What’s Your Name?

¿Cómo te llamas?  What’s your name?

I’ve probably asked kids that question the most since moving to the Dominican. When my Spanish vocabulary was minimal, it was an easy conversation starter. I’ve provided many a child with a case of the giggles while trying to pronounce the different-sounding syllables that make up their names.

After six months, my ear has become more accustomed to Spanish sounds and intonations. I still ask children about their names, and I’ve noticed something interesting – not every kid is called by his given name. It’s common for a child here to have an apodo, or nickname. For some parents living in the bateyes, a nickname is the difference between a normal life and a disastrous life for their kid. Some people believe that a child’s first name should be kept secret – apodos will hold witches and evil spirits at bay, hindering them from casting spells on the child. A nickname is chosen, often based on a person’s appearance or other identifying characteristic.

Simona and Chiqui

Several kids attending our pre-school are known by their nicknames. Not all of our students have apodos for superstitious or religious reasons, but we’ve had various instances where figuring out their real names has been an issue. One mother refused to tell Jason her son’s full name and birth date because she didn’t want anyone to hear her passing along the information.

It’s hard to imagine believing that the public announcement of one’s name could result in being cursed. I wonder if any of these kids grow up with the fear of speaking their real names aloud. I’m eager to see what a Christ-centered, bilingual education will do to change these kids’ view of themselves, their world, and the Creator who knew them before they ever had a name.

Asking these boys and girls about their names holds more weight for me now. I have a new goal when uttering my “¿Cómo te llamas?” question – to follow it with a prayer that God show these kiddos the identity that they can have in Him.

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