I received my first nameplate necklace, a proud “Irina” written out in cursive on a 14k yellow gold necklace just before college. My mami, determined to gift me one of my own, frequented Latino jewelry stores all across our hometown in Florida until she found one to give to me that felt just right. I went off to college in New York City with the necklace, and wore it proudly until it was stolen off of my neck at a parade. It wasn’t until I found myself without it that I realized how much this simple piece of jewelry had come to mean to me, or the ways in which nameplates have acted as a strong cultural link for Latin girls like me.
Fashion experts have traced the history of nameplates back to rejections of white affluence.
In her column “Nameplate necklaces: This shit is for us,” Collier Meyerson points how names have been used as a form of resistance for Black Americans who had their names and “bodily autonomy” stolen from them by over 200 years of slavery and decades of Jim Crow laws. Thanks to the Afrocentrism movement of the 1970s, many Black Americans fought to subvert whiteness by reclaiming African names and generating African sounding ones. But in this effort, Black Americans found another struggle: the ability to keep up with trending off-the-rack products that displayed consumers’ names. It was a struggle that Latinos, who weren’t typically given names like “Mary” or “Becky,” could easily relate to. According to Meyerson, soon enough nameplate necklaces developed as a response to the gas-station bracelets and department-store mugs that featured characteristically white American names. In today’s era, nameplates continue to be “a flashy and pointed rejection of the banality of white affluence.”
For me personally, my first nameplate became a symbol of empowerment. As a child visiting theme parks like Disney world, I also found myself utterly disappointed when the Minnie Mouse keychains or fake bicycle license plates I pined over were not decorated with my own name. So, when I ultimately received my first nameplate I suddenly felt an immense sense of gratitude for being able to proudly display my Cuban culture. What’s more, for finally being able to show off the person that both my necklace and culture came from: my Cuban mother.
When my mami finally gifted me my first “Irina” necklace, I felt an even greater sense of pride for my ethnicity.
I finally had something of my very own with my name on it. I vowed to wear it as much as possible, putting away the pentagram necklace I had worn through most of high school and upgrading to the nameplate necklace I felt was more sophisticated and true to who I was. So when I lost my first nameplate necklace, I felt as if my heart had shattered, but eventually came to terms with the unique chance it gave me to design a new one— this time with my own specifications.
My mami and I spent months going back and forth on exactly the kind of necklace I wanted. It had to be white and yellow gold, because I wanted it to go with everything, and it had to look just right. Eventually, after several tries and never quite getting the cursive lettering just right, I decided to ask a jeweler to create a piece from my own handwritten signature. The instant I was finally able to hold the necklace in my own hands and wear it around my neck, it became the most prized piece of jewelry I owned. I wore my “Irina” necklace with everything and eventually, I gave all of the other necklaces that I had owned away. My nameplate necklace became a huge part of my identity, and one that I treasured dearly.
It’s why, after the second time I lost my nameplate necklace, it felt like tragedy had struck and was left completely devastated.
A couple of weeks after my husband and I got married, we treated ourselves to a mini weekend getaway at a fancy hotel not too far from our hometown, and ended it all with a couples massage. Hours later, my husband was turning into our driveway when I grasped my neck. My beloved necklace was missing. It didn’t take long for me to remember taking it off back at the span and leaving it on the little table in the massage room. A stream of tears trailed down my face as the fear of never again seeing the piece of jewelry that had practically become tattooed around my neck set in.
As I thought about what would happen if I couldn’t get my necklace back, my mind reeled with the panic of never being able to recreate. My “Irina” necklace had become something that I wore as an assertion of myself while in meetings or the office, my own personal piece of confidence booster. With my necklace lost, I wondered if I could ever find such nerve again. Particularly during a time when I still grappling with my ability to hold onto my own identify after getting married. At the time, I was still contemplating the idea of whether or not I wanted to take my husband’s last name. Amongst the swell of thoughts I had at my necklace’s loss was how I could hold onto my identity without my necklace to ground me, without my name literally hanging from my neck.
I began to realize that my nameplate necklace had become a huge part of my Latina identity, something integral to who I am because it represented my culture, my identity, my family history and the pride I felt in being a Latina. In a way, my nameplate necklace felt as if it had become a sword with which I could fight back against every close-minded person who had ever attempted to belittle my culture, my name and my worth which are all so deeply rooted in my Latinidad. But the biggest thing I realized was that sometimes even a simple piece of jewelry—for some Latinas it can be a nameplate, hoop earrings or an azabache pendant—can become an important piece of personal identification.
Fortunately, after pulling myself out of my identity crisis, I made a call to the spa, where they ultimately retrieved my necklace for me.
Once the necklace was safely back in my hands, I immediately put it back around my neck and for a time had a hard time keeping my hands from flying to my neck to make sure it hadn’t left or gotten lost again. I needed to make sure it was still there after all of the drama. I needed to make sure that I was still there, too.
My nameplate necklace had become more than just something I owned. It isn’t just a piece of jewelry but rather a part of who I am. Losing it, as I hope to never do again, would break my heart. Sure, deep down I know it’s a thing that could easily be replaced, but what it represents is so much more than just a symbol. It’s not just a piece of jewelry with my name on it. It’s a representation of my culture and identity: me.
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