What’s in a name (Part II)

20 10 2009

Last week I read about Anne’s and her husband’s thoughts on names, and it reminded me of a short “essay” I wrote for my Spanish course a few months ago. I think that the subject of names is fascinating; the cultural and linguistic differences, as well as the historical background and meaning.

When it comes to royalty, I thought that it was fascinating for example to discover that in the Spanish gossip magazine, Hola, the British Queen Elizabeth II is referred to as Isabela Segunda, her son is called Carlos and her grandson Guillermo (William). One of my first memories of working in Brussels is of when I mixed up Charlemagne and Charleroi. For me, as a Swede, the two names sounded very alike – to the shock of my French colleague who told me that Charlemagne* was a very famous king (I had heard of him as Karl den Store in Swedish or Charles the Great) and Charleroi is a Belgian town! Why is it that names of Kings and Queens are translated?

King Oscar sardines
King Oscar’s sardines – the sardines are Norwegian, and the king was Swedish. However, Oscar II also ruled over Norway since the two countries were in a union until 1905. Oscar is a Celtic name and was in fashion in Sweden around the turn of last century, as well as currently (since the new Millenium)

I have already written about names, in my blog post “What’s in a name – Spanish name mysteries“, which dealt with confusing Spanish surname (family name) traditions rather than first names. Surnames are definitely interesting, the respective family names of O and I could have had a –ez and –es at the end, but they do not… This causes a lot of confusion, especially here in Puerto Rico, even though the most famous Puerto Rican singer has the same surname as O, while I always try to explain that I am not a relative of Sherlock! O’s surname is a very common one in Spanish-, French & English-speaking countries, but of course pronunced differently.

Tomb stone for Nils
Tombstone for one of my ancestors called Nils – a very common name in my family (and region). It was the 5th most common name in 1901 and is once again increasing in popularity

This is more or less what I wrote (in Spanish originally):

Names (without any scientific proof what so ever, this is my study of how names are chosen in different countries):

In Sweden it is common to choose names of past generations, generally the generation of the grandparents (or great grandparents) of the parents’ of the child. This means that names are “recycled” every 3-4 generations, but the children are not necessarily named after a certain relative (see below for the Spanish tradition).

The most popular names for Swedish children born in 2008 were:

  1. Maja
  2. Emma (second name of my father’s uncle’s wife – she’s Swiss though)
  3. Julia
  4. Ella (actually my great-grandmother’s name)


  1. Lucas
  2. Oscar
  3. William
  4. Elias

(source: www.svenskanamn.se)

Otto makes ice cream
Otto, a German name that used to be given to the 8th child in a family! Its popularity is increasing in Sweden, maybe because of the yummy ice cream sold under this name  😉

However, the most common names in Sweden (for children and adults) are Maria (and Anna), and Erik (and Lars). What is interesting is that most people with these names, Maria and Erik, have them as second names, i.e not used as their given names (tilltalsnamn). 

Old street sign
Spanish square with the same name as O’s grandfather and grandmother (ending with an -a of course). It is of German origin and means, just like it sounds, “the brown” or “the tanned”. Saint Bruno was born in Cologne and refused to become a bishop in Reims (from Wikipedia).

In Spain, my impression is that names don’t change as often as in Sweden. There are always children who are called Carlos, Diego and Manuel! And to prove this, I actually just took what I thought were common Spanish names, the above-mentioned ones, and confirmed their popularity (No 14, No 9 and No 15 for babies born in 2007). One reason might be that many Spanish families still keep the tradition of naming the first son after the father, who in his turn was named after the grandfather, named after the great-grandfather etc etc.

The great grandmother
The great-grandmother Francisca (I noticed that I called her Joaquina in another post – I am actually not sure if she is Francisca or Joaquina, need to confirm her name with O’s father), whose name is not among the top 100 of the names given to babies in 2007

Since this tradition only seems to apply to boys, does it maybe mean that women’s names change more often in Spain? I am not so sure, but let’s try to do the same test as with male names. I would say that common Spanish female names are: Cristina, Mónica and Ana. Now, let me check their popularity among babies born in the 21st century: Cristina was No 26, Mónica No 88 and Ana No 13!

