The Story of My Name


Itzel Cortes with her mother, Leticia. PHOTO: Claudia Hirsch
Itzel Cortes with her mother, Leticia. PHOTO: Claudia Hirsch

Have you ever thought about the story of your name? After reading the book Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, I decided to ask my mom about the story of my own name.

My mom (Leticia Garcia) named me Itzel because she saw it once in a magazine and thought it was unique. She asked my dad (Mario Cortes) if it was good, and he said he thought it was distinctive and beautiful. So when I was born, they named me Itzel. “Nice!” I said, but was curious to know if this unique name had a special meaning.

After researching my name I found that it means “white flower” and “rainbow lady” in Mayan language and mythology. Itzel was a Mayan Goddess (Ix Chel) of the Earth, the moon and medicine. She often had a snake in her hair and crossbones embroidered on her skirt.

I eventually discovered that my name was not my only connection to Mayan culture—my ancestors had Mayan blood! I started thinking more about my Mexican roots.

It was very important to my parents that I learn English and adapt to American culture, and from second grade on I was in English-only classes. Little by little, I have lost my Spanish. My dad only speaks Spanish, so, sadly, since I feel more comfortable speaking English, we cannot communicate easily with one another. He also feels badly that he cannot speak English as well as my mom and I can.

When immigrants like myself lose our native language, we are losing a part of our culture too. That is why I feel proud of my name and to know more about my ancestors and culture. I pledge to keep my roots and cultivate them by using my native language of Spanish and by sharing the story of my name.

Maya people – a diverse population of Native Americans from Mexico and northern Central America

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