Spanish Falls On A Taco Tuesday

| Grand Rapids, MI, USA | Learning | July 7, 2017

(First day in Spanish class we’re going around the classroom telling our names, and the teacher is assigning us our Spanish names. My friend Tom’s turn comes around:)

Teacher: “And your name?”

Tom: “Tom.”

Teacher: “Oh, well, we already have a Tomás. We’ll have to find another name for you.”

Tom: *with enthusiasm* “Taco!”

Class: *laughter*

Teacher: “Well, that’s not a name… but we can call you Paco.”

(That was a great class.)

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  • Dsru Bin

    the teacher is assigning us our Spanish names

    I don’t understand this. If a Mexican girl went to an American high school, and the teach said, “I will assign everyone an American name. Your name is now ‘Mary'”, everyone would flip their lids.

    • Cynthia Middleton

      This is an American school, but it’s typical in a language class to make the class speak only the language to be learned, and to be given the equivalent to your name in that language

      • Dsru Bin

        So when Maria took her English course, it would be okay to call her Mary?

        • randomnessdoubled

          I’ve seen it the other way around; German student learning English being given an English name to use in that lesson.
          So yes, it’s completely okay for Maria to be called Mary within her English class.

          • Dsru Bin

            I admit to surprise that there were no SJWs flaming up over the school stifling diversity, culture, etc.

          • Powers

            Perhaps because you’ve internalized a caricature of so-called “SJWs” in your mind; you don’t see them here because they don’t exist the way you think they do, or at least not in the numbers you think they do.

        • Marisa

          Typically language courses also encompass cultural aspects. Whereas an English course in the US only covers grammartical, spelling, and actual interpretation of the language (more or less).
          My French high school courses taught cultural appreciation in addition to basic vocabularly.

          • AncientWings

            Read that as “taught cultural appropriation…”

          • Marisa

            Honestly, I had to go back and make sure I didn’t type that before I posted it

          • Rob Tonka

            Mine experience was the reverse. My English classes covered more than just grammar and sentence structure. It covered literature and poetry too. Of course there was more time to cover more stuff as I had English class all 12 years of school. Language was only required for 2 years in high school, and it was 100% geared toward learning to speak Spanish

          • Marisa

            That’s interesting. My English courses covered literature and poetry, but my high school French and University Spanish classes taught details of the culture as well. I did not ever choose a French or Spanish name though. Presumably because Marisa already stems from Latin/romance languages

          • Dsru Bin

            Thank you. The language courses that I took were all pure vocabulary, spelling, grammar, etc., and nothing relating to culture (except in the context of something we may be reading), so this is new information for me.

    • Gnomer Denois

      Considering every Jorge and Tomas I’ve known in my life has been called George and Thomas (respectively) by pretty much everyone that wasn’t a native Spanish speaker, I think that the kids that normally speak English can deal with being called a different version of their name for one class period.

      • Novelista

        I met my first Alejandra in elementary and didn’t know then that it was Spanish for Alexandra, so I called her “Al”. (*facepalm*)

        • arglebargle

          For what it’s worth, X is old-school Spanish for J. Mexico would be spelled Mejico if it was named today. In another thread here about irritating phonetic alphabets, I favor using something like like this: The password is XJ5, that’s X as in Ximenez, J as in José, 5.

    • tulip_poplar

      I think it’s pretty typical when in a language class. We had “Latin” (Roman) names for our Latin class in school. I don’t recall doing that for Spanish though – I guess it depends on the teacher. When I went to Spain though, I did alter the pronunciation of my name significantly so that Spanish speakers could pronounce it easily.

      • Novelista

        Can you make any sense out of the trinomial naming structure after that, or no?

        • tulip_poplar

          Do you mean the Spanish one or the Roman one? Spanish people use both their father’s and mother’s last names, so that’s pretty straightforward. If you mean the Roman praenomen/nomen/cognomen thing, mean, we learned about it, but… I don’t really remember it all that well to be honest.

          • Novelista

            I mean the Latin one–the Spanish one is easy, and I’ve never heard of it referred to as a trinomial.

            And it goes a little further than just “father’s and mother’s surnames”, as–if I remember correctly, it’s only the father’s part of each surname. So (and I’m making up names here) Enrique López y Pereida and Isabel Salazar y Montalvo would name their child Maria López y Salazar.

    • HeadlessGhostOfAbrahamLincoln

      That actually happened to my grandma.

    • Samantha Phastine

      Not sure about the other schools, but my school’s reasoning was because our language classes were about the immersion and education experience — we didn’t just learn the language, we learned about the culture of countries that spoke the language. So, we picked out names that were native to that tongue in order to stay ‘In the zone’ (it’d just cause a bunch of immature high schoolers to get distracted and laugh if we suddenly dropped an American name in the middle of a French or Spanish sentence) and to create the experience of being a part of the culture.

