Names. Whats in a name? William – Billy, Robert – Bob. Mary – Maria? Well, that’s a problem today.

Our question is from a Latino man married to a white woman. They have a daughter named Mary. Well, his mother calls the baby Maria. The wife is livid over this. She wants her baby called by her name Mary; not Maria. The wife has asked him to tell his mother to stop calling her Maria even though it means the same thing.

He is wondering how he can make his wife understand that his mom isn’t trying to erase their daughter’s name or isn’t calling her Maria just to spite her.

Here is the question.

I am a Latino man, married to a white woman. We’re very happy, very much partners, all that good stuff. But my issue is that we have a newborn baby named “Mary.” My mother is a Latina woman who is bilingual but prefers Spanish. She generally calls her “Maria.”

My wife isn’t thrilled with this and is asking me to tell my mother to call her “Mary.” I think it’s no different than saying Nueva York or even how my mother prefers to be called “abuela” instead of “grandma” — it’s the same meaning, but in a different language. Or even just a nickname, really.

My wife is very committed to teaching our daughter Spanish and ensuring that she has a connection with our specific heritage–she’s awesome in that regard. However, her argument is that a name is a name and shouldn’t be changed. I can understand that, sort of, except that she has no problem with her brother “William” being called “Billy.” It’s the same thing, in my view. She says it’s not, but gets mad when I ask her to explain how it’s different.

Honestly, in my family, we use diminutives all the time (really common in Latin culture) and we also change names from different languages so they are easier to pronounce and also out of affection.

How can I help her understand that my mom isn’t trying to erase our daughter’s name, but is just doing what our family’s always done and that there’s no malice? I think she projects that my mom doesn’t like Mary’s English name because it’s English, when really that doesn’t factor in at all–it’s just how Latins do things. But she doesn’t believe me

I feel like this might be a cultural issue we haven’t talked out enough, so I’d love some help in explaining why this isn’t a big deal (unless it is, which I’m open to). Ideally in a kind and loving way because I love my wife a lot and she’s an amazing mother!

I think she’d listen to me but right now, to her, it sounds too much like I’m choosing my mother’s preferences over her preferences, when really it’s sort of more about MY preference and the kind of relationship I want my daughter to have with her Spanish speaking side of the family.
This isn’t life or death, for the record, I think we’re both willing to compromise if it comes to it, but it’s still sticking in my side a bit that she’s not being more accepting. We’re also both pretty sleep deprived right now, and her moreso due to nursing, so that’s a definite factor.
Summary: Wife wants my mother to call our daughter “Mary,” not “Maria.” Thinks my mother is being unreasonable not to use her given name. I don’t see what the big deal is and I even hope the nickname will help connect our daughter to her Latina heritage. Am I wrong?

My Take:

Christelyn Karazin is the co-author of Swirling: How to Date, Mate and Relate, Mixing Race, Culture and Creed. She also operates the popular blog, Beyond Black & White, and operate the first forum dedicated to black women interested and/or involved in interracial relationships.