Historically, those who migrate to the United States have discovered almost immediately that this country eats names. It changes them, it mangles them, it devours them. All in the interest of those who control the borders, those who manage the official listings, or those who promote the hegemony of the English language over all other “lesser” languages. 

In the 1800’s, economic woes, religious persecution and political chaos were the norm in Europe. Those dire realities provoked the largest human migration in the history of the world. 

In those early years, those who migrated — mainly from Northern European countries — entered through Ellis Island, in New York harbor. Between 1892 and 1954, over 12 million people applied for entrance into the U.S., looking for that elusive “American Dream.”

Interestingly enough, only 2 percent of those who applied were denied entrance. Immigrants were welcomed then. Maybe race and country of origin were deciding factors? Most likely. 

Former president Trump would have agreed: they did not come from what he called “shit hole countries.”

Nevertheless, many immigrants suffered the altering of their first or last names, prompted by strong suggestions from immigration officers. “Strakovsky? That’s too hard! How about if we call you Straw?” The majority of the new immigrants, anxious to start living the dream, sheepishly accepted. Thus, Kawolsky became Karl, Johansen became Jones. You get the idea.

Of course, in the case of the African people, their migration was even harsher. Their names disappeared when their families were separated by slavery and they were forced to adopt the names of their “owners,” or they adopted (or were adopted) other Anglosaxon names, such as Washington, Johnson, or Clay. 

Here, I want to give two well-known examples of people who fought for their names. 

Years ago, the wonderful, funny and amazing boxer Cassius Clay decided, upon embracing the Muslim religion, that he would change his “slave name” to Muhammad Ali. A few years later, the basketball great Lew Alcindor also changed his name, to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. 

That created a big backlash among many people, including some famous sports announcers. 

Today, sports figures such as LeBron James are told ”just shut up and dribble!” In the early 60’s it was even worse. 

In 2022, many people are still of the opinion that athletes are not paid to express their ideas about anything, other than sports. I respectfully disagree. We need to stop that nonsense and fight for our names. On all fronts. Sport clubs, schools, offices, wherever we are.

The baseball season has started. I sometimes sit in front of the television and watch our local teams. I enjoy sports and the amazing feats of athleticism that I witness in those telecasts. Nevertheless, I cringe when most of the announcers wreak havoc with the pronunciation of some names. Especially names of Latino-American players. 

“At bat, the new hope of the Giants: Helliot Ray-mos!” 

I feel a jolt of electric outrage when I hear that! Why can’t that announcer say Ramos. I will help this Mister Big-time announcer, assassin of names: Phonetically, it is Rah-Moass.

Or Pérez! Not Peréz. Can’t you see the big accent over the first “e” on the player’s shirt? Why do you think he put it there? He wanted his name to be pronounced correctly. Get it? CálderOon? The accent is on the “O.” Not Cálderoon! ¡Calderón! Geez!

Some might think that this is not an urgent issue. I disagree. Respect is a two-way street. 

So, if those announcers can find the way to correctly pronounce a name such as Yastrzemski, they can manage to say (an example) Sebastián, with the accent over the last “a,” instead of “Sebástian.” Little things that can mean a great deal to the people whose names are being killed.

Many moons ago, as I prepared to run my first hundred yards as a member of the U.C. Berkeley Track team, I was nervous. Next to me, there were some amazing runners. I heard their names over the loudspeakers. Then, it was my turn and I heard: “On Lane 3, representing the University of California…CarlOUS BaRROON!” 

“¿Que qué? Who is that?” I thought. “That guy made a mistake.” I took third place in that race. To this day I blame that announcer for making me lose my concentration. Never mind that those other runners were world-class. 

After the race, I ran up the stadium stairs and knocked on the announcer’s window. “Hey!” he said. “It’s Carlous Barroon!” 

In my still bad English I protested: “¡No! My name is Carlos Barón!” 

“Well…,” he insisted, stubbornly. “That’s what I said!” I shook my head, a bit upset. “¡NO! Do you have  a couple of minutes. I’ll teach you.” 

To his credit, he agreed. We spent about 10 minutes in a rather funny back and forth with my name…until he eventually managed to say it the way I wanted him to.

From that day on, he took great pride in saying my name over the loudspeaker and he actually made a big deal out of it. Perhaps a little too much, but we were both happy at the end.

Fight for your names, “amigous.” Do not let this country eat them.