Ailin, aylin, Aline. These are the ways in which my name (Eileen) is often misspelled here in Chile. In truth, it really doesn’t matter to me how people spell my name, especially if it is at that coffee chain which shall remain nameless which I shamefacedly patronize because darnit, they know how to make an iced americano. What does it matter to me how they spell my name, provided the barista on the other end says something recognizable so I can pick up my coffee? Anyway, I’m the only shmo who would ever get an iced americano in the middle of the summer when there are frappucinos to be had, so it’s hardly a moment that generates confusion.
Another time when people ask me how to spell my name is if I give them my phone number and they want to put it in their cell phone. Cómo se escribe? (lit: How is it written, meaning, how do you spell it?). Again, it doesn’t really matter to me, the important part is that you know how to find it again. Begin with an E, an A, it doesn’t matter to me.
If I am asked my name in an official context and have to deletrearlo (spell it), I will pronounce it in the most Chilean way possible, and spell it very slowly in an attempt to get it mostly right. Eh, ee latina, ele, eh, otra eh, ene. If I don’t say “otra eh” I end up Eilen. Which might be a nice name somewhere, but it is not mine.
There was a brief period when people knew how to spell my name. There was a year-long reality show when I first arrived in Chile called La Granja (the farm). A slew of attractive Chileans (and one Czech girl, if I’m not mistaken) lived on a farm and whispered hateful conversations to each other under cover of darkness. There were a lot of tears as well, I recall. Most of the participants were flash-in-a-pan celebrities. And one of them was named Eileen (spelled just like that!). She felt like a princess, or so she said and so it appeared on the front page of the newspaper when she was kicked off the show and had her 15-minutes of fame. And for those 15 minutes, eh, ee latina, ele, eh, otra eh ene seemed like it might just catch on.
But really, it’s not the spelling that’s odd here, it’s the name. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before all the cheek-kissing we do upon entering or leaving an event here in Chile. If you are introduced directly to a person, you say hola and then give the kiss. But if someone arrives and takes it upon him or her-self to go around and kiss everyone, they often say their name to you while you are cheek-to-cheeking. Fernanda, they say, and muac! (this is the kissing sound in Spanish). In all the time I have face-to-faced with someone, exactly once has someone put her cheek next to mine and said “Aylin.” We were both so surprised. Did you say Aylin? My name is Aylin! (sorta).
And for the first, and probably last time, I had a tocaya*. And though normally that is something that makes people laugh, I think we were both secretly annoyed. When you’re used to having something all to yourself, sometimes you just don’t want to share. And for me personally, I wanted to call it a jinx and make her buy me a coke. Or an iced americano.
*your tocayo is the person who has the same name as you.