Aha, I have proved my point in a most un-scientific way: the names I chose were names of Spanish people I know (from my generation) and obviously their popularity have not been carried over to the present female generation to the extent of the male names, which are still common.

Street named after a José
José is only No 36 on the top list of names from 2007. According to Wikipedia José Palafox is a hardcore punk musician but I doubt that the street in Zaragoza was named after him…

These are the top names of Spanish babies born in 2007:

  1. Lucía
  2. María
  3. Paula
  4. Sara
  1. Daniel
  2. Alejandro
  3. Pablo
  4. David

(source: www.babycenter.es/pregnancy/nombres/top_names_2007 and interestingly enough the top 4 names haven’t changed at all between 2007 and 2008)

Calle San Sebastian, OSJ
I have never met a Sebastián in Puerto Rico, but his street is one of the most beautiful in the Old San Juan

My third example is the Puerto Rican name tradition – which doesn’t seem to be cyclical like the Swedish one, nor repetitive like the Spanish one, but it is rather a more imaginative custom. It would appear that the Puerto Rican parents try to find the most original name possible, and one tradition is to combine the names of the two parents – for example Geomari (from George and María). I don’t know how popular it is nowadays to give taíno (indigenous indian tribe in Puerto Rico and other islands of the Caribbean) names to babies but the name Uroyoan for example is of taíno origin.

For a foreigner it is sometimes difficult to understand and remember people’s names, at least when they are called Jehyra, Katsí, Nerydette, Adalberto, Glendaliz, Ydalmi, Unexie, Eulalio etc. Don’t get me wrong, I love the originality**, but maybe they are not always very practical names? And it does seem that boys get the more traditional names while the more fanciful ones are reserved for girls.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find the top names of Puerto Rican babies, in the US the more plain (?) names Jacob and Emily were the most popular in 2007.

*) Charlemagne is also the name of one of the European Commission buildings in Brussels and the whole conversation was about me going for lunch there – but I said Charleroi, a town 6o km away…

**) A Puerto Rican novel that I would really like to read, but haven’t found yet, is Usmaíl by Pedro Juan Soto that tells the story of a boy named after a US Mail post box…


A typical (?) October weekend

19 10 2009

Already Monday again and I wonder where the weekend went… Here are some photos to show what we did:

Marshalls bargains

We are true Marshalls fans but twice in one weekend is a bit exaggerated… The reason was the plate though – my aunt collects this china (Botanical Garden) and we thought that we had bought 4 deep plates for her – however, one was the wrong model so we needed to change it. We were lucky – there was only one left!

Of course we ended up with some stuff for us as well, a Ralph Lauren bed sheet for $10 and some stockings for me (for the European winter)!

Kid's stuff

Saturday evening was spent in the company of friends – including a 2-year old who was entertained by drawings (by my talented Spanish teacher), a book in Swedish (kaka means cake / cookie and not poo as in most latin languages) and some cuddly animals. She confused me a little when she started talking about l’Escargot (the snail – in French) but it turned out to be a very cute misunderstanding of O’s name!! The funny thing about the book was that her mother told me that she had had the same books about the boy Max in French as a kid – they are written by a Swedish author!

Indian-inspired shoes

Saturday’s dinner was Indian-inspired, just like my shoes (?). O made his speciality – Chicken Tikka Masala… fortunately there are some left-overs for my lunch today!

Eggy breakfast

Eggy brunch on Sunday – we ate porridge / cereal and sandwiches as well… I have already told you about O’s yummy sandwiches – he is a sandwich artist and they are the highlight of the weekend breakfasts!

Street view Santurce

Our second trip to Marshalls, this time to the store in Santurce (on Saturday we went to the one in Carolina). This restaurant is just opposite and they have part of the menu painted on the wall outside.

