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Spanish Names Fade Into History

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Uploaded on Feb 1, 2010

By Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writer One day last week, in between the rancheras and community announcements on KDCE radio in Española, Matthew Rivera, owner of the Rivera Family Funeral Home, delivered the news of 81-year-old Eustaquio Montoya's passing. The departed was preceded in death by Matias and Estefanita Montoya. The same morning, Johnny DeVargas of DeVargas Funeral Home announced services for Estanislao Roybal, an Arroyo Seco resident who passed away at age 92. He was preceded in death by Procopio and Tonita Roybal. Just about every day in New Mexico, another great old Spanish name passes on as a family loses a viejo. If you read the obituaries — especially the ones in Journal North and Journal Santa Fe — as religiously as I do, and if you love the lyrical sound of names like Eufilia and Abenicia and Tranquilio, then perhaps you've also mourned the passing of strangers. Cristobal. Teodorito. Benerito. Seferino. Dionicio. Zulema. Anselmo. I met with former state historian Estevan Rael-Gálvez, who is now the executive director of the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, hoping he could be persuaded to read some of those names to me. He was happy to, and the effect was somewhere between a poem and a lullaby. Leocaida. Elfido. Trinidad. Pacomio. Seralia. Evilia. Amadea. Aureliano. I always assumed that these names, which serve as a reminder these hundreds of years later of European inroads into what is now New Mexico, beat a path directly back to Spain. They do, Rael-Gálvez tells me, but they have roots that go back further, representing Spain's past as much as ours. "The names have some very interesting origins," Rael-Gálvez said. "Just like Spain itself, it's going to reflect the complexity of the different taproots that settled in that area, in that place that we now call Spain." Many of the names have Roman, Greek, Visigoth and Arabic roots. Fedelina. Meliton. Reynaldita. Fulgencio. Epifanio. Nea. Premetivo. Clodoveo. "The given names reflect a lot about our culture," Rael-Gálvez said. "I think the more we do research on many other names that we would find that it actually would reflect the complexity of the origins of the Hispanic people themselves." Rael-Gálvez knows old names. He was raised in Costilla by his mother, Nora, and his father, Erineo Herachio. "Nora" has Roman roots, and it means "honor." Herachio traces itself to Greece — "Hercules." "When he went off to school (in the 1930s), they couldn't pronounce these very ancient names, Erineo Herachio, and they renamed him," Rael-Gálvez said. "He became Eric." Raillitos. Perfecto. Filomena. Lugarda. Melecio. Nocario. Erminio. Elfido. It's possible to trace assimilation and Americanization of cultures through shifts in naming practices. The stigma against the use of the Spanish language, which stretched from the 1940s into the 1980s, Rael-Gálvez said, extended into many families as they welcomed babies into the world. Many of the old ones, with these vanishing names, are quite old, living well into their 90s. They tend to give their children more prosaic Spanish names — Miguel or Maria — or American names of the '50s, '60s and '70s — David, Debra, Michael. Those children tend to give their children even more modern names. It is not unusual for a Delfinita to be survived by grandchildren named Joshua or April. Baudilio. Benito. Teofila. Eremita. Tranquilino. Hilario. Soraida. Elicita. I wonder as I read these beautiful names whether they will soon be gone for good. Will elementary school roll call in New Mexico classrooms ever again include Agapitas and Seralias and Estansilados and Procopios? "I doubt it," Rael-Gálvez said. "Some names will have an appeal to some people. But it's going to be more traditional, less of the older names. In some families, probably, some of these names that have a lyricism to them will probably have a comeback. "Like the name Dionicia," Rael-Gálvez said. "God, that's so beautiful."

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