as the fat one.

I could go on and on. In Spanish it is not uncommon to refer to someone as el feo or la fea (the ugly one). They are often terms of endearment. In English, however, to call someone who is not a stereotype beauty ugly could be fighting words.

While playful, this habit can be rude. My wife, Lupita, for instance resents meeting people dozens of times at events and having to gently correct people who refer to her as “Rudy’s wife.” I can almost hear her say, “My name is Lupita.”

In or relationships with other groups it is not a matter of political correctness to call them by their name. Increasingly we refer to someone as the Mexican or the Black. We increasingly generalize – every Asian son chinos. I have heard pilipinos correct people for referring to them as chinos.  “La china has a name” just like my wife has a name.

My only excuse is numbers and a bad memory for names. I cannot blame it on the culture.