Towards the mall

After Marshalls we headed towards the mall – the shops in Puerto Rico close at 17.00 on Sundays (21.00 the other days), but we were not planning on more shopping…

Plaza las Americas

Entrance to the big mall – Plaza las Américas

Plaza las Americas interior

We arrived just 10 minutes before closing time so we decided to do some window-shopping in West Elm – well, we actually did enter the shop, but just for browsing… I think we have only bought something once (a blanket on sale) in that store as the prices are too high.

Borders, San Juan

The reason for visiting the mall was our Sunday fika at Borders with our Swedish friend B, the bookstore stays open until late on Sundays. B and I were not catching up on Spanish gossip for once, but reading a special edition of Hola magazine about travels. I took notes of some of the places recommended to see in Spain as I would really like to see more of Spain next year. O did a tour of the country with his American ex-girlfriend and I think that it is time that he does the same with me!!

Stieg Larsson in Spanish

The Stieg Larsson books are finally being sold in Spanish at Borders (apparently the Mexican edition of the books, instead of the Spanish). It was fun to see the big announcement about the Swedish books even though I am not a fan!

Borders bargains

To O’s despair I can’t go to Borders without picking up a book or two… These were on sale for $3.99 and as I am going to New York next week, I thought that reading about Brooklyn could be fun!

Reading in bed

Reading in bed before going to sleep – the beige/yellow striped pillow cases are bargains from Marshalls, as well as the magazine… The white and pink pillow case says “My darling” in Swedish and was one of my feeble attempts to teach O Swedish  😉

Wednesday recipe: Salmon & avocado salad + Etiquette poll on toilet lid manners

14 10 2009

It is still Wednesday in my part of the world and here’s a recipe to prove it 😉

Salmon & avocado sallad

Salmon & Avocado Salad
1 piece of salmon filet (~400 grams)
2 tablespoons French Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons dill, parsley or tarragon
1 teaspoon coarse (Kosher) salt
freshly ground black pepper
crispy lettuce (such as Iceberg or romaine)
1 big avocado
1 onion – chopped
1 lemon – juice and peel
a handful of pickled gherkins – chopped

Heat the oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees F). Mix the mustard, olive oil, black pepper, salt, chopped gherkins and onion, lemon peel and herbs in a small bowl. Spread the mixture evenly on the salmon and bake in the oven approximately 10-15 minutes.
Cut or tear the lettuce and put in a salad bowl. Cut the avocado in small cubes and add to the lettuce, sprinkle some lemon juice on top.
Serve the salad mixed with the oven-baked salmon and some bread.

(Recipe inspired by “Varm laxsallad med avokado” from the book Kärlek, Oliver och Timjan by Anna and Fanny Bergenström)

And now to the etiquette poll: Toilet lid manners!

As you know, we have had a lot of visitors to our home here in Puerto Rico, and when you spend time close to family and friends for a while, you notice certain habits… One of the things that has struck me the most is that very few, men and women, put down the lid after using the toilet! The lid, not the ring – which fortunately most men do lower after having done their business…

Toilet for women

I have also noticed that in almost every home shown on my favourite tv channel, HGTV, the toilet lid is always up! This in homes that have been staged, styled and designed to be sold! Am I the only person who thinks that it looks nicer if the lid is closed?? Isn’t that the reason why there is one?

So, I am curious – let me know your thoughts on “toilet lid manners”…

Every time I walk past the guest bathroom and I can see that the lid is up, I have to enter and close it… I am sure a lot of people think it is silly and O is definitely one of them! We have been discussing the “raison d’être” of the toilet lid, and I always try to suggest that it might have been invented so to avoid that people accidentally drop something into the toilet, or so that you can use it as a seat but most of all – it is there to be closed!

Did you forget something?
“You haven’t forgotten anything? Did you lower the lid and flush?” (apparently the French speakers only need to be reminded to flush…)

However, it can’t just be me, because I found these signs (above and below) displayed in the toilets* in the Alliance Francaise!

