Does Growing Up With a Difficult Name Build Character?

Hey, Elv- EYE – Ruh!

Like fingernails on a blackboard I have heard my beautiful name pronounced that way all my life.  My first name is spelled E-L-V-I-R-A. Since before I can remember, the way American's tend to pronounce that combination of letters was my personal little hell.  Beginning in kindergarten I could either have a sense of humor over my teachers' reaction when I corrected them or grind my teeth. My name is pronounced El-VEE-dah. "Well, gee, it isn't spelled that way!"


My parents gave all their kids classic Spanish names. Despite the obstacles, I love my name. It's old fashioned, like Margaret or Mary; just not as phonetically obvious to Americans (although I'm happy to say that nowadays people are more sensitive and sophisticated about getting the pronunciation right.) Back in the day, well-meaning friends and grown-ups tried to talk me into using a more simple nick name. With a tenaciousness not usually seen in a five year old, I refused. My name was a point of pride, a flag to rally around. I was not going to conform to the world. The world would conform to my name. Did the name make me stubborn? Or was I stubborn and the difficult name just made it stick?

Adversity builds character. Isn't that what people say to kids when life stinks? Well, I think my 'strange' name really did work that way for me. I learned to be assertive, patient with people and not take their ignorance or prejudices personally… Until that god-awful song came out, that is. That song! Ugh! Let's not go there. It's just too painful.

Johnny Cash's song, now that was better!  I love A Boy Named Sue, about a man fighting through life with a difficult name. For me, it's cathartic, fun and true.

Can you relate to any of this? Do you have a similar story? Did you choose a nick-name that worked better for you? Change your name legally? Did you stick with the challenging moniker? Do tell.


  • Natalie

    LOVE that you put “A Boy Named Sue” in your blog! If you had a son, would you name him Bill or George, any old name but Sue? I didn’t have a difficult name, but it wasn’t common when I was growing up. I felt incredibly left out that all my friends could find licensce plates or pencils with their names on them. Natalie just wasn’t around then… but now it’s everywhere! My maiden name tripped some people up and it was pronounced phonetically, but Italian. Lots of vowels and syllables. Sales calls were the best and made me laugh!

  • SD

    Dr Aletta,
    I now have the Elvira song in my head.

  • I did think about naming my kids in a way that they wouldn’t have to put up with too much teasing or mangled pronunciation. My husband’s name is John so he had no issue with this at all. He seriously considered naming our first kid, a boy, Aristotle. I couldn’t do it. Only when I pointed out to him that his initials would be A.A. did he drop it. We went the traditional route and gave him family names on his father’s side.

  • OMG! Get it out of your head now! Sing Happy Birthday, the Star Spangled Banner! Anything but that song!!!

  • SA

    I grew up with a difficult name, too. Not so much that people mispronounced it or butchered it frequently they SPELLED it wrong! Which constantly annoyed the heck out of me. The spelling that they used made my name seem childish and immature where as the spelling I was given and used since birth was sophisticated, mature, and classic.
    Also whenever I had a substitute in school they would constantly shorten my name to a very cheesy and unoriginal nickname, and whenever anyone ever called me that I would cringe because it made me feel unoriginal. One time though when a substitute took attendance they called out my name, only in the form of that dreaded nickname, and I quickly raised my hand and added politely, “Um, it’s actually just S***a” the woman smiled and nodded her head. Later in class she called on me using The Nickname. I rolled my eyes and just answered her. From then on I just let it go whenever an adult called my that because I had a feeling they would never really listen.
    So wonderful post Dr. Aletta. I can relate to it and I just enjoy it very much how you bring in your own childhood and adulthood experiences.

  • When we named our children, we also chose traditionally Spanish names, but were careful that they sounded nicely in both Spanish and English and were easy to pronounce in each language. It may have been similiar experiences growing up to your own that made me consider that so carefully.

  • Thanks, SA! It’s frustrating when people just wave off your preferences. I mean it’s YOUR name right? I don’t blame you for letting it go with the sub. Sometimes it’s just not worth it.

  • We did the same. Names that are recognizable around the world in many languages not just Spanish and English, are among the most beautiful.


Leave a comment


Email(will not be published)*


Your comment*

Submit Comment

© Copyright Explore Whats Next - Designed by Pexeto