Dominican Names, Where Do They Come From?
by Hector Felix
Bronx Journal Staff Writer
What’s in a name? Parents choose names for their children based on a range of criteria. Some are simply family hand-me-downs like John Jr. Others select names based on their historical or biblical origins — Mary, Joseph or Christoper, for example. And still others choose based on the fashion of the times — Jennifer or Heather.
Dominican parents add a new twist to these naming conventions.
There are three types of Dominican names. Some parents give classical Spanish names like Luis, Mario, or Pedro. Others opt for foreign names from English or French. And some parents create their own unique concoctions. It’s this last category that makes some people cringe. Beautiful names like Yafreisi, Amiris, and Adalina illustrate the best of what can come from Dominican creativity. However, the end result is not always so lyrical.
Some combine both parents’ names. Say the husband is Alfred and the mother is Monica. Their baby’s name could be Alfina, Alfonica, or Monred.
It is a naming practice that is growing more common. Dominicans want unique names for their bundles of joy and can burden their children with atrocious variations.
Sometimes they give them misspelled versions of names from English like Maikol instead of Michael, or Brayant instead of Brian. I have a cousin named Emy and another one called Marks. Emy is short for Emma, while Marks, carries with it an extra “s”.
The first thing to understand is that Dominican culture is a mix of African, Spanish, and Taino cultures. Some argue that Dominicans should stick to the Spanish custom and use classic names like Maria, Jose, Pablo, and not use the English translations of Mary, Joe, or Peter. But the Dominican Republic, a nation that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, is right in the middle of the Caribbean islands. Thus it is influenced by its English-speaking neighbors and by the United States, which exports its music, movies and television programs.
There is also now a vast rainbow of Dominican names that could be found in other Spanish-speaking countries with an African culture. Names like Zuileka, Yajaira, and Yesenia are very popular. These may sound liked parental creations, but they come from other languages. Zuleika and Yesenia both come from Arabic. The first means fair, brilliant and lovely and the second means flower. Yajaira, on the other hand, comes from the Hebrew Yakira, and Native American meaning “clear as the day.”