Friday, March 11, 2005

What's In A Name

The LAT's Steve Lopez thinks Villaraigosa would do better if voters could pronounce his name.

For those who don't know, his last name was Villar, but when he married Corina Raigosa he merged the names into one. Which, for the record, is on a shade or so off from traditional Latino naming traditions (perhaps more Spanish) where the "de" construction was used when uniting couples, families, and names. In a way, I suppose, shouldn't feminists be happy with the move?

Lopez, however, thinks Villaraigosa took a perfectly good name, "slapped on three syllables and made it impossible to remember, let alone prounounce. You can barely get it on a political button."

You know, I've never had trouble with it. Turns out if you just learn someone's name, you generally remember it. Lopez's argument is akin to "you know, why isn't everyone's phone number 555-5555, all these other, superfluous digits are impossible to remember." The last point is a good one - fitting names on chum is an important consideration, but perhaps not important enough to warrant a name change.

I should know from difficult names, too. Growing up as Christina Dominquez - OOPS - I mean, Christiana Dominguez, has been easy. In fact, I've frequently considered changing my name from "Christiana" to "No-it's-Christiana."

Also, I don't think "Villar" would've saved him much trouble either. Is that Villar like the architectual element supporting a building? Or Villar like Vee-yar? Good luck.

Not to play my own race card here, but I'm somewhat surprised that a columnist named Lopez takes such issue with Villaraigosa's name - even if it is just a nice lead-in to get him to the question of ethnicity in LA elections. Just because he lucked out with the easy Hispanic surname is no reason to gloat . . . .

On the question of whether L.A. is "ready" for a Latino mayor - well, my research on voter behavior in judicial elections in Los Angeles County showed no anti-Hispanic-surname bias. Races with much, much less notoriety, sure, but frankly, that makes them better candidates (no pun intended, unless you thought that clever, in which case, laugh away) for blatant ballot box bigotry.

I had a heated discussion once with a friend on the topic of changing one's name after marriage. I don't plan to. He thought this was awful. Among the list of reasons I gave - I'm attached to it, I like it, there are no sons in my family to carry on the name - I mentioned that there were political considerations too.

He was outright horrified. How could I capitalize on ethnicity to score political points. The sheer game of it all.

Well, for one thing, there's no proof - as the Lopez piece argues - that it wouldn't be better for me to marry a nice Anglo boy with a nice, simple, button-friendly name.

But for another thing - it's my name. It's not a calculated political move - I was BORN with the name. I'm not faking the Mexican part guys, it's there, in the blood. After so many years repeating my last name, spelling it out for people, correcting yearbooks and diplomas, I think I've earned the right to hold on to it.

The article discusses the notion that names so unpronounceable can become memorable. On ballots, I'd imagine, even if a voter couldn't remember a long, complicated name accurately, he could run his eyes up and down the choices and eliminate all the Jones, Smiths, and Does and just look for the name that juts out 3 feet further than the rest.

But with time, and even the scantist bits of concentration, people can master even the most difficult names.

Remember when people were sure our governor would be called simpy Arnold.

We all leared to spell Schwarzenegger. We could learn Villaraigosa too.

Of course, for reasons that have nothing to do with ethnicity or nomenclature, I'm still voting for Hahn.

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