When it comes to naming our kids, Latinas have been known to venture beyond the top 10 lists and draw on family history, religion, and their imaginations. Here, some Latina moms explain their unconventional monikers, while others discuss their child's name.
"My uncle named me. I have no idea where he got Noslaydis. Most of the girls at my school in Cuba had names that started with 'Y' or included a 'Y'—it was a big trend! I got my middle name when I was seven. My dad made a promise to San Lazaro that he would name me after him if I got over my asthma. I didn't like either name. No one pronounces Noslaydis right. When I became an American citizen, I considered changing it to Megan. But it was too big a hassle."
"There was a Sabado Gigante-style TV show in Venezuela that had a child beauty pageant segment, and my mom liked the name of one of the contestants. When I found out that there was a makeup line with the same name, I thought it was made just for me! I had health problems as a newborn, so my mom added Milagros."
In Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, the Yagüez River is fabled for having brought early inhabitants to this town. “It’s the reason the city became industrialized,” says Evette Ríos, whose parents come from this part of the island. “I loved the idea of giving my son a name that reflected bringing the community together.” Her family in PR didn’t feel the same. “Because the river is not beautiful or scenic, they didn’t think it was the best choice,” she says.
But Ríos, who splits her time between New York and the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, stood steady on her decision. That’s how her firstborn became Yagüez. Now four years later, her parents have grown to appreciate the name. “When we go back to Puerto Rico, it’s a source of pride for my dad to introduce my son to other people. It makes him feel patriotic.”
That doesn’t mean she didn’t face pushback when she named her 2-year-old son Guarionex after an indigenous Taíno chief who worked with missionaries to record and preserve the native people’s traditions, culture, and language. “I loved that story,” Ríos says. The Taíno people “were here, they matter, they were significant, and they are still a part of us.” She adds, “We felt it would be a name he would grow into” even if her abuelita still thinks it’s “crazy.”
Does Ríos worry that her boys will one day have a hard time explaining their names? Sure. But her husband is Caucasian and they have his surname, so she wanted her kids to identify as something other than white American. “I’m sending them a message that you need to value your culture—there is no erasing it,” Ríos says.
"Back in the Dominican Republic, my dad apprenticed with a Spanish artist and I was named after his daughter. 'Del Camino' is a reference to the Christian pilgrimage route in Spain [which leads to the Cathedral of Santiago de la Compostela]. I nicknamed myself Mino as a kid. I jumbled my name and that's what came out. But I love Maria del Camino; it's poetic. When I came to the U.S. to study, it became a source of pride."
"A lot of people think my name has to do with Brown Pride [a Latino movement from the 60s], because it's an Aztec name, but really, it's not unusual in Mexico. Growing up, I didn't like it because it was so different: It starts with an 'X' and ends with a 'tl' and pronounced SO-chee. People butchered it. But when I found out it means 'flower,' I fell in love with it. It's part of my heritage and I love that."
When Nicole Acosta was growing up, she didn’t connect with her name. “As a first-generation immigrant, I never felt that it represented where I come from,” says the Chicana mom in Milwaukee. So when her son was born six years ago, she saw it as a chance to give him a name linked to his culture.
Since Acosta and the boy’s father, Cecilio, had been brought together by their love of Afro-Latino music—she is a dancer, specializing in bomba rhythms, and he plays drums in a jazz band—the pair looked to their artistic background for inspiration.
“His dad has a beautiful song on his album that gives thanks to the god Ayán. The name means ‘spirit of the drum’ in Yoruba, an [African] religion represented by gods and goddesses that celebrates many of Earth’s elements,” says Acosta, who learned about the culture in her travels through Puerto Rico, where it is also practiced.
The name could not have been more perfect: “He can play the drums like it’s nobody’s business,” Acosta says with pride. “After all, he’s been learning since he was in the womb.”
"My mom saw the name in an English-language magazine and loved it, though she couldn't read in English and didn't know what it meant. Much later someone asked me if I knew I was named for a tragedy [Mayerling is the place where Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria and his mistress killed themselves in 1889; his death contributed to events leading up to World War I]. I was shocked. But I'm okay with it because it's very different. And I've never told my mom; I don't want her to feel bad. I love Altagracia because she's one of the patron saints of the Dominican Republic. I pray to her and it makes me feel holy."
"I'm named after my Puerto Rican grandmother on my mom's side, Margarita, who died when my mom was two months pregnant with me. My aunt discovered a French translation with a 't' at the end and suggested we change it up a little. It's pronounced Marjo-REET. I love it. It makes me stand out from the crowd. Toro is my mom's maiden name. She's a proud Boricua from the Bronx, New York, and she wanted her side to be represented."
Hiking, backpacking, and camping are a few of the adventures Melissa Avery’s family, in Fremont, California, enjoy most. One could say that they spend more time alfresco than they do inside. “That is where we create memories,” Avery says. And of the Peruvian mom’s three kids, it is the youngest who loves fresh-air fun the most.
