Venezuela: A Culture of Naming That Even a Law May Not Tame

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Sep 5 15:57:06 UTC 2007

September 5, 2007
Caracas Journal

A Culture of Naming That Even a Law May Not Tame

CARACAS, Venezuela, Sept. 4  Goodbye, Tutankamen del Sol.

So long, Hengelberth, Maolenin, Kerbert Krishnamerk, Githanjaly,
Yornaichel, Nixon and Yurbiladyberth. The prolifically inventive world of
Venezuelan baby names may be coming to an end. If electoral officials here
get their way, a bill introduced last week would prohibit Venezuelan
parents from bestowing those names and many, many others on their
children. The measure would not be retroactive. But it would limit parents
of newborns to a list of 100 names established by the government, with
exemptions for Indians and foreigners, and it is already facing skepticism
in the halls of the National Assembly.

I need to know how they would define those 100 names, said Jhonny Owee
Milano Rodrguez, a congressman representing Cojedes State. For example,
why not 120? This seems arbitrary to me. Mr. Milano, 55, said his first
name, Jhonny, spelled as such, was inspired by the international ambience
of the oil town in eastern Venezuela where he was born. Owee, he said, was
erroneously entered in the birth registry instead of Oved. The bills
ambition, according to a draft submitted to municipal offices here for
review, is to preserve the equilibrium and integral development of the
child by preventing parents from giving newborns names that expose them to
ridicule or are extravagant or hard to pronounce in the official language,

The bill also aims to prevent names that generate doubts about the
bearer's gender. Some of Mr. Milanos colleagues in the National Assembly,
which is controlled by supporters of President Hugo Chavez, include
Iroshima Jennifer Bravo Quevedo, Earle Jos Herrera Silva and Grace
Nagarith Lucena Rosendy. Legislators need to approve the bill before it
becomes law. Whimsical names can also be found in other Latin American
countries.  Honduras has first names like Ronald Reagan, Transfiguracin
and Compaa Holandesa (Dutch Company), according to the newspaper El
Heraldo. In Panama, local news media this year reported name-change
efforts by an Esthewoldo, a Kairovan and a Max Donald.

But Venezuela's naming tradition rivals or exceeds that of its neighbors,
many people here say. Some first names in Venezuela include Haynhect,
Olmelibey, Yan Karll and Udemixon, according to a list compiled by the
novelist Roberto Echeto. Other names here easily roll off the tongue in
English, like Kennedy or John Wayne, or in Russian, like Pavel or Ilich,
reflecting influences from the cold war era. Municipal clerks offices,
where parents register their children, have become forums for debating the
possible restrictions.

The children of my cousins are named Keiserlin, Jeiserlin, Keifel, Yurubi,
Arol Kiling, said Leidy Marrero, 29, a budget analyst. Ms. Marrero named
her newborn daughter Maringela, combining Mara and ngela. Its a question
of taste, she said in an interview at the clerks office in the San
Bernardino district of Caracas, explaining her opposition to the measure.
It is a parents right. Some parents exercise that right more liberally
than others. Software searches of the voter registry find more than 60
people of voting age with the first name Hitler, including Hitler Adonys
Rodrguez Crespo;  eight Hochiminhs, among them Hochiminh Jess Delgado
Sierra; and six Eisenhowers, including Dwight Eisenhower Rojas Barboza.

Unusual names in Venezuela are often grist for awe or humor, but the issue
is also politicized, given President Chavez's gusto for renaming things,
with critics of the bill claiming it would enhance his governments naming
authority in a realm where the fancy of parents still holds sway. One of
the presidents first moves was to change the countrys name from Republic
of Venezuela to Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Part of Avenida Pez here
has been renamed Avenida Teheran in a nod to Iran. The currency, the
bolvar, is to be called the bolvar fuerte, or strong bolvar, starting next
year. In an editorial, the newspaper El Nacional described the measure as

The authorities may yet bend to public will. Germn Ypez, an official with
the National Electoral Council, said the measure originated after children
were given names like Superman and Batman. Still, he said in comments
broadcast on radio, he welcomed this type of positive reaction and
suggestions. Not everyone denounces the bill. Temutchin del Espritu Santo
Rojas Fernndez, 25, a computer programmer, explained that his first name
was inspired by the birth name of Genghis Khan, often spelled Temujin in
English. He said he frequently had to correct the spelling of his name on
official documents.

And in Venezuela, where the tax authorities require name and national
identity number for every purchase needing a receipt, pronouncing and
spelling out Temutchin del Espritu Santo can get tiring, Mr. Rojas
Fernndez said. With a name this complicated, you lose time, he said. It
also creates social problems, he continued. When interacting with others,
not everyone can pronounce your name. I have to pronounce my name five
times and spell it twice.

Jos Orozco contributed reporting.


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