      Then again, my school was one of the nicer public schools in America… not sure if one of the schools that has to cut sports AND art AND music would be so concerned…

    • arglebargle

      While I agree that if a hispanic kid named José came to a high-school in the USA and was told “we’ll call you Joe” then this would be wrong. But if José lived in Santiago and was taking an English class, he might be assigned an Anglicized name and I don’t think that’s inappropriate.

      That said, I knew an Eve whose real German name was D

      • Dsru Bin

        Thank you for your response (and for not being offended by my ignorance).

        • arglebargle

          Hey! No problem. From your comments (and the comments from others) this seemed to have been a positive learning experience. That’s always great. I liked that other language classes did the same and we weren’t the only ones.

  • I took German in high school and we didn’t do this. But I knew that the Spanish classes did. I didn’t feel left out, but now I’m curious as to what my name would have been if we did.

    • Powers

      Well, the mineral amber is called “Bernstein” in German so that’s probably out.

      • Hey, works for me! Maybe I’d go by Bernie for short.

        • Andrew Shages

          Woot! Weekend at Bernie’s!

        • Render

          Too bad that Bernstein isn’t a name in German. Bernie isn’t a German name, it could maybe be used as a nickname for Bernd but this is definitely a male name.
          Sorry. xD

          • Hey anything can be a name! I mean if celebrities can name their kids things like Apple, Blue and North I can get away with Bernie. Or heck, I’ll go by Bernd. My husband has what was once a traditionally male name that now only females seem to have. I’ll join him in his pain.

            Is Bernd pronounced the way it looks?

          • Render

            Maybe in America. You can’t name your kid anything in Germany. There are rules to protect the children’s well-being. I’m sure that neither Apple (Apfel) nor North (Nord) are names that will be allowed. It’s also not allowed to give a boy a girl’s name or vice versa. What is allowed to give a boy a girls name as second name if that one is commonly accepted, like Maria.

            > Is Bernd pronounced the way it looks?
            Yes. ^^

          • Interesting! I guess t’s nice that kids won’t get stuck with something that could get them teased. But, now I just want to go by Apfel to be a rebel…

      • Novelista


        You mean Michigan’s biggest legal family/firm is actually The Ambers? TIL…

        (I love translating names. Thank you!)

        • Powers

          Well, sort of. “Bernstein” is cognate with the English “brimstone” so that’s also a valid translation. Of course, “brimstone” in English means “sulfur”, not “amber”.

          • Angus MacHaggis

            If Bernstein is amber or sulfur what is Steinberg?

          • Powers

            Stone Mountain.

          • Angus MacHaggis

            Sam Brimestone and the Lee Stone Mountain Law firms.

  • Jennifer Smeltzer

    This must be an American thing, because I (a Canadian) do not remember doing this when I took Spanish in high school.

    • Luke Green

      This is definitely an American thing, it doesn’t happen in the UK. Well, I think it doesn’t, I took German, it might have happened in Spanish. Must ask my sister.

      • Milian

        It happened to me, in both French and Russian (I’m in North West England). It’s probably more a teacher’s technique rather than a school- or area-specific one.

        Edit: I left school in the 1970s.

    • GeminiDragonBadger

      I remember getting to choose a Spanish name in my Spanish I class, but then the teacher never used it…

      • Zetal47

        Same. German class, we didn’t need to pick German names to get us in the headspace of speaking German, we were living in Germany. French class, we picked French names, which lasted until November or so before we were all calling each other by our American names. Spanish class… my Spanish I class was a bit of a disaster (the first teacher quit abruptly after six weeks, when a kid mooned him and walked out of class). By the time they’d hired a replacement, we didn’t bother, but I think she made her next year’s class do it.

    • Demiryu

      I took Spanish and French. I never chose a name, it’s not an American thing. I assume some teachers choose to do it, others don’t.

    • MouseyBrown

      When I was in Spanish I in high school, we did this. Spanish II (different teacher), we did not. Granted, the Spanish II teacher was widely hated, and we ended up getting her fired at the end of the school year.

      My Japanese teacher in college didn’t do this, either. She just called all of us LastName-san, and we called her LastName-sensei, so.

      As a fun explanation of my Spanish II teacher’s firing: She was making students sign “contracts” for Spanish club that included extreme legalese that basically amounted to having to pay for any fundraiser stuff we didn’t sell. Parents weren’t consulted or contacted by the teacher, the fundraiser company ended up not having permission for the coupon booklets, it was a 0 test grade if you DIDN’T join Spanish Club… It was a whole storm of BS.

    • divgradcurl

      It’s not specifically an American thing; just a thing that some foreign-language teachers choose to do, while others do not. “I was a student in , and we did/did not do this” doesn’t really carry any weight.

  • Ralph Howard

    We did this in my High School, although we were allowed to choose our own names, with the Teacher’s approval. Got a lot of people using the Spanish variations of their names. I, however, spent a full year going by “Don Quixote” for a class. Good times.

    • Da Rat Bastid

      I’d have used El Cid, but that’s just me. *chuckles*

    • Novelista

      Not sure my teacher would’ve gone that far, but cute!

      (She did, however, enjoy calling the kid whose last name was Snow “Señor Nieves”, so who knows!)

