It has come to my attention lately that only about half of my friends know my name. While having dinner with one of my closest friends from college, we were in the middle of a very lively discussion about Gilmore Girls when I dropped a glob of ranch on my shirt, at least my third spill of the hour. “Oh my God, Cande, eat much?” I say aloud to myself, wiping the dressing off with a napkin. “Wait,” she stops me. “Who’s ‘Cande’?”
Let me explain. For twenty years, I have lived with the struggle of having a hard-to-pronounce name. I go by “Cande” (pronounced Kahn-de), which is a short version of my full name, Candelaria. I always dreaded first days of school, when teachers would call out for a “Calendar” or a “Candelabra.” I avoided going to Starbucks, knowing that the barista would mishear and hand me tall coffee cup with the word “Grande” scribbled across it. Ironic. Introducing myself to new people was my least favorite, though. It’s at least a three-step process. Say it once, normal: “Hi, I’m Cande.” Say it a second time, louder: “HI, I’M CANDE.” Say it a third time, very slow: “Hiiiiiii, I’m Caaaaaaaan….deeeeeee.” In special circumstances, there’s even the additional fourth step of spelling it out. For some reason, you’re not allowed to let go of a person’s hand until they can understand your name, and a handshake can only last about five seconds before it becomes very uncomfortable and someone starts sweating. Okay, before I start sweating.
That’s why at some point, I just started teaching people to pronounce my name as “Candy.” For years it has proven a fairly solid solution to my problem. It’s easier for me to say when I’m introducing myself, and it’s easier for everyone else to understand. What I didn’t realize, is that a name is more than just an identification, it’s part of your identity. Your name is loaded with meaning, whether your parents intend those meanings or not. As easy as it is to pronounce, there are consequences to allowing myself to be called by my anglicized name, “Candy.” I frequently get comments like, “what a cute name,” or, “you must be so sweet!” Sure, it’s okay to be sweet and cute when you’re just talking to your friends or petting a puppy, but I don’t want that to be the first association when people think of me. I stand at a whopping 4 feet 11 inches tall and I have a round, childlike face. It’s a challenge just to get the hostess at Denny’s, who always approaches with a kid’s menu in her hand, to take me seriously as an adult, let alone my professors or potential employers.
More important than what “Candy” means to other people, though, is what “Cande” means to me. Cande was my grandmother, and it was my grandmother’s grandmother. Cande is the history of strong Hispanic women who worked to make better lives for themselves and their families in new worlds and new countries. Cande is the delicate bounce of a “c” and a subtle “d,” the sounds familiar to the language of my family and my neighbors and my ancestors. Cande is my mother speaking to me, and me speaking to myself.
Your name is more than a label, it’s a part of you. There is a story behind it, and it is the title of the story you write for yourself. My friend couldn’t have known all of this about me without knowing my real name. Your name shouldn’t have to bend itself around what is convenient for everybody else. Be a good friend, a good daughter, a good student, or just somebody who adds value to the world. Then, believe me, people will want to know your name, and they’ll want to say it right.