It’s no coincidence then that the boy’s siblings named him Diego, after the animated action hero. When Avery was pregnant, Go, Diego, Go! was a popular cartoon featuring an 8-year-old boy who rescues animals around the world. “He was a little explorer, and that’s what my family does,” Avery says.
When it came to the middle name, Avery insisted on something signaling Peruvian heritage. “We chose Pacha because it was short for ‘Pachacutec,’ the ninth Incan emperor, who is believed to have created Machu Picchu,” she says. “We also wanted to honor my father with a name that reflects his birth town of Pachas Huanuco, Peru.” If all of that wasn’t enough, Pacha means “Mother Earth” in the indigenous language of Quechua—yet another reason it was the right fit for her outdoorsy family.
One day, Avery hopes to travel to Peru with her kids. “I visited Machu Picchu with my husband before we had little ones, and we made a promise to each other during the trek that we would someday hike the Inca Trail with our children,” Avery says. “I want them to feel connected to the land where my family lived for thousands of years.”
"My mom was sitting in church hearing a sermon that included the story of a woman who waited for her fiancé to come back from a war. She loved that idea of faithfulness. I've always loved my name. It's simple and I've never met anyone else with it."
"Zobeida was my grandmother's name. She died in the Dominican Republic before I was born. When my mom had me, she wanted to honor her but still give me a name of my own, so she came up with Veida. Everyone I've ever talked to about my grandmother has said she was a very nice lady, so I'm very happy to have it. My step-grandmother gave me a middle name that she found in a newspaper article."
Elementary school wasn’t easy for Robyn Power. At age 3, she moved to her parents’ native Venezuela with her mom and stayed there through kindergarten. When she returned to the suburbs of Atlanta, her classmates made fun of her for being Latina. She eventually tried to assimilate: “I refused to speak Spanish and later changed my appearance by bleaching my hair,” Power says.
At home, growing up, she hadn’t really been raised in Venezuelan culture. “My parents worked a lot, so there wasn’t anyone to teach us about our heritage or encourage us to be proud of it and, most important, to feel confident at that age.”
Thankfully, as an adult, she found her way back to her roots and embraced the culture through food and music. By the time she had children, she vowed to raise proud Latinos. “I wanted to give them strong names so they would know their roots and identity, regardless of where they lived,” she says. That’s why she named her son Benicio Antonio. The middle name was passed down from her father, whose sense of humor her son has inherited. “My dad doesn’t take anything too seriously and always tries to enjoy life,” Power says.
Since most of Power’s relatives still live in Venezuela, which she hasn’t visited in more than 15 years for safety reasons, the name is a link to her family. “It’s a way to honor them,” she says.
As for the name Benicio, it was chosen by her husband, Bobby, who is Caucasian. It’s important to him that the boy have a strong name that represents his heritage, Power says. So far, the 6-year-old is carrying it well. Whenever anybody tries to call him “Benny” for short, “he corrects them and says, ‘No, my name is Benicio.’”
"My parents wanted to name me after themselves, Jaime and Fermina, and they squeezed them together to create Jaimina. You're supposed to say it Hi-MEE-na, like in Spanish, but I've been called everything from Jay-mina to Aunt Jemima, and people always spell it wrong. I couldn't deal. I ended up just calling myself Jaime, pronounced in English. The only time I use Jaimina is when I'm talking to other Mexicans since Jaime is a man's name in Spanish. Kinda confusing but it works."
Going against the grain is a way of life for Rebecca Medina-Pleitez and her husband, Emanuel Pleitez. For starters, the pair were married seven years ago while residing in different countries (she in the U.S. and he in Switzerland). The couple, now in Los Angeles, didn’t change their unconventional ways when they had kids. In fact, Medina-Pleitez ran a marathon three months after her son was born and would take breaks to pump during the race, and then she ran another while pregnant with her daughter.
So they weren’t about to pick a baby name from a top-ten list. Instead, they chose names that reflected their indigenous heritage (she is Mexican- American, and he is Mexican-Salvadoran). Medina-Pleitez kept a list of meaningful words from different indigenous communities that aligned with their values, she says.
Their 3-year-old son’s name, Suremikal, is a combination of “Surem,” which refers to the ancestors of the Yaqui people in Mexico, and “Ikal,” which means “spirit” in Mayan. His middle name, Taiyari, means “heart” in Huichol. Their 1-year- old daughter’s name is Ixnuukda. “Ix” is Mayan and means “feminine energy” and “vigor.” “Nuukda” is Tepehuan and means “to be on guard.” Her second name, Anam, means “earth” in the Mayan language Huasteco.
While some relatives still find the names too complicated to pronounce, Medina-Pleitez isn’t worried. “There is something special about challenging the status quo,” she says. “We want our kids to know that they are unique.”