In The House on Mango Street, what does Esperanza find shameful or burdensome about her name, and why did Cisneros choose this name for the protagonist?

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Esperanza spends time discussing her views of her name in the vignette titled "My Name" in the novel. Even though her name means "hope" in English, she sees it as a burden. According to Esperanza, her name has too many letters, and she associates it with unhappy emotions such as...

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Esperanza spends time discussing her views of her name in the vignette titled "My Name" in the novel. Even though her name means "hope" in English, she sees it as a burden. According to Esperanza, her name has too many letters, and she associates it with unhappy emotions such as sadness and crying. Her name reminds her of a "muddy color" instead of anything bright and colorful. It also does not help that the person she is named after, her great-grandmother, ended up living a life that Esperanza does not want. To Esperanza, her name means anything but hope, and she wishes that she could rename herself to something more vibrant and true to herself, such as Zeze the X.

Cisneros probably chose Esperanza as the protagonist's name because it is the one characteristic that Esperanza needs to survive on Mango Street. Esperanza as a character matures throughout the story, and the things that happen in her life require her to have hope so she can overcome these obstacles. Examples of such events include her family's poverty and the passing away of her grandfather. Esperanza does not live an easy life, and by giving her this name, Cisneros constantly tells us as readers that the name Esperanza is a reminder of what is needed for anyone to get through the trials of life. Hope of a better life is what Esperanza is holding on to at the end of the novel.

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In English, "esperanza" translates to "hope," but the protagonist of The House on Mango Street associates her name with sadness and being stripped of hope, as she inherited her name from her great-grandmother who was forced to marry her great-grandfather and do what she was told. She feels burdened with her name because it's too long, there is no nickname it can be shortened to, English speakers can't say it correctly, and she had no choice in being given the name (with all of its negative associations). She feels as though the name does not fit her and yearns for a different name with a different sound. The author has chosen the name "Hope" for her main character because, although many women from Esperanza's family's past and culture did not have hope, she is from a new, more modern generation where women have more opportunities and the freedom to choose their own futures. In this way, Esperanza is given the chance to take ownership of her identity and rebuild the meaning of her name into something more positive and fitting.

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In the vignette entitled "My Name," Esperanza discusses the meaning of her name. Although the direct translation from Spanish to English is "hope," Esperanza says, "It means sadness, it means waiting" (10). Clearly, there is a discrepancy between what a name full of hope represents compared to how the character feels about it. This discrepancy exists in part because of the tale of her great-grandmother, from whom she received the name. Her great-grandmother Esperanza was strong-willed and never wanted to get married. Unfortunately, her great-grandfather kidnapped and forced her great-grandmother to marry him. Esperanza sadly explains the following:  

And the story goes she never forgave him. She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. . . I have inherited her name, but I don't want to inherit her place by the window (11).

Esperanza associates her name with a violent abduction that resulted in a life beholden to a husband, not with a name or life full of hope. It's as though the story behind her name is shameful and the Spanish translation feels burdensome to her. 

Cisneros probably chose to name her protagonist Esperanza because of the irony associated with the name and one of the recurring themes of the book—poverty and the inability to escape one's cultural traditions. For instance, many women in The House on Mango Street seem to be trapped in dead-end or abusive marriages. These women's lives are examples that discourage Esperanza from wanting marriage before an education and a career. Ironically, even though Esperanza doesn't associate the word "hope" with her name or culture, she proves she does hope for a better life. She vows to herself that she will go to college and buy a house of her own one day, which is not only a wonderful goal for her to pursue, but one filled with hope.

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