You would think my name would be easy.
Four letters. And an R to roll up front, si se quiere.
Au contraire, mi amigo.
We are now about a month and a half into our adventure here, and I have officially given up on trying to explain that my name is Ryan. Con ‘ehrrey’ (R). Sin ‘bay’ (B).
I actually surrendered my identity as Ryan awhile back, when I realized that it was going to be impossible for anyone here to say my first name. Ryan was pronounced more like ‘ree-in,’ or instantly morphed into Brayan, which is actually a name here unlike its shorter brother, and my former first name.
And Tilley—forget Tilley. That either gets pronounced as ‘Tillis’ or ‘Tyler’. Drop that one too.
So now am I known here, for better or worse, as Brayan. Dan and Felicia have even started calling me Brayan, not as a joke or to draw attention to my rebranded self, but out of the simple habit of hearing it all day long from everyone else.
Names are a funny thing here in the Dominican. For starters, being a hispanic country, everyone here has a million names (usually 4, but they are always a mouthful). And to be fair, I think we have as much trouble with some of the students names as they do with ours, though Felicia y Daniel were fortunate enough to have easy transitions (our surnames, another story).
Yafriesy, Maikol, Deulin, Breyner– a small sample of the more challenging names, from what we can remember. Some names are said and immediately chalked up as a loss, they are so baffling. ¿Cómo se deletrea? Forget it. Even if you knew how to spell it you’d still have a hell of a time trying to say it. Like trying to tease Tilley from Tillis. Hopeless. Some things are just too damn hard to pronounce.
Now, given four names, the first name is not always the one that people refer to themselves by. It could be their last name, or their third name, or some family name, or some random nickname bestowed upon them by a relative since childhood.
Or better yet, something completely arbitrary, such as “gossip girl” or “funboy” or “opportunity girl” or “purple bunny,” some clever type of reinvention of self-identity that is completely within the rules. If you want to be called something, roll with it. For example, I could start referring to myself tomorrow as “el capitán” and that would be completely acceptable, and might even gain some traction. Though “coco loco” (‘crazy coconut’)–a nickname bestowed upon me a few weeks back by little Yuri–is already quite popular with the younger kids. And I think I am going to keep it.
Names are certainly a funny thing here, if not only for the oddity with which people sometimes refer to themselves (sidenote: the royal we is another commonality), but also for the bluntness with which the Dominicans describe and define others. If someone is fat, they are gordito. They think you look ugly, you’ll be feo. No harm, no foul–it’s just the way it is, and they will say it to your face. That said, Dan is el flaco (‘the skinny one’), and I have been branded as gringuito (‘little gringo’).
While such bluntness may by our cultural standards make one feel taken aback, it is, in reality, quite comical. It hurdles right over the overprotective, P.C. social norms that we have in our society, saying out in the open what everyone thinks and knows anyways.
And beyond that, it can be quite liberating.
I kinda like gringuito. I think I may keep that one too.