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International Names: From the Catalan culture

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Guest blogger Leslie E. Owen introduces us to the distinctive  Catalan culture: its history, geography–and especially its unique international names.

What do Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Christopher Columbus, and the tenor José Carreras have in common? 

They are all Catalan, an ethnic group whose origins in Mediterranean Spain and France have roots in the merging of the indigenous Celts of the Iberian peninsula with the Romans.  Catalan is a Romance language that existed before Spanish, and derived from Vulgate Latin and Occidental.  The Catalan culture began around the ninth century CE, and was in its heyday between the eleventh and the fifteenth centuries.  At one point, the Catalans, who were sailors, merchants, and explorers, had expanded their territory from the Mediterranean coast of Spain and France through the Balearic Islands, Sardinia, Sicily, Naples, and Greece.

Currently, there are six to eight million speakers of Catalan.  Catalunya is the largest semi-autonomous region in Spain, and includes the provinces of Barcelona, Lleida, Tarragona, and Girona, as well as parts of Valencia, the Balearic Islands, and the region of France that borders the Pyrenées and the Mediterranean.  During the Franco years, Catalan culture, music, language, and freedoms were brutally suppressed.  Since the constitutional monarchy of Juan Carlos, Catalunya has restored its language and traditional culture. 

 The Romano/Gothic city of Barcelona is the capital of Catalunya. Catalans are multi-lingual, and speak Catalan, French, Spanish, and often English and Italian.  The national dance is the stately sardana, which is performed every Sunday in the Barrio Gotíco in front of the cathedral.

Catalan names have commonalities with Spanish names.  The surname is the joint father’s and mother’s name, connected by the word “i”.  Often, Catalan names are hyphenated, especially when they begin with Josep or Maria, such as Josep-Maria or Maria-Dolors.  For example, the tenor José Carreras’s real name is Josep-Maria Carreras i Coll.

There are many pronunciation differences between Spanish and Catalan names.  The vowel “o”, as seen in Josep and Joan, is pronounced as a long “u”:  Ju-sep, Ju-an.  The letter “j” is voiced as it is in English.  The dipthong “au” is pronounced with a long “o” sound, as in Jaume – Joh-may.  The Catalans use the acute accent, the grave accent, and the cedilla.  The double “l” in Catalan is more closely pronounced as the Welsh double “l” than the Spanish “y”, and there is one type of double “l” spelled “l-l” in which the consonants are voiced.

Catalan is an incredibly beautiful language, and Catalunya – with its wonderful food, beaches, and music – is a place very close to my heart.  During the Franco years all Catalans had to have Spanish names, but now that is no longer necessary, and Catalan names – with their Romance language base and Catholic heritage – are fresh but not unfamiliar.

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Leslie E. Owen was born in Massachusetts, raised in Connecticut and attended the University of Arizona.  She has worked in publishing in New York and Canada as a literary agent, editor, and international publishing rep, taught creative writing and children’s publishing, and has published articles and short stories.  Her first book for children, Pacific Tree Frogs, was published in Canada, the UK and Australia by Tradewind Books and in the US by Crocodile Books.  Leslie currently teaches high school English in Florida and is completing a novel.

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