Jonghyun Choe Period 3 25 September 2011 “My Name”, a vignette from Sandra Cisnero’s novel The House on Mango Street, as wellas Nellie Wong’s autobiographical poem “How a Girl Got Her Chinese Name” both examine therelationship between one’s name and ones identity, shown by the use of imagery, attitudesand metaphors throughout the stories. Although the narrators of the two different pieces feelquite differently about their names, they both discover and define themselves through theirand others feelings about their names. In “My Name”, the narrator is a Hispanic girl who only possesses one name. Despite hernames positive meaning in English that means “hope”, both its Spanish meaning “sadness”, andthe history behind it are both negative. The narrator further compares her name to her father’ssongs as “songs like sobbing”. It seems like the first paragraph of vignette is trying to show howthe narrator rather dislikes her name as she thinks of the meanings of her name that are tied toherself. In the second paragraph, the narrator tells of the origin of her name, which she got fromher great grandmother. The narrator describes her great grandmother as a “horse woman” (7),which reveals that her great grandmother had a strong personality. The narrator further talksabout the background of her name, by saying that she would’ve liked to have known her greatgrandmother, describing her as a “wild horse of a woman” (13). This shows the respect narratorhas towards her great grandmother as a person. However, the narrator adds on by saying that
she does not admire the life her great grandmother had, like a “fancy chandelier” (16). It isevident in this paragraph that the narrator is curious about the origins of her name. By goingback and forth in different tenses, this demonstrates how the narrator seeks her identity withthe name she has. The result of this is again is in two-fold. The narrator respects her greatgrandmother who had the same name as her as a person, but she does not want to “inherit herplace by the window” (22). This seems to be demonstrating how the narrator is scared ofhaving to live a life where she would be trapped by men just like her great grandmother, whichis causing the narrator to become confused with where exactly she belongs to. On the next paragraph, the narrator again talks about the different feelings she hastowards her name “Esperanza”, in Spanish and English. She says that when her name is said inEnglish, it sounds as if “the syllables were made out of tin and hurt the roof of your mouth” (24).This use of mixed imagery clearly contrasts to earlier when the narrator says on the firstparagraph how her name means “hope”. In same manner, the narrator describes the sound ofher name in Spanish rather like a “softer something, like silver, not quite as thick as sister’sname- Magdalena” (25). These mixed imagery used by the narrator contrasts between the realmeanings of the name “Esperanaza” to the actual feeling narrator experiences that seems tocreate the confusion in discovering her identity in regards to her name. Towards the end of the vignette, the narrator says that she is “always Esperanza” (27),and then she mentions how she desires to “baptize under a new name” (28) such as “Zeze theX”(29) someday. The narrator has a tone of resignation towards her current name, and shedefinitely wishes to have a name that will feel “more like the real” herself. Esperanza clearly hasa positive attitude at the end of the vignette although her confusion and negative feelings
towards her current name, and it is evident that she thinks the names are important to defineone’s personality and trait. In the narrative poem “How a Girl Got Her Chinese Name”, the narrator is a Chineseoriginated girl who is given with various names throughout the story. The poem starts with theteacher asking the narrator, “What do your parents call you at home?” (2). When the narratortells the teacher that her name is “Nellie”, the teacher “stressed the l’s, whinnying like a horse”(5), then gives the narrator a new name “Nah Lei”, which means “Where or Which Place” (8).The narrator does not really care about the meaning of the name she is given, and she insteadjust practices “writing Nah Lei” over and over in order to get used to the new name. In the next stanza, we see that the narrator comes home and tells her parents about hernew name given. The narrator’s parents are very unhappy with the name “Nah Lei”, saying“Nah Lei? Where? Which Place?” (17) and then gives the narrator a “Chinese name”, “Lai Oy”.Unlike the narrator from “My Name”, Nellie seems to have jubilant attitudes towards herchanged names, because she does not question herself where the names originated from.Instead, the narrator “giggled” as she thought of her Chinese name, knowing that “Lai Oy couldalso mean lost pocket” as well as “Beautiful Love”. It is clear that unlike Esperanza, the narrator of “How a Girl Got Her Chinese Name” isfeeling much more comfortable with the name “Lai Oy”. This is shown on the eighth stanzawhere the narrator now “pulls out the pocket” at school, where she feels rather positive thannegative like Esperanza. However, the ending of both stories contrast greatly. WhileEsperanza’s attitude towards her name shifts from being negative to positive throughout thestory, “How a Girl Got Her Chinese Name” ends with Nellie saying “Between these names I
never knew I would ever get lost” (36-37). Both narrators face fear and they do not know where exactly they belong to culturally.The fear faced by Esperanza is the fear of becoming tied to the heritage; she “doesn’t want toinherit her place by the window” and because of this, she desires to have a new name and livean entirely new life where she can become free. On the other hand, Nellie is scared for theopposite reason. Her name is not tied by heritage, but the names “Nah Lei” and “Lai Oy” aremerely the ones given by her parents and teacher without any connections to Nellie’s identitywith the meaning. This causes Nellie to become confused from discovering who she really isand she does not exactly know where she belongs truly. Both pieces are similar because both narrators are in situations where they arebicultural and they are both frightened and do not exactly know where they truly belong to.However these pieces contrast because the reasons for these feelings felt by the narrators areopposite and they have different attitudes towards the meaning of their names.