September 5, 2007
A Culture of Naming That Even a Law May Not Tame
By SIMON ROMERO
CARACAS, Venezuela, Sept. 4 — Goodbye, Tutankamen del Sol.
So long, Hengelberth, Maolenin, Kerbert Krishnamerk, Githanjaly, Yornaichel, Nixon and Yurbiladyberth. The prolifically inventive world of Venezuelan baby names may be coming to an end.
If electoral officials here get their way, a bill introduced last week would prohibit Venezuelan parents from bestowing those names — and many, many others — on their children.
The measure would not be retroactive. But it would limit parents of newborns to a list of 100 names established by the government, with exemptions for Indians and foreigners, and it is already facing skepticism in the halls of the National Assembly.
“I need to know how they would define those 100 names,” said Jhonny Owee Milano Rodríguez, a congressman representing Cojedes State. “For example, why not 120? This seems arbitrary to me.”
Mr. Milano, 55, said his first name, Jhonny, spelled as such, was inspired by the international ambience of the oil town in eastern Venezuela where he was born. Owee, he said, was erroneously entered in the birth registry instead of Oved.
The bill’s ambition, according to a draft submitted to municipal offices here for review, is to “preserve the equilibrium and integral development of the child” by preventing parents from giving newborns names that expose them to ridicule or are “extravagant or hard to pronounce in the official language,” Spanish.
The bill also aims to prevent names that “generate doubts” about the bearer’s gender.
Some of Mr. Milano’s colleagues in the National Assembly, which is controlled by supporters of President Hugo Chávez, include Iroshima Jennifer Bravo Quevedo, Earle José Herrera Silva and Grace Nagarith Lucena Rosendy. Legislators need to approve the bill before it becomes law.
Whimsical names can also be found in other Latin American countries. Honduras has first names like Ronald Reagan, Transfiguración and Compañía Holandesa (Dutch Company), according to the newspaper El Heraldo. In Panama, local news media this year reported name-change efforts by an Esthewoldo, a Kairovan and a Max Donald.
But Venezuela’s naming tradition rivals or exceeds that of its neighbors, many people here say. Some first names in Venezuela include Haynhect, Olmelibey, Yan Karll and Udemixon, according to a list compiled by the novelist Roberto Echeto.
Other names here easily roll off the tongue in English, like Kennedy or John Wayne, or in Russian, like Pavel or Ilich, reflecting influences from the cold war era.
Municipal clerks’ offices, where parents register their children, have become forums for debating the possible restrictions.
“The children of my cousins are named Keiserlin, Jeiserlin, Keifel, Yurubi, Arol Kiling,” said Leidy Marrero, 29, a budget analyst. Ms. Marrero named her newborn daughter Mariángela, combining María and Ángela.
“It’s a question of taste,” she said in an interview at the clerk’s office in the San Bernardino district of Caracas, explaining her opposition to the measure. “It is a parent’s right.”
Some parents exercise that right more liberally than others.
Software searches of the voter registry find more than 60 people of voting age with the first name Hitler, including Hitler Adonys Rodríguez Crespo; eight Hochiminhs, among them Hochiminh Jesús Delgado Sierra; and six Eisenhowers, including Dwight Eisenhower Rojas Barboza.
Unusual names in Venezuela are often grist for awe or humor, but the issue is also politicized, given President Chávez’s gusto for renaming things, with critics of the bill claiming it would enhance his government’s naming authority in a realm where the fancy of parents still holds sway.
One of the president’s first moves was to change the country’s name from Republic of Venezuela to Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Part of Avenida Páez here has been renamed Avenida Teheran in a nod to Iran. The currency, the bolívar, is to be called the “bolívar fuerte,” or strong bolívar, starting next year.
In an editorial, the newspaper El Nacional described the measure as “malicious.”
The authorities may yet bend to public will. Germán Yépez, an official with the National Electoral Council, said the measure originated after children were given names like Superman and Batman. Still, he said in comments broadcast on radio, he welcomed “this type of positive reaction and suggestions.”
Not everyone denounces the bill. Temutchin del Espíritu Santo Rojas Fernández, 25, a computer programmer, explained that his first name was inspired by the birth name of Genghis Khan, often spelled Temujin in English. He said he frequently had to correct the spelling of his name on official documents.
And in Venezuela, where the tax authorities require name and national identity number for every purchase needing a receipt, pronouncing and spelling out Temutchin del Espíritu Santo can get tiring, Mr. Rojas Fernández said. “With a name this complicated, you lose time,” he said.
“It also creates social problems,” he continued. “When interacting with others, not everyone can pronounce your name. I have to pronounce my name five times and spell it twice.”
José Orozco contributed reporting.
*1:Cf. http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20070604/1180952185 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20070817/1187330041 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20070824/1187979598