A Story Of The Cuban Y Generation

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We’ve loved our extraordinary friend and Cuban-American, Miami-born Mash-Up Yanik Marie Fernandez Breving for so long that we’d forgotten that her name was a little bit…unusual. But this recent Associated Press story on Cuba’s Generation Y, born during the Cold War and given Spanish-inflected nombres inspired by Russian names like Yevgeny or Yulia, got us thinking. How does a Caribbean island Cold War tradition, born of Eastern European political influence, translate in Mash-Up America? We chatted with Yanik and her mom, Tania, to find out how Yans became Yans.

The Mash-Up Americans: Why Yanik?

Tania: It was my brother’s girlfriend’s name and I thought it sounded beautiful! No cultural consideration, only how it sounded.

Was your brother’s girlfriend Cuban?

Tania: Yes.

So you didn’t feel social pressure to choose a Y name? Since Yanik was born and grew up in Miami, was it actually a rebellion of any sort?

Tania: Actually, her name IS a bit of rebellion. My family wanted a Christian or Saint’s name for her, and I compromised by using Marie, for Maria, as her middle name.

Do you associate it with Russia at all?

Tania: A little bit.

Would you say Miami Cubans stay true to Cuba Cuban traditions?

Tania: I believe even though Miami Cubans try to stay true to their tradition, it isn’t always the case.

How do you pronounce it? What’s the craziest pronunciation you have ever heard?

Yanik: Ya-NEEK. I hate when people say YAH-nick.

How did you feel about your name growing up?

Yanik: I cringed every time I heard someone repeat a crazy variation back with what sounded like a question mark at the end.

When did you realize it was unusual? Or was it not unusual in Miami?

Yanik: Everytime I heard the comment “Yanik… That’s a unique name.” [Editor’s note: Groan.] It was definitely unusual in my circle in Miami, where I stood out in a sea of Christinas, Carolinas and Marias.

Speaking of Christinas, Tania, how did you choose the name Christina for your younger daughter? [Editor’s note: Kristina legally changed her name to Kiki several years ago.]

Tania: It is actually Kristina, though phonetically sounds the same. Christina is the Spanish name but I spelled it the Greek way.

Did you ever pretend you had a different name? If so, what was it?

Yanik: When I was little, I made my family call me Diana, after a character in a telenovela I would watch with my abuela.

Yans, you recently became a mom and started your own sh-up family. What did you name your baby? What were some of the parameters you set?

Yanik: Mateo James Breving (Breving is my married name). We knew we wanted a Spanish name for our son, but my husband, Andy, felt strongly about not having a name with “dr” in it or pretty much any “r” because he didn’t want it to be butchered by anyone in his family, which is predominantly German, with a little Irish and English thrown in, and has been in the U.S. for three generations. He was a little scared of butchering it himself too. We also wanted to make sure the nicknames weren’t too bland.

How long did it take Andy and his family to get your name right?

Yanik: His grandfather never actually got it right, even though I’ve been around the family for 12 years.

How do you feel about the name Andy?

Tania: I like it, but I call him Andres.

Have you ever met another Yanik? Or another Cuban with a Y-name?

Yanik: I’ve never met another Yanik, but I heard lots of crazy Y names when we visited Cuba: Yesenia, Yosary, Yamile. Not to mention J names that are pronounced with a Y, like Yessica, Yenny, or Yulie.

What’s the craziest Y name you heard?

Tania: Yesenia.

What name do you give when you order at Starbucks?

Yanik: Jenny. Or my last name.

Tania, how do you feel about the name Yanik now?

Tania: I still love it.

And you, Yans?

Yanik: I like it and that it’s different from everyone else’s. But I still automatically repeat it when I meet someone new. I just hope they don’t tell me it’s, you know….unique.

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Posted by Amy S. Choi
Amy is co-founder and editorial director of The Mash-Up Americans. She specializes in getting people to tell stories they never expected to share. She's mom to two Korean-Colombian-Mexican-American kids, aka The Future of America. You can follow her @awesomechoi and find her in Brooklyn.

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