September 20, 2008


My meeting earlier this week with Hannibal reminds me of another, more subtle, way Spain has changed since the Franco period.

Traditionally, calling out the name Maria or Jesus (not to mention Hannibal) on any city or village street in Andalucia made most heads turn in your direction. But, like everything else in Spain, names are also changing...

Forty or so years ago, girls were usually given - in addition to Maria and other religious names - abstract ones like Esperanza ('Hope') or Dulcinea ('Sweetness'). I'm thinking here of the current President of the Community of Madrid, Esperanza Aguirre, and of the teacher of the Spanish class I've just joined, Dulce, not to mention the numbers of Dolores ('Sorrow'), Conchita ('Conception'), Consuelo ('Consolation') or Mercedes ('Mercy') you're always coming across.

As in the case of girls' names, the church also encouraged the use of naming Spanish boys after biblical characters, particularly saints. Hence the multitude of Manuels, Pedros, Marcuses, Juans, Joses and Pepes of a certain age.

But that's all changed. According to the National Institute of Statistics, most new-born babies in Andalucia last year were named Alejandro or Lucia. And these names aren't even especially Andalucian, given that they were also the most popular names in Valencia, the Canary Islands and two other regions of Spain. To date, there are almost 8,000 boys named Alejandro and almost 10,000 girls named Lucia all under the age of one. Imagine a classroom teacher calling out either of those names in a few years' time...!

Such naming trends are evident in other parts of Spain too. In the Basque Country 25 years ago, the most popular names were Mikel and Leire. Now, in keeping with its more nationalist stance, Basque names like Iker and Irati predominate. Likewise in Catalonia, where regional names Feliu and Aina prevail.

Nonetheless, in common with parents all over the world, there will also be those who name their children after rock and sports stars. So, unlike in the case of all the Alejandros and Lucias, future classroom teachers should have no problem identifying the Amy Acosta, the Madonna Mendoza or the Ronaldo Rodriguez...

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