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Why I chose to ‘Americanize’ my name

Our names are a form of identification given to us to carry for the rest of our lives. Whether we like them or not, names are given to us from those that love us the most: our family.

However, around the world names vary due to cultures, languages, traditions, etc. For example, in China the family name (last name) comes first followed by the given name (first name). This may seem strange to a lot of us since most of us are convinced that the name order is usually first name, a middle name if you have one, and last name, but this is just one example of the many name variations around the world.

Considering that the United States is a melting pot of cultures, it is not uncommon to encounter someone with a fairly different name than those that are considered “American”.

Although each name is uniquely beautiful, when living in the United States it is a common practice for people to “Americanize” their names in order to cater to those that are unfamiliar with different cultural names or those that can’t pronounce them correctly.

I come from a Spanish-speaking country, Colombia, and it is common to carry a first name, middle name, and your two family names. My full name is Maria Camila Vallejo Ocampo. This name given to me by my parents has a great significance to all of us.  Since my mother was not blessed with a baby until the age of 39, she was susceptible to pregnancy complications. Being a woman of strong faith, my mother promised the Virgin Mary (also know as La Virgen Maria) if she had a healthy child, she would name it after Saint Mary.

Although I am very proud of the story behind my name, it does not change the fact that I decided to “Americanize” my name when immigrating to the United States. I formally go by Camila Vallejo and have done so ever since I was enrolled in the school system. This was a decision I made early on.  It stems from the fact that I didn’t want people butchering my considerably long name. I wanted to avoid pronunciation issues and any stereotypical comments. Maria is one of the most common female names in Spanish-speaking countries.  I wanted to be anything other than common. I decided not to use my second last name as well, in order to shorten the whole thing.  Those who say that I have been influenced by American society to do this may be correct.  However, I put a personal touch on my name to represent how I want to be seen. Considering that your name is one of the first impressions people have of you, I wanted to embrace my culture but I didn’t want my very Latina name to define me in other people’s minds going forward.

Looking back at the decision I made, I realized it is a bit devastating that many people feel the need to modify their name in America solely to cater to others. In a perfect world, people would take the time to learn how to pronounce different names and wouldn’t judge others because of it. Unfortunately, we don’t live in such a world. Although I did choose to “Americanize” it, I can honestly say that I am still proud to represent my family, culture, and self through my name. 




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