Julia Alvarez opens the essay “Names/Nombres” with a catalogue of mispronunciations, starting with her family’s arrival at Immigration in New York, where the officer addressed her father as “Mister Elbures.” At first, Alvarez wondered whether she should correct all the mispronunciations of her name by Americans, including her friends and teachers, but her mother argued that it did not really matter, telling her,
You know what your friend Shakespeare said, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Soon, Alvarez was only called Julita (the diminutive form of Julia) by her family and did not mind being called Jules, Jude, Judy, Judith, or even Juliet by everyone else.
Alvarez compares her experience with that of her elder sister, Mauricia, whose name was more difficult to pronounce for English speakers and had no obvious English version, and her younger sister Ana, who became plain Anne and who looked American anyway. She says that she felt more American than her younger sister, having been born, unlike her, in New York City during her parents’ first attempt to immigrate. Her initial desire to correct people who mispronounced her name quickly disappeared and was replaced by a desire to blend in and use a Westernized version, though her accent gave her away. She was also embarrassed by her family when they attended school functions and she had to introduce them by name to friends. Their long, complex names suggested convoluted family relationships, as did her own full name:
Julia Altagracia Marfa Teresa Alvarez Tavares Perello Espaillar Julia Perez Rocher Gonzalez.
When Alvarez showed a talent for writing, her family predicted that her name would one day be famous throughout the United States. She, of course, wondered what name this would be.