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Associated Press
Yanitse Garcia and her daughter Olivia pose in front of a mural of a Cuban flag in Havana. Garcia has spent three decades correcting people on the pronunciation and spelling of her name.

Cubans ditch eccentric names

– Yanitse Garcia has spent three decades correcting people on the pronunciation and spelling of her first name.

So when her firstborn came into the world three years ago, Garcia decided to save her daughter a lifetime of grief by choosing a simple name that everyone knows and which flows off the tongue: Olivia.

“What I liked about Olivia is precisely that it wouldn’t be a bother for her,” Garcia, a 32-year-old specialist in foreign languages, said with a laugh. “It works for both Spanish and English, and nobody ever will misspell it.”

Garcia is part of Cuba’s so-called Generation Y, the thousands upon thousands of islanders born during the Cold War whose parents turned tradition on its ear by giving them invented monikers inspired by Russian names like Yevgeny, Yuri or Yulia. The phenomenon was so prevalent that dissident writer Yoani Sanchez chose “Generation Y” as the title of her well-known blog; her counterpart on the cyber-ideological battlefield is a pro-government blogger and tweeter who uses the handle Yohandry Fontana.

More than two decades after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Cubans are increasingly returning to more traditional handles for their kids, saying they believe it will better suit them personally and professionally when they grow up.

More and more, names like Maria and Alejandro are replacing the likes of Yoleissi, Yuniesky, Yadinnis, Yilka, Yiliannes, Yonersi, Yusleibis, Yolady, Yudeisi or Yamilka.

“The Y thing was like a fever, a boom. It was (about) doing something different from the monotony of the Pedros and the Rauls,” said Carlos Paz Perez, a sociolinguist at Miami Dade College and the author of a dictionary of Cuban slang.

“But now that has passed, and there is a tendency to recover traditional names.”

Decades ago, many Cuban parents named their kids after other family members or hewed to the common practice in the Spanish-speaking world of honoring the Roman Catholic saint associated with a child’s birth date.

There were only a smattering of eccentric monikers back then, said Uva de Aragon, a retired Cuban-American academic and writer born in 1944 in Havana. De Aragon’s own name was inspired by her grandfather, Ubaldo, and she also recalled a family friend named Olidey after the English “holiday.”

After the 1959 revolution and Cuba’s subsequent self-declaration as an officially atheist state, folks really started getting creative.

“As many people stopped baptizing their children, it was no longer necessary to pick a name that was in the calendar of saints,” de Aragon said.

Inventions like Vicyhoandry began creeping into state birth registries, as did names such as Daymer – a combination of Daniel and Mercedes – and backward renderings as in Airam instead of Maria.

So too did curious English-language borrowings: More than a few Cubans can say with a straight face that Danger is not their middle name – it’s their first.

Meanwhile, Cold War geopolitics also inspired names such as Katiuska, after the Russian-made Katyusha missile launchers. Other kids were called Che, Stalina or Hanoi.

But it was the Generation Y phenomenon that was uniquely Cuban and brought out many parents’ creative instincts. Consider the name Yotuel, a mash-up of the Spanish-language pronouns “yo,” “tu” and “el,” or “I,” “you” and “he” in English.

While there’s no public data available, experts and parents alike have noted a clear trend away from Y-based and other eccentric names in recent years.

An AP review of one high school class list in Havana turned up a dozen unusual names including Yuneysi, Luzaniobis, Alianis and Dianabell, among 40 students. Meanwhile, a first-grade class of 20 students had just two, Raicol and Nediam.