    • Rebecca Jones

      I used my middle name in French class. It confused and annoyed my teacher because everyone else had names starting with the same letter as their first name. Oh well. Don’t make us do it then. It’s not like we used them much. :/

  • Powers

    I sort of get the idea behind assigning culturally appropriate names to the students in a foreign language class, but I’ve never understood why they had to be unique! If you’re okay having two Toms in math class, what’s wrong with having two Tomases in Spanish class?

    • Luke Green

      So you’re special.

    • Eilonwy_has_an_aardvark

      Teachers aren’t crazy about having two Toms in math class because it’s always necessary to be distinguishing which one you want. Spanish class offers the opportunity to solve that problem from the git-go.

      (There was one college where I taught, where I felt bad at having trouble distinguishing among the many, many Jennifers and Erins in my class (five or six of each) until my department chair one day burst out “they’re all little blondes named Jennifer, how do they tell each other apart?”)

      • Flami

        80s and early 90s, right?

        • Eilonwy_has_an_aardvark

          Oddly, in relation to the Baby Name Voyager data, this was a college class in maybe 2001, so the gals would have been born around 1980, after the peak of both names, though while both were still high in popularity.

          The delay may be that it was a Catholic college, and since there’s no “St. Jennifer” or “St. Erin,” there was a lag in those names becoming popular in the families who’d supply its student body. Now I wonder how many other fashionable names show a similar lag.

          • Flami

            Ha, that would be interesting to find out! I’m not sure how you’d go about that, though.

    • robindaybird

      It’s just easier to have different names, because even with knowing better having four jessicas with blond hair, and three rebeccas with brown hair, and two ashleys with brown hair in one class does make it a touch difficult.

  • possiblymeprobablyme

    When I was in third grade, we had French lessons and we had to do the whole “choose a French name” thing. I decided to use my middle name, which is Rennee (no, I don’t know why it has the extra ‘n’ but it’s still pronounced the same) but the person giving the lesson said that was a boy’s name and I couldn’t use it. Being as I’m kind of a delicate flower, I didn’t take that well and in order to avoid a full-blown meltdown, my teacher told the person doing the French lessons that I could just use my first name, which is very, very French. Crisis averted but such a silly (and wrong) thing for the instructor to take a stand on.

    • Zetal47

      Rene is a boy’s name. Renee is a girl’s name. They are pronounced the same. Your instructor was a twit.

  • Unicorn Cydney

    I remember going by my middle name in French class, which was a translation of Marie.

    • MouseyBrown

      I went by my middle name in Spanish, because I absolutely refuse to be called Margarita. I do not have tequila in me. I am not a margarita.

      • Rebekah

        Heh. Hi Daisy.

  • cylon_toast

    I think that’s super weird that you have to use a Spanish name, why doesn’t everyone use their regular name? I mean, if they went to a spanish speaking place they’d use their real name.

    • Milian

      I think it’s to do with helping the students to immerse themselves in the language, ie “I am Spanish for the next hour.”.Giving them a Spanish name ‘shifts’ their brains to another head space for it, and the whole lesson ends up in Spanish. That’s my theory.

      • Novelista

        I like that one! That’s why Wiccans and other Pagans suggest changing clothes (if not into actual robes) for ritual–changing your mindset helps you focus.

        • Milian

          Cheers! 🙂 And yes, I just bet it does! I suppose there’s a lesson there for anyone who wants to change how they focus on something (eg going into an exam, or into an interview – anything that needs your total attention). I wouldn’t want to go into an exam straight after watching (eg) a block-buster movie. My mind would be too much on the film.

          Hmm. One of my sons is due to go into his final year at university; I might tell him about it. It’s something I’ve never really thought about before, and he’d be interested in your robes and ritual example.

          • Novelista

            Another thing that just occurred to me is wearing a suit to job interviews. I don’t necessarily like doing it (and thought the idea to do it for a retail position was kind of silly–unless it was an upscale place like Macy’s), but I have to admit that putting on a suit makes me feel very different. (Especially since I loved my last suit!)

  • robindaybird

    Done it in an intro to languages class in Middle School (Spanish, German, French, and Japanese for about a month each – it’s supposedly to help students figure out what proper class they want in High School)
    For me It was – Josephina, Hilde, LaRae (my middle name), and Ayame

  • TheWonderRabbit

    “Oh, you are saying I have to change my name to fit your stupid needs? Fine, then I am ‘El Grande Pene de Destrucción'”

  • Alan Greenberg

    In first-year Russian at the university level, we were encouraged to take Russian names because the endings change depending on the part of speech, but foreign names can’t always do so — so this was good for our grammar practice. Culturally speaking, it wa also good for us used to the many non-intuitive nicknames/short forms that Russians use.

  • Patrick Mccurry

    One poor girl was absent on the day we chose our Spanish names. The class voted on what hers would be… the high school class. For the rest of the year, Olga was a good sport.

  • Alyssa Higgins

    He could have been Ignacio for the class and everyone could call him Nacho