The Phenomenon of Foreign Names in Guatemala

by Diana Pastor

My next door neighbour has 3 children: Anthony, Jason and Brian. No, they’re not American. They are only part of the phenomenon that in recent years has led to Guatemalans baptizing their children with English names, or with popular names in other languages, with European favourites being particularly popular. It’s a phenomenon that has been growing over time, leading to a declining use of Latino names, whilst people with Mayan names are becoming rarer and rarer.

Jennifer, Ashley, Allison and Kathleen are some of the most common names for girls. Sure, there are also some more unusual ones. I read an article a few years ago in the newspaper about the most unusual names in Guatemala: one girl was baptized as Brittney Spears (as her first names) Rodríguez Shiloj. And the boys are certainly not left out either. You can not only find a host of Brians, Davids, Johnathons, Michaels or Charlies across the country. There are also names that are particularly unusual, as in the case of a child who was baptized as Terminator Jesus (after the famous film star Schwarzenegger and Jesus Christ). A real solid blend of Guatemalan and American culture. This is no joke, this actually happened in Guatemala. The civil registry employees across the country act as witnesses to the ingenuity, taste and creativity of Guatemalan parents.

You can also find people with names from other countries, such as Germany. So if you look hard enough you can bump into some Franzs, Richards and Rogers in Guatemala. What’s particularly amusing about this phenomenon of foreign names in the country is that often parents will write the names how they sound in Spanish, and so we end up with Deivid (David), Maicol (Michael) and Estiv (Steve).

But does anyone really care about all this? Of course, during the Spanish invasion of Latin America many of the original Mayan names of the indigenous inhabitants also went through a long process whereby they were replaced with names of Spanish-Latino origin. My own name is not Mayan, but of Latin origin, despite the fact I come from a Quiché family.  My father chose to give to me and my siblings names that (in those years) were more “Spanish sounding”. Neither were we taught to speak in  K’iche when we were young. We grew up using Spanish as our mother tongue.

Certainly, many people who today still retain their names in Mayan languages ??have sometimes had difficulty with them, even though we live in a country where at least 4 million people do not speak Spanish at all. It’s a shame, when there are so many interesting and beautiful names in Quiché, Mam, Q’anjobal or any of the other indigenous languages??, that so many of them have completely fallen into disuse.


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