Vignettes are wonderful! Sometimes described as a slice of life, vignettes can be so short that they take away the fear of ending up with a white page. Unlike a short story, there’s no defined beginning, middle, or end with a cast of characters, multiple conflicts, and the ultimate resolution phase. Instead, the vignette’s impressionistic scenes focus on one moment or give a particular insight into one character, idea, or setting.
The Mexican American author Sandra Cisneros is the unchallenged queen of vignette writing, and her collection of 44 vignettes, (1984) is a must read.
Recounting the life of Esperanza, a young Chicana, from early childhood to young adulthood, the book reads like a novel of development. Vignette #4, “My Name,” depicts Esperanza’s struggle – at the time a young teenager – with her name: “In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine. A muddy color.”
“My Name” is always the first vignette I read with my students. Everyone has something to say about their name, about someone else’s name, or about a fictional character’s name. And since I like my students to create Cisneros-style vignettes, I’ve come up with the following rules:
- enticing first sentence
- fragmentary sentences
So let’s enjoy some of the “My Name” vignettes written by students in 2022:
“My Name” by Elisabeth Laubmeier (Studium Individuale)
My mother is a reader. She gave each of us a name from a piece of literature. My oldest sister’s is from a Jane Austen novel. (She hates it.) My second-oldest sister’s name is from a Richardson novel. (She doesn’t mind it.) My younger sister is Mark Twain’s wife. (She finds it amusing.)
My name, my mother told me, is from a Shakespeare play. Orlando. A fool of a youth blinded by love chasing his girl through the forest, never realizing she’s right in front of him, dressed in men’s clothes.
I don’t like the play but I like the sound of my name. Orlando. It sounds like a mysterious foreign country. Like rich purple. Like ribbons flying in the wind. I like that you cannot make fun of it.
“My Name” by Fritz Lösner (Cultural Studies)
When you hear my name, you know I’m German. It is short. It sounds sharp. It stands out. Something I would have liked to avoid in school. If it were a color, it would be yellow. People remember my name and seem to like its unusualness. Fritz. An old name for sure. More often than not people smile when they utter it for the first time. It has something funny to it. I’ve grown into it. I like it.
“My Name” by Evelyn Perevalov (Teacher Training)
They named me god’s messenger. Descending spiritual being they called me. White. Upon my birth, angelic words were engraved on my forehead. Forced to be perfect, I was criticized for every human mistake I made.
I say my name means fake. It’s a blinding façade. A binding title chosen by my elderly mother. She called me many names but none was angelic. Angelique. A connection to my hated French lessons, years of exhausting studies. Grey and dusty. The French teacher criticized my every error loudly and emphasized Angelique until I could not hear it anymore. Ever since then I tried to avoid the name by giving myself pseudonyms: Nina, Lisa, Mina. A hundred words, a hundred names that worked fine in the world, but upon returning home they all faded away.
Angelique. Not as mighty as my brother’s name. Leon. Our grandparents called him their cute little lion. A brave child. Golden like the sun. Short and simple to pronounce. Whereas my name tangles tongues.
I’d like to erase the meaning of purity and shine and be true to my real colors: red, green, blue. Not angelic white.
“My Name” by Justus Runte (Cultural Studies)
My parents had expected a girl. My mother had wished for a girl. A girl she would dress in pink. With three boys, it was now time for a little girl. According to the doctors, I had the heartbeat of a strong little girl. My name would be Charlotte.
I was not born a little Charlotte but this did not change my mother’s plans. She dressed me up in skirts and let me play with dolls. For the first years of my life, strangers would compliment my mother on her sweet little daughter, “with her big blue eyes, her rosy cheeks, and those long eyelashes.”
After my father died and my mother could no longer stay at home with me and my brothers, I had to go to kindergarten. I think this is when I learned about my name. Justus. Just-us. Justice. A Latin name. An ancient name. With ancient meanings and expectations that I would feel from now on whenever I would answer the question: “Who are you?”
Justus is a polite boy. Justus is the perfect boy next door. Justus will make it in life. Justus will marry a woman and start a family.
So many expectations for a little boy squeezed into a name.
Sometimes I wonder. Who could I be? Who would I be?
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