Might seem superfluous to remind the “users” to flush – but after having worked in a hotel as a cleaning lady, I know that a lot of people seem to forget (??) to do this… In many places in Puerto Rico (and in Greece!) you are asked to throw the toilet paper in the trash can (zafacón is Puerto Rican Spanish) because the sewage system is so bad.

Speaking of toilets, I might have mentioned already that the exterior of our building is being renovated and painted – we have now, after ~3 months, reached the painting phase, which means that the construction workers are doing their second round of the four walls. This morning I heard that they were somewhere outside our master bedroom and decided to go to the loo in the guest bathroom instead. Just when I am sitting there, I can hear the “window-cleaner lift” approaching outside… and voilà, it stops right outside the bathroom window!! Fortunately I was behind a shower curtain, but still, needless to say I didn’t feel very relaxed about the situation!

Outside my bathroom window
Outside the bathroom window this morning…

A few minutes later I was sitting in front of the computer in my pj’s when I heard voices behind me – arrggghh, they seemed to be everywhere today! I am starting to feel besieged, and quite frankly tired of having people outside the windows – on the 9th floor!

*) And yes, I am European and I am not afraid of calling a toilet a toilet (or even “loo”) – half-baths, powder rooms etc sound just silly in my ears!

An internet-less Wednesday afternoon

7 10 2009

I was going to publish a new Wednesday recipe today, and work on “des feuilles de route” (itineraries) for the Alliance Francaise’s guests who are coming to the San Juan Book Fair in two weeks’ time, but internet didn’t work all afternoon and this is what I did instead:

Sorting out clean laundry

Sorting out the clean laundry…

Sorting papers

Sorting out papers – practical that we still have the dining table extended since the crayfish party…

Listening to some music and reading an old diary

Listening to some old music and reading an old diary from 2005 – the year I met O! I laughed when I read that he said after a few weeks together that I would make a perfect wife… as I haven’t done…

Ironing to be done

… the ironing yet 😉

Back to working on those documents now…

¿Estamos ready? Spanglish in Puerto Rico

1 10 2009

Learning Spanish in Puerto Rico can be a very interesting experience. First of all because a lot of people insist on speaking English to foreigners – regardless of whether the foreigners are English-speaking or not (happened to my blond but very Spanish brother-in-law C who doesn’t speak English*) and regardless of their own level of English (the Puerto Rican accent in English is not always easy to understand) and secondly because the Puerto Rican Spanish is full of Anglicisms, or maybe rather Americanisms!

Find the Spanglish at the Car wash
Spot the Spanglish at the car wash!

When it comes to the first issue, I just consequently say ¿Perdón? when somebody talks to me in English, and if they insist on English, I show my stubbornness by replying in Spanish… It happened to me twice on Monday; first a taxi driver came up to me on the way to Starbucks and said something which I didn’t actually hear, and he didn’t change language after my ¿Perdón? but continued by asking “Why not take a taxi instead of walking” – I replied “Voy solamente a Starbucks, no está lejos…” (I am only going to Starbucks, it is not far). When I arrived to the café, the girl behind the counter spoke to me in English but did actually change to Spanish when I said ¿Perdón? Sometimes I feel like Don Quijote fighting against wind mills – why do I even bother? Well, maybe because I insist on practising my Spanish…

Anyway, I am used to this kind of bilingual conversations from Belgium where every now and then people would detect my foreign accent in French and try to speak to me in English! However, I was also aware of the fact that there are Belgians who prefer speaking English (most Flemish-speaking Belgians for example) and the same is the case in Puerto Rico. I just figured out a few weeks ago that one of the shop assistants in a local shop is probably an English-speaking American woman so maybe I should just stop insisting on speaking Spanish to her.

