What’s Your Name?
By Manuel Hernandez copyright@2006
When I attended grade school, my name was mispronounced often.
Instead of the Spanish Manuel, teachers made an extreme effort
saying it and always ended up pronouncing it incorrectly.
For them, I
was Man-You-El. That wasn’t my name, but I didn’t dare correct
teachers. At home and to my childhood buddies, I was Junior.
I was named
after my father, and it was customary to call the son with
name. There were so many Juniors, but I did feel more in the
I grew up in North Tarrytown, New York in the late 1960’s
early 1970’s. My parents had moved from Puerto Rico during
following the end of World War II. My mother escaped the vigilant
watchful eye of my grandparents, and Father was encouraged
to move to
New York for financial reasons. One hot humid Sunday afternoon,
and Carmen crossed their Latino eyes at a Pentecostal church
Brooklyn. The rest is part of American history.
When my family moved to Puerto Rico in October of 1974, my
changed drastically. On the first day of school, my sixth
Mrs. Tapia, asked me, “Cual es tu segundo apellido?” I was
You see, in the United States, my mother’s last name was never
mentioned or asked for in school. In Puerto Rico, a second
last name was
a must. But Mrs. Tapia asked who my mother was and immediately
it was Carmona. I hated it. I have nothing against my mother’s
name, but it was new for me, and I didn’t like the sound of
it. For me,
Carmona was half a car and half “mona” (female monkey).
To add to insult and from that moment on, she always called
Carmona and so did the rest of the teachers in that school.
It just so
happened that all my eight aunts and four uncles had studied
G. De Veve elementary school, and I as the oldest grandson
was the new
Carmona in town. My “compañeros de clase” called me Gringo
Nuyorican. I didn’t have a clue what those words meant, but
and giggled when they called me like that. Someone told me
was because I had moved from the United States, and Nuyorican
supposed to mean that I was half Puerto Rican and half New
York Rican or
something like that. I hated those names too, but there were
Boricuas to fight.
When my family moved to another town, I thought that I could
of Carmona, but there was a Math teacher that everyone said
me and guess what his name was, Mr. Carmona. In high school,
I began to
finally get away from Carmona but till this day, my high school
classmates still call me, Carmona. In college, I made several
New York City, and there my hometown buddies made me feel
at ease by
once more calling me Junior.
When I enrolled in college, I started using Manuel as my new
It was the formal thing to do. Then I met Maria, my wife.
me to a tenderer, younger name, Nene. Wow! I really liked
especially when she kissed me right after she pronounced it
with all the
love in her heart.
When I became a teacher, students called me Mister Hernandez.
According to peers, the name demanded respect. I tried getting
that one by telling students to call me just plain Hernandez
did, but I got new students all the time and they went back
me, Mister Hernandez.
Then the greatest thing happened! I finished my Master’s degree
was hired in my “alma mater”, the University of Puerto Rico
instructor of English. There students called teachers, professors.
of a sudden I was the Professor. That really built my ego.
Mister, I was the professor now. For three years, I was professor
professor there. Nice! But I did not earn a Doctorate, and
university sent me back to the unemployment office.
Thanks to a one on one confrontation within, I went back to
beginning. Hey, I began as a teacher, so I went back to school
and my old name surfaced again, Mister Hernandez. For the
first time in
my life, Mister Hernandez had a different tone, and I smiled
students called my attention.
When I became a father, Joey and Josue called me Papi. That
came with the territory. But for the last ten years, I have
an effort to be called Manny. The nickname has smooth and
connotations. First, there was a baseball player whose name
Sanguillen. He played for the Pittsburgh Pirates during my
teen years, and as a kid I admired his tenacity and intensity.
I was not
a Pirate fan, but all kids during the time watched Pirate
superstar Roberto Clemente play, and there was Manny right
plate. Second, I have always considered myself a simple quiet
believe Manny stands for all that and more. I love the name.
well, that’s another story. What’s your name?