The Stubborn Names of Things / Yoani Sánchez

Nothing is called what they told me. Salvador Allende Avenue, the only street from my childhood with trees, has gone back to being called by its noble name of Carlos III. I cross a re-baptized city, although the corners still show signs with the names of heroes that no one uses. The old descriptions re-emerge, even among people my age who didn’t come to know them when those were the public names. However much the news insists, for example, on speaking of the summer celebrations as “popular festivals,” we stubbornly refer to them by the nickname “carnivals.” Something similar happens with the celebrations of each December, which the announcers and bureaucrats designate “year-end celebrations,” but among ourselves — for more than a decade — they’ve come to be known again as “Christmas.”

The adjectives betray us; the nouns get ahead of us, contrasting with the subdued and cautious attitude we assume daily. To name something has been converted into the most widespread way of changing reality. We no longer hear the vocative compañero — comrade — rather it’s the once stigmatized señor — mister — and it’s been a long time since the first person plural has included those who govern us. Now they are simply “them,” while in the maternity hospitals no one chooses names from that olive-green lineage for their newborns. Even the strange phenomenon officially designated as “Revolution” has come to be known among us by a neutral demonstrative pronoun. We have renamed it “this,” because there are times to show dissatisfaction by removing names or returning to things the stubborn names by which they were once known.

2 March 2011