Spanglish at the car wash
More Spanglish…

I get an enormous sense of well-being and am happy for the rest of the day** when people speak to me in Spanish and don’t switch languages 🙂 It happens more and more, which my Spanish teacher told me is a good indication that my Spanish has improved! Nevertheless, speaking Spanish in Spain is much more rewarding and less stressful, since the Spaniards, at least in Zaragoza, don’t have the same reflex to speak English to foreigners. Of course, this is probably because there are a lot fewer tourists in Aragón than in my area of San Juan…

The Spanglish is another matter: I find the Puerto Rican habit of using English words in Spanish, or making English words into Spanish  fascinating and creative, while O thinks it is shocking the way the Puerto Ricans mistreat his and their mother tongue! Of course I can understand that it is quite tragic how perfectly adequate Spanish words are being replaced by Spanglish ones, but I also believe that it is the way languages have evolved since the beginning of times…

  • fresa is sometimes called strawberi, and arándano rojo agrio is simply cranberi (maybe not surprising since cranberry is not a locally grown berry in Spain nor in Puerto Rico)
  • picotear (to snack) is replaced by snackear – oh yes, I saw it on a billboard this weekend, but unfortunately I didn’t have time to take a photo! 
  • Sorry is used almost as much as perdón 
  • Hangear (to hang out) and chatear (to chat) are common verbs 
  • El beauty (as in beauty parlour) and el blower (which I already mentioned yesterday is called le brushing in French, i.e blow-drying your hair and getting it styled at the hairdresser’s) are popular words in Puerto Rico
  • Suéter is a wonderfully phonetic word for “sweater” in Puerto Rico, just like the Spanish spell whisky güisqui and pronunce their word for sweater [xer’sei] (actually jersey)
  • ¿Estamos ready? was heard during the Beach cleaning event a few weeks ago! (Are we ready?)

When I once asked among a group of Puerto Ricans and Mexicans how to say “coaster”, it caused a big discussion… The Puerto Ricans looked at each other and said “¿coaster?”. We had to call O from the kitchen (where he was cooking, while I was entertaining the guests) to get the “proper” Spanish word – “portavaso” but then the Mexicans said “posavaso“! Does the coaster carry / bear the glass or is the glass put on the coaster? According to Wordreference the Mexicans were right, so maybe we can’t trust O’s expertise in Spanish?

And before we judge the Puerto Ricans, or Spaniards for that matter (I mean [xer’sei]??), remember that Swedes have made French words into Swedish ones with a more local spelling: bureau is “byrå”, portefeuille is “portfölj” and fauteuil is “fåtölj”, and the French say le week-end  and spell the word with a hyphen that doesn’t exist in English. When I visited Bosnia in 2001, I saw a menu with cizburger and cikenburger. The list goes on and on…

Misspelt sign in Marshalls
Spanglish is one thing but there is no excuse for misspelt signs in Spanish, such as this one that we saw in more than one Marshalls shop – kitchen is cocina in Spanish! That the sign continues in English is another matter…

*) The situation was really absurd as he then thought that the Puerto Rican talking to him in English didn’t speak Spanish, so he made an attempt to communicate in broken English…
**) Anyone out there recognising that quote??

Wednesday recipe: Apple & Pear Cakes and an Etiquette Poll on Tipping…

30 09 2009

It is apple harvest times at the moment, which I notice on the blog as the most popular post (by search machines) at the moment is my recipe for apple cake from last year. I decided to make my favourite apple cake on Monday, and when I read the recipe posting, I realised that it was in parts almost identical to my text from last Thursday… Opps, I am apparently repeating myself every year around the end of September – I seem to have an idealised image of autumn in my mind! Anyhow, today is Wednesday and you are getting TWO recipes for cakes:

  1. Try my best ever apple cake recipe (see link, the Swedish version of the recipe is at the end of the post) but use both apples and pears (I also used Half-and-half as we didn’t have sour cream at home). O described the flavour yesterday: “The first flavour and texture that you notice is the pear, but then right at the end the taste of the apple hits you” – I think he could become a food critic!
  2. For the yummiest Pear-Almond Cake with Chocolate Chunks (see link to Rachael Ray’s Everyday web-site) – this cake is soooo good that I made it three weeks in a row and we had to get more Belgian chocolate brought from Belgium (as I just refuse to cook with American chocolate, sorry!)

