Alma and How She Got Her Name
It must be hard to initial things.
It's interesting as a kind of cultural window for me and my family. Obviously there are some kids who will identify strongly with this sort of long name. It's good in the sense that it talks about Alma's family and how we can maybe all relate to our ancestors, but in another sense it seems like Alma has a lot of middle names, and the middle names are all taken from various relatives, and it's not clear why they picked those specific relatives.
It's interesting that the story is the father telling this to the daughter-- it's unclear where the mother is-- and it's about Alma exploring her family history in a very superficial way. For example, what she learns about her father's mother is that she "loved books, poetry, jasmine flowers, and, of course," Alma's father. Alma identifies with the grandmother because she, too, loves books, flowers, and her daddy. But why did they choose that grandmother's name for one of Alma's middle names? Is it traditional to use the father's mother's name? The grandmother loving those things doesn't seem like the reason they chose her name.
The names they chose belong to the father's mother, the mother's mother, the father's mother's mother, the father's father, and a great aunt (it doesn't state whether she is the mother's or father's sister). It seems heavily weighted towards the father's family, but the reason isn't explained. The last of the middle names, "Candela", comes from her mother's mother. It says, "She always stood up for what was right." She's depicted as being in a march with other women, carrying signs reading "escucha", "piensa", and "denuncia", which translate to "listen", "think" and "complain" or "denounce". It's a pretty vague protest.
I understand that many children who grow up in a culture different from that of their parents have issues with having different naming traditions, and feel out of place compared to their peers. The note from the author/illustrator says that with her two middle names, she felt that her name was "the most old-fashioned, harsh, ugly, and way too Spanish name in all of Lima, Peru where [she] grew up!" I'm not sure if she means "Spanish" in the sense of "from Spain," but I found that text rather confusing since Peru is a Spanish-speaking country.
The thing that's frustrating to me about this book is that the father gives such a brief, superficial description of her namesakes, with barely any explanation of the reasoning behind the parents' choice. It seems like the vagueness of the descriptions is just so Alma can identify with things like her great grandmother's desire to travel. It seems like the real answer behind her name is much more complicated, and presumably meaningful, and that seems like it's missing here. I would hope that if somebody gave me three middle names that there'd be a darn good reason for each one of them, and this child has five, most of which seem to just be there because "that's the way we do it." They chose the father's father, but not the mother's father. Why? Why only the one great-grandmother but not any of the other three? Why that specific great-aunt? Did she die early? Is it automatically assumed that you should pick both grandmothers?
This clearly is not my culture and as a young child growing up in the culture, either she would already know the answer to this (in which case she wouldn't be asking this question) or she merits a more thorough explanation. Maybe she's supposed to be a really young kid and it's supposed to not matter. Maybe he's just glossing over it and assuming that she identifies with these people she's never met, but it just seems strange to me. Maybe this is the first time she's ever asked the question, so he's just giving a really cursory overview. But I feel like Alma as a character deserves more details.