In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting.
This quotation, from the section “My Name,” occurs before Esperanza says her name for the first time. Esperanza’s characterization of her name shows how she channels her dissatisfaction with her given name into creativity and word play. What Esperanza says here about the word esperanza is neither intuitive nor true. In Spanish, esperanza means “hope.” The word does not have a dictionary definition in English. When Esperanza says her name means “waiting,” she has taken the Spanish verb esperar, which means “to wait or expect,” and superimposed it on the noun hope. Similarly, sadness may come from the opposite of esperanza, desesperarse, or “despair.” Later in the chapter Esperanza says she would like to give herself a new name, but she has already given her old name new meaning, using a similar-looking word with a different definition. By refusing to accept the word’s conventional definitions, Esperanza shows that she possesses a writer’s gift for interpretation and storytelling.
On a more literal level, the words Esperanza has chosen to associate with the Spanish meaning of her name are very negative. She has taken a positive word, hope, and given it three negative descriptions. The first, “too many letters,” is a description of the word as it is written. As an American schoolgirl, Esperanza is frustrated by the physical difficulty of her name, which sets her apart from others. Even her siblings, Nenny, Carlos, and Kiki, have simpler, less foreign-sounding names. The next two negative descriptions are associations she has with herself. As her current self with her current name, Esperanza’s life is full of sadness and waiting. Esperanza says her inner self is described by the name “Zeze the X.” Zeze the X is the version of Esperanza who does not belong in the barrio.