Gateau aux pommes et poires

And now to the etiquette question of the week: Do you tip at the hairdresser’s and if yes, how much?

Of course this depends on where in the world you live – in Europe, the US or somewhere else… In Europe I have never tipped a hairdresser, as I always assume that service is included when comes to a service, if you see what I mean! Maybe it also depends on whether you go to a big hairdress salon where different people take care of you (washing the hair, cutting it, colouring and styling it etc), or if you go to a small place where the same person does everything?


El Beauty / Old San Juan
In Puerto Rico the beauty parlours are quite simply called El Beauty – this one is located in the Old San Juan

O and I went to the hairdresser on Saturday – we actually go to Sears where O has his favourite, German, hairdresser. It is funny, I always end up with male hairdressers and O with female ones! I don’t know if this is a Puerto Rican phenomenon or if it is just coincidence?? Anyhow, we are always a little stressed about how much we should tip the hairdresser afterwards, and on Saturday we both paid $5 each in tips. It meant that I tipped my male hairdresser 25% and O gave 33% to the female counterpart. Afterwards we discussed if this was not a little too much, but O, who by the way hates tipping, referred to an article he had read in Women’s Health*:

Tips on tipping:

  • Stylist (I guess the one cutting your hair): 15-20% of service
  • Colorist: 15-20% of service
  • Stylist’s assistance: $10-20
  • Shampooer: $3-5
  • Blow-out person: $10
  • Coat-check girl: $1

Phew!! That’s a lot of tipping (and a lot of money!). However, our hairdressers shampoo and cut our hair, we declined el blower service (funny, in French it is called le brushing) and well, we don’t wear coats in Puerto Rico… I was happy to give a big (?) tip to the guy cutting my hair because he did a really good job – much better than the Spanish girl in Zaragoza who did my hair in less than 30 minutes (including washing and drying!) this summer. So, how much would you have tipped?

Barberia Venezuela, Old San Juan
A closed down barber’s shop in the Old San Juan…

*) He reads whatever he finds next to the toilet – one of his favourite magazines is the Swedish interior design magazine Sköna Hem – unfortunately he can’t pronunce the name  😉

A fika between two Europeans at Starbucks

28 09 2009

I was going to write about Spanglish in Puerto Rico today, but it is already 14.35 and I really need to write some letters (yes, real letters on paper and sent by the “snail mail” 😉 ), bake an apple / pear cake, do some laundry, and prepare dinner so the language post will have to wait until tomorrow…

This morning I had a lovely fika with a new acquaintance, a Polish girl I met a few weeks ago in Starbucks. We spent two hours talking about living abroad and in Puerto Rico, Europe and how to get to and from the Caribbean the easiest way, learning a new language and forgetting an “old” language, the differences between Europeans and Puerto Ricans, and what we love about this island – well, you know the kind of subjects that all expats talk about when they meet and can talk about for hours…

Starbucks tea in a MUG
My tea in a MUG – Starbucks is catching on to non-disposable ways of serving hot beverages!

And once again, it struck me how much us Europeans have in common*! There definitely is an European identity and culture, with shared values and ideas, and I love re-discovering this!

Another topic we discussed was how religion is something very private in Europe, while in Puerto Rico (and I guess the US) people seem to show off their religiousness, with Facebook status lines about God, bumper stickers on cars and talking about going to church. Not even the most catholic of Europeans; such as the Polish, Irish, Italian or Spanish talk about religion and God as much as the Puerto Ricans! At the beach cleaning event last weekend, the organisers ended the information gathering with a prayer – I don’t think that would ever happen in Europe, if it wasn’t a specifically religious event. Right or wrong, it is just different and quite curious to experience for an European!

*) Not to say that I wouldn’t have anything in common with Americans, Puerto Ricans etc… One thing doesn’t exclude the other!