Posted by: Manuel Delgado | October 30, 2009

My name is Nuel. Ma-Nuel.

Larry Whitten is being vilified and probably sued over his demand that Latino workers at his hotel change their names.
However, while as a Latino I am not happy, as a marketing guy I see his point.
The Latino side is very straightforward: our names are who we are. Networking guru Dale Carnegie said it best: “A person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
A lot of our identity is wrapped around our names because of what we think about ourselves. Also parts of our identities, the perceptions of others, are many times triggered by the names themselves.
The are many studies that analyze the very tangible effects of names in people’s perceptions related to intelligence, popularity, competence, honesty and even beauty. But beyond that, our names are our names. And some people can be quite sensitive towards mispronunciation or simple errors.
For some reason, some people call me Miguel, instead of Manuel. To me those names couldn’t be more different, but I guess that for the non-Latino ear they’re pretty close.
Another common error: letting the spell checker change my name to “Manual.” However, it doesn’t bother me. I don’t mind an honest mistake.
Besides, I am guilty of the very same thing with some English-language names. Some of my usual confusions: Jake / Jack, Don / Doug and Halley / Holly.
But the bottom line is that I’m Manuel. And it would not sit well with me if someone would demand that I change the way I call myself.
Now, from the marketing point of view, our names are our brands… and many people change their names for “marketing” reasons.
Some examples: Republican Senator Mel Martínez (Melquíades), Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade (Esperanza), Miami Mayor Manny Diaz (Manuel), singer Ricky Martin (Enrique), and baseball player Sammy Sosa (Samuel).
But you don’t have to be famous to change your name. I know many people that go by John, Joe, Mary or Al that were born Juan, Jose, Maria or Alfonzo.
Why do people change their names? For the very same reasons the hotel owner alleged when making his demands: some of our Latino names may be difficult to pronounce or understand by non-Hispanics.
There’s also the perception issue. Some feel, justifiably or not, than having an Americanized name will improve the perceptions by others.
This is not a Hispanic thing. Many Asians choose an “American” name when they move to the US, replacing beautiful and musically sounding names with monikers like Arthur, Summer or Angela.
The important point is that it is an individual decision. If I want to be called “Manny,” “Mel” or “Batmanuel,” that a decision that I have the right to make.
Forcing a name on someone else has eerie rings of slavery. From Wikipedia:

During enslavement, slaves’ names were assigned by their owners. Others received a name based on what kind of work they were forced to do. Some African-Americans have last names such as Cotton, reflecting when they were made to pick cotton as slaves.

Do I see Mr. Whitten’s point? Absolutely. As a business owner I think it makes sense to worry about customers calling on the phone and finding it hard to understand or relate to a Hispanic name.
What is unforgivable is his approach. No one should have the right to demand that anybody renounce to part of who they are so they can feed their families and do honest work.

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