How I Learned My Name

Luckily, Rebecca is easy to pronounce in Spanish. In Chile during introductions, people often would say, “but that’s a Spanish name.” Although Rebeca is common in Spain and Latin America, I was named after my mom’s sister. My aunt mostly goes by Becky. I don’t, despite what teachers would inevitably call me the first day of school. I love my aunt. Becky is her nickname, not mine. I’ve been called Reb, Bec, Becca, even Reba. One creative classmate even called me Reepicheep, like the mouse, after we read the Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

I must confess, I love the way my name is said in Spanish. Before I wrote this, I hadn’t realized that or wondered why. I enjoy the roll of the r that begins my name. I like the way the e’s are pronounced identically with an aaaay sound rather than an eeee: Rrrray-bay-ka. Even better, close friends add the -ita on the end to show affection. My seven letter name becomes 9 letters: Rebequita. That is one of my favorite ways to be called.

At six, I’d pronounce my name, “Wabeca” in English. Speech therapy at school was going slowly. Carlos Espada was a Cuban-American man at my parents’ church married to a woman from the US. One coffee hour he set a goal for me that would change my life. He said, “Rebecca, you have such a beautiful name. I’d like to teach you to say it in Spanish, Rrrrrrebeca.” What a kind gesture to a child unable to introduce herself with her given name. He showed me the trill on the roof of the mouth, rrrr. I tried to imitate him, but failed and got frustrated. He patted my shoulder, “Don’t worry, you just need to practice.”

Week after week, I tried and tried. Every Sunday he’d ask my progress and give me a new demo. Finally, six months later, I was reading a book and exhaled just right between my tongue and palate, making my tongue vibrate. I practiced a couple of times to make sure I could repeat my success and when I could I shared my news with my mom, who whooped with glee. All week I practiced, “Rrrrah-beh-ka,” thinking I said it just like Señor Espada. Sunday, I rolled my r to say my name in Spanish to him. He replied joyfully, “Muy bien. Good for you, Rebecca!” He worked on my vowel pronunciation next.

I was in first grade and didn’t realize the gift Señor Carlos Espada had given me until far later. He began my apprenticeship to Spanish by empowering me to say my name and conquer the most difficult letter for Spanish language learners. It took two more years of speech therapy before I could say it in English. Now, when I hear my name said the Spanish way, I am reminded of my dear teacher and I feel loved.

Para leer este ensayo en español, haz un clic aquí.

Rebecca Cuningham

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