photo: Daniela Cabrera

I grew up being ashamed of my “Latin-sounding” name. This is a stark contrast to how I feel now, proud of my Latino identity. Still, it’s a repeated reminder that getting older really does make you wiser and I am thankful for this every day.

I was born in Hialeah, a city in Miami-Dade County with a predominantly Cuban population. My mom tells me that before I was born, my grandmother and various Latino superstitions convinced her that I was definitely going to be a boy (this was before ultrasounds and creepy 3-D models of your fetus were commonplace). She decided to name me Daniel. Lo and behold, I was not a Daniel, so she tacked an “A” at the end and I became Daniela. Daniela C. Cabrera. My younger brother and I went to pre-K and elementary school with mostly Latino kids and found ourselves in a familiar sea of Xiomaras, Rodrigos, and Felipes. I didn’t notice my name sounded any different than the rest of America until we moved to Fort Lauderdale.

Related from Vivala: The Struggle of Not Being "Latina Enough"

Daniela (right) in middle school.

photo: Daniela Cabrera

Going to middle school outside of Miami meant one thing: A lot more white people. Suddenly, I started meeting Amandas, Jordans, and Staceys, names from my favorite television shows and after-school cartoons. I never heard my name or my brother's name (Ovidio, which was even rarer) spoken anywhere besides at my family functions. Having a unique name is seen as cool and trendy now, but it meant endless insecurity in middle school. My younger brother was ceaselessly teased and called “Oreo,” which sounds silly now, but meant everything in the world to him back then.

I know, I know. My name might not be considered that “different” anyway, but it was unusual enough that I didn't meet another Daniela until I was in my 20s and I could never find anything in the gift shop. Around this time in middle school, I would meet people and tell them my name was Danielle, which is what my name was mostly changed to anyway. Thinking of it now, why would anyone think that the “a” at the end was silent? Why didn't I make it clear that it was important to say my real name correctly?

Related from Vivala: 18 Things I Don't Want to Hear About Being Latina

My brother asked my parents why they named him Ovidio and my mom confessed she wanted to name him Gabriel to help him “fit in” more. But my dad was intent on naming his first son after him, and passing down his grandfather’s name. My dad knew the struggles that came with having a unique name. When he immigrated to the U.S. from Colombia with his six siblings, they lived in a primarily Black neighborhood in Manhattan. He dealt with lots of discrimination for being one of the few Latinos in the area at the time, who spoke with a funny accent and had a funny name.

Daniela with her father.

photo: Daniela Cabrera

Learning the history behind my father’s growing up as a Latino in New York City in the '70s, I realized how important it is to honor your own name. His name had carried many challenges, but also so much power. His experiences with his name shaped the person he is today. Now, I can proudly say that I honor my roots. I honor my history. I honor my family and I will honor my name. We live in a melting pot of a country, where our names deserve to be said correctly, loud and proud. I remember reading about how Orange Is the New Black’s Uzo Aduba refused to change her name when she became an actress. Her Nigerian mother told her, “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka."

When I was younger, I would complain and joke that “Daniela Cabrera” sounded sooo Latin, as if that was a curse. But now I can say, that yes, it is a very Latin name because I am Latina and it is beautiful.