Buenos Aires : Across Latin America, there are people registered with names like Hitler, Lenin, Superman, Frankenstein or even the much less threatening Mickey Mouse.
There are names like Burger King and even Burguer King (with the extra u, as the brand would be pronounced in Spanish), Voltaire and Volter, Yoni (from Johnny) and Maiquel (from Michael).
The government of controversial Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez caused a stir recently by formally introducing a bill to restrict the creativity of parents in naming their children, and the authorities in Ecuador and other countries have attempted to do likewise.
But it is at best bound to take a while.
The Chavez administration, for one, had to withdraw its proposed bill. The practice has deep roots and belongs to regional traditions, and it makes Spanish-language classics like Juan or Ana sound like a person’s parents really did not try hard enough to find a good name for their child.
Across Latin America, there are people with names like Etcetera, Coito (Spanish word for sexual intercourse) or Espiritu Santo (holy spirit), alongside many called John or Robert Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Jefferson, Washington or Napoleon.
In Venezuela, names like Air Jordan, Yesaidu (a variant of “yes, I do”) and Maiparner (from the English “my partner”) are not even rare. There are people named Hochiminh (the late Vietnamese leader), Yusnavy (from “US Navy”) and even Makgiber (from the TV character McGyver).
The practice is by no means new. Jailed terrorist Carlos the Jackal, the Venezuelan-born notorious terrorist who was for decades a member of the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine (PFLP,) was given the name Ilich (after Lenin’s name in Spanish) Ramirez Sanchez, and his two brothers were called Vladimir and Lenin.
The country’s star footballer of the 1990s was Stalin Rivas, there is a
legislator named Iroshima (Japan’s nuclear-bombed city) Bravo who works
alongside colleagues with apparently made-up names like Maigualida, Aleydis and Zark.
The practice is common in other Latin American countries. Cuban boxers with names like Erislandy, Yuriorkis and Odlanier have made headlines in recent months, and the country has produced Olympic medallists in athletics called Osleidys, Yipsy and Anier.
Other names have comic intent: Yotuel (formed by putting together the Spanish pronouns meaning I, you and he), Yanaci (from the Spanish “ya naci,” “I was born”) and Usmail (from “US Mail”) are striking, as are the more universally graphic Danger and Alien.
In Mexico, there are people called Onecent (pronounced in Spanish) and One Dolar (with one “l”), and several citizens have been registered with the name Masiosare, derived from the national anthem verse “Mas si osare un extrano enemigo” (If a foreign enemy dared).
Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba or Ecuador have for decades featured striking names. The practice is most common in rural areas and is particularly popular in certain regions like Venezuela’s Zulia, Ecuador’s Manabi and Mexico’s Tabasco.
In some towns, like Chone in Ecuador, people appear to compete with each other for the most outrageous names, resulting in ID cards for Ali Baba Cardenas, Mary Nissan Loor and Land Rover Garcia.
Chavez may well be right and some stricter regulations may indeed be in order across the region. But going back to Jose and Maria would be dull.