Alhelí (noun) a wallflower.
My mother named me Alhelí. On google images, an Alhelí ranges from a small four-petaled flower, similar to Hawaii’s plumeria, to a bunch of small flowers growing up a stem, similar to lavender but fuller. I don’t think I have ever seen one in real life and because of that, I find myself stopping at almost every flower I see, wondering, “Could you be an Alhelí?”
As I was growing in my mom’s belly, my parents had opted to not know my assigned gender until I was born. Because they were hoping for a boy, my parents had not selected any girl names. To their surprise, I was a girl, so they scrambled to decide on a girl’s name. I was also born a good month early because I was under stress. We joke now that I was just eager to live life!
My mom remembered a flower, “Alhelí” from the song “Capullito de Alheli” that my grandmother had told her was one of my grandfather’s favorite.
As my mom read these lyrics again for this blog post, she shared that she believes her father saw her mother as his capullito de Alhelí. My grandfather died when my mom was a little girl and my grandmother passed just 4 months before I was born. Learning about this song deepened my understanding of how I got my name – although it was decided on the spot, it was still a name given with intention.
Like many of the young people I work with who have unique names, communicating the pronunciation of my name is a daily task. From teachers pausing when they get to my name in roll call to coffee shops skipping over my name altogether in order not to mispronounce, it’s a daily thing. I’ve felt frustration about these instances, but as I’ve grown, I’ve decided to interpret each of these moments as a chance to declare my name and space in the world – double time, with emphasis! In some ways, I am not at all a “wallflower.”
In addition to my first name, my last name means Valley, so I am literally a flower in a valley. This brings me so much joy because everything about me seeks to connect with Mother Earth.
My name is a constant reminder of the changing seasons, my grandparents’ love, and life in one of its most divine forms – a flower.
Being named is often the first act of distinguishing us as individuals when we come into the world. The stories that surround them – how they were chosen, what they mean to our families and to us, how they transform into nicknames – can hold a lot of significance and insight into family history and legacy, as well as who we are as people.
That’s why we launched “The Story of My Name Series,” sharing the naming stories of YLI staff. YLI is not a monolith – we are a collective of diverse individuals with multiple and intersecting identities, backgrounds, personalities, and life stories. Although many of our programs follow a similar youth development framework, our approaches – the shape and feel of our work – are deeply informed by who we are.
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