While I don’t normally like typical “family” names (I knew way too many families with Mario, Big Mario, and Little Mario), I’m fine with naming a girl after a boy or vice versa. I also liked old, Spanish names like Cecilia. Penelope, or Valentina. So the name Rafaella, after my dad Rafael, was always the perfect voice for me. Not to mention, I didn’t know (and still don’t know) anyone with that name.
The cherry on top was when my mom gave me the voluminous family tree book that was once my grandfather’s and now belongs to me. I realized that the name Rafael was as much a part of my moms side as it was my dad’s. Not only was Rafaella taking the name of her grandfather, but she would also be borrowing from her grandmother’s side.
But when we tell people Rafaella’s middle name, Rubio, it draws blank stares. As it should. In Spanish, people know the word rubio to mean someone who has blond hair so their confusion deepens when they see my dark-brown haired child with not even a glimmer of a blond highlight.
What in the world is a Rubio?
I like names that are different and Husband and I also liked names borrowed from people we respected or admired. For this reason, Maya (Angelou) was a front runner for a while. We always liked Isabel which was my mom’s middle name and her great great grandmother’s name, a warrior of a woman, from family stories I had been told.
Isabel Rubio was Captain of the Cuban Liberation Army in the Independence War of the nineteenth century. A Cuban heroin and martyr, she was a nurse for the Rebels fighting against Spanish rule in Cuba and organized clinics. She was a liason between the Cubans living in the United States and those in Cuba, joining forces with Jose Marti, Maximo Gomez, and Antonio Maceo. People called her home “the seat of conspiracy” for being the clandestine headquarters of the Cuban separtists and she was considered a radical writer and political activist. Essentially, she was tough shit.
Like my mother Isabel Rubio was born in the province of Pinar del Rio in Paso Real de Guane, a town now named after her where a street of the same name also remains. A museum and statue in that town celebrate her contribution to the fight for Cuban independence and I am honored that this is part of my family legacy. How do you not pass on such a thing?
My grandfather, who loved to tell me stories, filled my life with hundreds of hours of family stories about our ancestors and this story of, Isabel Rubio, always stood out. We liked Isabel but it had been on the rise for a few years. I really wanted to honor that rich history, to have my daughter know she was named after such a strong woman so although Isabel was out, maybe…
Rafael Rubio had such a poetic sound and made immediate sense to me; Husband needed a little convincing but being that he is the history guy, I had a feeling he’d fall in love with it too.
So I think about that name a lot these days? What is a Rubio? A rubio is candela (fire), a spitfire who leaves comfort behind to do what she believes to be right. That was my great great great grandmother. That was my grandfather too. And it’s also me. A rubio is a fighter.
A rubio is my daughter. May she kick ass and take names, always.