Monday, July 13, 2009

Mnemonics for an Aging Brain

I'm sure people say the same about English names, but Spanish names are starting to sound the same to me. For example, Berenice and Beatrice; Alfonso, Adolfo, Alberto, and Alfredo; Rodrigo, Roberto, Ricardo, Rogelio, Ronaldo... see what I mean? Notice the pattern?

There are so many names that start and end with the same letters, and if you reel through the Spanish names you know, almost all names in Spanish end in a vowel. It is quite the opposite in English, not only because our US of A is so culturally diverse, but Americans have mastered the art of creative nomenclature. Just a few illustrious examples from my teaching career: Dequante, Demetria, Zoe, Kailisha, Arthurlon (what was her mother thinking?), Diamond, Davion, Quintrese, Asia, Kalen, Deonte...

Learners of English might well find these names just as confounding as I find Spanish names. In fact, English names are more discombobulating because there's absolutely no pattern, forget about phonics and spelling rules, AND one can hardly identify an individual's gender based on name alone. Hmm... this makes my problem of mixing up same-sounding names not such a bad problem to have after all.

In order to unmix the Rodrigos, Robertos, Ricardos, Rogelios, and Ronaldos of the Latin world, I have devised a mnemonic system of associating these names with something else. For example, our new doorman (gracias a dios!!) is named Alfredo, but now he's "Fettuccine Alfredo" to me. Nick's friend, Ricardo, is "Ricky Ricardo". Neighbor Rodrigo gets a whole 'nother name of "Annoying One Who Slams the Door". It's a handy system I've installed in my aging brain, but it's not fool-proof. There are some names my brain seems intent on mixing up. Like Berenice and Beatrice--they stump me every time. 


  1. I agree with you on some of the names. To help you remember Berenice, try thinking that she's VERY NICE!

    I find some spanish names to be very difficult to pronounce, like Ixtlazihuatl. Not fun, especially when trying to spell it!

  2. Is Ixtlazihuatl a girl or boy's name? Whew, I can't even pronounce it. I had a student named Cuauhtemoc once. At the time, I thought it was such a peculiar name, but now i know exactly where it comes from.

    And for my own name, I find people know it and know how to spell it. Why is that? I always assume they will write "Alis" but they get the silent e spelling right.

  3. Alice,
    It often helps to find out what a person's "hypocoristic" or diminutive nickname is. Then you can tie the two names together. I assure you that everybody has one. Yours would be "Ali" (AH-lee) for for "Alicia". You can see a list at this web site:

  4. That's a fantastic list! I wonder what the origin of some of these are. Pepe sounds so different from José, Paco for Francisco, Poncho for Alfonso, etc.

    Another thing about names here is that I'm never sure if some people prefer their first name, second name, both names, or nickname.

    How do you ask someone their hypocoristic name? Or, how do you politely ask someone what name he/she prefers to be called?

  5. I have the same problem, and I am also bad at calling adults I don't know that well by their first name, like our landlord, Patricia. I hould call her Sra such-and-such but I just call her Pati. I'm so American that way. I can't imagine calling any of my U.S. landlords "Mr. such-and-such." Por favor.

  6. Great topic Alice!
    (Just catching up reading after a long hiatus ... ) I also struggle with all the Latino names here like juan, jose, javier, jorge ... and then Juan-Jose or Juan-Carlos ... it´s hard enough remembering one name, and with the double-name they just throw the curve ball to make it virtually impossible!
    Apparently it´s not just us gringos who have a hard time with it, though. We´ve been cracking up at work over a client who gets all the names mixed up - he sent an email to a Monica Silva saying "Gracias Silvia" and he recently referred to me, Amanda Martin, as "Mara" ... what the hell! His name is Sergio but I just might start calling him Sergio Olvidado. :)