I’ve always had mixed feelings about my name, Hiram.
It rarely went unnoticed when I lived in Mexico. It wasn’t like those conversations that began with something like “Hi, my name is Raul” followed by a natural change of topic.
With Hiram, there was always something.
Every time I needed a government document, bureaucrats would write my name without the H. Other times people will remind me that my name sounded like that of a famous female singer I never knew or cared about.
Now that I live here in the States, people often ask me if I am Arab, Jew or Turkish. Sometime people think my name is Iran, a country known for its wars and Muslim extremists.
Maybe that’s why I thought it wasn’t such a bad idea when I heard that a hotel owner in Taos, New Mexico, ordered some of his Latino employees to use the English equivalents of their names. He also forbid them to speak Spanish at work because he was afraid that they will talk behind his back, as if changing people’s names wouldn’t be something to talk about.
Larry Whitten, the owner of Whitten Inn, said it was common for hotel employees who work directly with the public to change their first names if these were difficult to pronounce.
Personally, I don’t remember meeting a Mary instead of Maria or a Joseph instead of José at the many hotels I’ve stayed in Rosarito, where the vast majority of guests come from the United States.
Witthen, who had turned around about 20 troubled hotels in Texas, said his managerial style has nothing to do with racism.
But neither his employees nor many in the Latino community believed him, and some protested in front of his business.
It’s ironic that it’s come to this because the hotel operates in a county where more than 50 percent of the population is Latino, and where more than 50 percent of residents speak Spanish, according to U.S. Census data.
But he doesn’t need to check governments statistics to understand his surroundings.
His hotel is located on a street called Paseo Del Pueblo; the name of the state includes the word Mexico, and Gov. Bill Richardson, a former presidential candidate, live part of his childhood in Mexico City.
If anything, the hotel should change its name from Whitten Inn to Brownie Inn.
Personally, it’s hard for me to understand the difference between Martín and Martin, or Marcos and Mark, the names of the employees who were rebaptized by their boss. I would understand if he had an employee named Petronilastacio Nacletaldo Furibundo answering the phones.
But nobody has that name.
If I was his employee, I would ask him to let me choose my own name because I’m not particularly fond of the English version of Hiram, HIGH-RUM.
But then I stop and think about the time I went to get a tire change and a Persian employee gave me a discount because he thought I was Arab. Or the time when a beautiful girl told me that my name was so different that it was unforgettable. Maybe she was trying to tell me I had a pretty name.
Hiram, through its derivatives, has become sort of like a chameleon.
I am Iran among Arabs, Iram with Latinos and HIGH-RUM with Anglos. In at least one birthday someone made a point of singling out my name by giving me a bottle of the not-so-famous whiskey Hiram Walker.
I tried to find a way to go around this complicated process, at least when I buy coffee. To save employees the hassle of asking me “What did you say your name was?,” I used to say my name was simply Soto.
But then one day a lady asked me: “Are you Japanese?”
Now that I think about it, it would be too boring if my name was Raúl. I think I’ll keep my rather imperfect but entertaining name.
Besides, that’s what my parents wanted people to call me.