The first day of school was always a nightmare. I’d sit at my desk anxiously waiting for my teacher to get through the morning roll call, my stomach aching in anticipation. My teacher would get to my name and I could sense what was coming before they even began to mispronounce it. They’d give a quizzical look as I’m sure they’d wonder, “Who the hell would give a child such a name?”
“Excuse me if I get this one wrong, but Do . . . Dork . . . Dorkweez Ramos?” they’d stammer. “Did I pronounce that right?” I’d silently groan as my hand went up. “It’s Door-kiss,” I corrected.
Sniggers could be heard around the room as kids turned to see who they’d be teasing for the rest of the year. I wished so hard I could do away with my name. I’d gladly take any normal, ordinary, boring name in place of this one that would dub me “dork” all through my school years.
Growing up in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City, my classroom was full of creative names. My typically white teachers would pronounce them carefully, but would undoubtedly butcher a few or taint them with their English tongue. Very few of us batted an eye when names like Johanny, Mariluz, and Estafania would get called out because to us they were as commonplace as John, Mary, and Stephanie.
My mother named me after a friend of hers, one I never got a chance to meet and thank for blessing me with her dumb moniker. My parents spoke very little English and could never understand why I’d complain about my name because they didn’t know what those first four letters meant to me and my bilingual classmates.
“It’s a beautiful name!” my mom would say. “It’s 'door,' which means puerta, and 'kiss,' beso. It’s puerta de beso!” It wasn’t until I was assigned a school project in my late teens that I finally learned that my name actually had roots, a meaning, and my parents never had a clue.
It wasn’t just a product of the Dominican penchant to create zany names by combining other names and adding random hard consonants to it. Dorkys derived from the Biblical name Dorcas, which is the Greek translation of the Aramaic name Tabitha. The name appears in the New Testament’s Book of Acts and belongs to a beloved charitable seamstress who had the entire village mourning when she passed away. So distraught were the people that they pleaded with the disciple Peter and asked that she be brought back from the dead. Nowadays, when people ask where my name comes from, I say I was named after a zombie.
The discovery that I loved the most? Learning that Dorcas means "gazelle" and then walking through the San Diego Zoo years later and seeing that there is actually a gazelle species named Dorcas. I couldn’t believe it! That almost made up for all those times I’d look through the mugs and keychains in the souvenir shops hoping to see my name in the mix and, obviously, never finding it.
When people tell me they happen know someone else with my name, I first ask how they spell it (it’s always Dorcas) and still celebrate knowing there are others with this curious name out there. There’s even a character named Dorcas in the 1954 movie musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
But when a friend sent me a clip from the HBO TV series Girls in which lead actress Lena Dunham chooses a new name for an event and decides that it will be “Dorkys…D-O-R-K-Y-S,” I nearly fell off my chair. It just rolled off her tongue and wasn’t followed by laughter.
When I learned the significance behind my name, I was able to grab onto something other than the discomfort it’s brought me. It’s given me something to offer those who are genuinely curious about my unique name as well as something to hold me back when I want to retaliate after an ignorant remark.
I’m 34 years old now and the teasing continues and I still get really anxious when I’m about to meet new people. I just never know how they’re going to react and I’m instantly transported to elementary school. Last week, a woman I’d met at an event asked the typical, “Wait, what? Is that really your name?” that always makes me wish I had a better comeback to such insensitive reactions.
When an illustrator I admired held a book signing event in Brooklyn, I couldn’t wait to meet her, but was instantly disappointed when her response to my name was a chuckle and, “Dorkys? What’s up with that?” I still wish I had told her about the typo on page 18 and walked away without her autograph.
I have no doubt my name has had a big impact on my personality and how comfortable I feel around new people, but my anxieties have gotten better as I’ve learned to genuinely embrace my name. It’s mine and it’s not going anywhere. When I was younger, I told myself that as much as I hated my name I couldn’t go through with changing it because it would just be news for the tabloids if I became rich and famous under a different name.
Now that I’m older, yes, the teasing still carries a sting, but I’ve been able to better appreciate my name for what it is: special in various ways. I’ve never had to wonder who someone was calling out for when I heard my name. If I want someone to find me online, they can just google my name and there I am. You won’t find another one like mine. And if another adult decides it’s acceptable to poke fun at someone else’s name, then I get all I need to know about their maturity level just by saying, “Hi! My name is Dorkys.”