Creatively spelled names. By Steve Mullaney
The Peace Corps is good at two things: loud raucous public urination in front of King & Queen and bringing sociology majors named Janell, Michelle & Amber to Guatemala in order to teach farming to farmers who have been farming for thousands of years. Why mention this fact in an article about creatively-spelled names? Well, the Peace Corps is directly responsible for the scores of children named Yaneli, Mischel & Yambelith that are now growing up with unorthodox names. This month’s WITP explains how this phenomenon arose.
Creatively-spelled names did not just happen; they are actually the result of long-term patterns that have trickled down hard recently. Typically what happens is this: two campesinos will be sharing the latest small-town gossip and the topic will typically shift to Peace Corps mishaps:
Campesino 1: “Janell was vomiting profusely behind the cantina last night.”
Campesino 2: “Are you sure? Maybe she was actually making organic fertilizer and is trying to turn it into a sustainable social venture so that we campesinos can diversify our crops and break the cycle of poverty.”
Campesino 1: “Ha ha. For real. But seriously, she was really puking hard.”
Campesino 2 goes home and relates the tale of Janell to his pregnant wife, and, being something of a jokester suggests that they name their unborn daughter after her. Campesino 2’s wife, not picking up on the sarcasm, nods in agreement. One week later, Campesino 2 is tragically run over by a bus. As Campesino 2’s wife is giving birth she names her daughter Yaneli because her dead husband is not there to tell her it was all a joke and she has never seen the name “Janell” in print.
This series of events repeats itself throughout the country, and, over time there are Yaneli’s born not out of ill-fated jokes made by the Campesino 2’s of the world, but in order to honor a revered family member bearing that name. As the name becomes more and more institutionalized the Yaneli’s of the world get fewer stares and more “Buena onda. Every female in my family is also named Yaneli.” Given that the number of Corps members who are/were in Guatemala is probably in the thousands by now this means that the name José is set to go extinct by 2023. Much like global warming, it may be too late to reverse the trend, but we must try our best. Henceforth all visitors to Guatemala will be told to introduce themselves as either Juan or Maria in order to preserve those names for future generations.