Why the Name Change? (Luigi Peñaranda)

Two questions are typically asked when I introduce myself.

Question #1: Are you Italian?
The answer is: “No.”

Question #2: Do you have a brother named Mario?
The answer once again is: “No.”

These questions are, in a sense, inescapable since I go by the name of “Luigi.” Truth be told… my name is not Luigi. The story of how I became Luigi, and why I still go by that nickname, is linked to a series of cultural and linguistic exchanges that have taken place over the course of my life. I share bits and pieces of my story here as an invitation to consider how multiculturalism has shaped – and continues to shape – the world. Moreover, I believe that being aware of the complexities that come with multicultural and multilingual exchanges could be very beneficial when reading the New Testament.

My legal name is Luis Guillermo. I was born and raised in Colombia, South America, in the capital city, Bogotá. There, like in many places around the world, having two names is not uncommon. However, in contrast to what I have experienced in the United States, in Colombia it is quite common to keep both first and middle names as one’s official name. For that reason, I have hardly ever used the names “Luis” or “Guillermo” separate one from the other.

I inherited my first name from my father (Luis Carlos) and my second name from my grandfather (Carlos Guillermo). Here is one example of how collectivistic societies inculturate individuals to view the self as part of a collective group, in this case, the family (Hofstede, 2001). Bearing patrilineal names works very much like family names, creating a social context where an individual’s identity is deeply interwoven with the identity of a family group.

Growing up, one of my closest friends was a “costeño” (i.e., someone from a coastal region) named Julio. Julio was from “Cartagena de Indias,” a beautiful city on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia. He had a profound impact in my life and, to this day, I consider him to be one of my best friends. Julio was a stupendous musician, a prodigy of sorts, endowed with a unique ability to perform music, combined with exceptional pedagogical skills. Despite of having the opportunity to pursue a promising professional career as a musician, Julio chose to enter the ministry. While in the ministry, he chose to use his gifts to serve “the least of these,” even though he was the type of person who could have easily risen to prominence in any large ministry. He taught me that what I do does not define who I am; that there is no greater distinction than to serve in secret.

Because of my friendship with Julio, I was exposed to many aspects of the Colombian-Caribbean culture. The most prominent characteristic that distinguishes a “costeño” from a “cachaco” (i.e., someone from Bogotá) is the phonetic pronunciation of certain Spanish words. According to Guitart (1997), “Caribbean Spanish is characterized by frequent manifestations of certain phonetic phenomena affecting consonants in coda position” (p. 516). For example, Costeños drop some consonants –like the letter “s”– when they are in the final position of a word. Because of that, a word like “más” [more] turns into “mā” and, as you probably already guessed, a name like Luis turns into “Lui.” Add to that my middle name, and you end up with “Lui Guillermo,” which soon turned into “Lui Gui” and, before long, contracted into “Luigi.”

When I came to the United States, it only took a few conversations for me to realize that the majority of people would have a hard time pronouncing my full name correctly. To this day, some individuals graciously make the effort to vocalize my name, only to realize that they have completely butchered it in the attempt (No hard feelings… I butcher other people’s names too). Needless to say, I have kept the name Luigi.

From the perspective of cross-cultural psychology, name changes or name adaptations are important phenomena that point towards an underlying process of acculturation. Acculturation refers to the process of cultural negotiation that an individual faces when his or her individual and social identity is confronted by a another predominant culture. This cultural negotiation can often result in the full adoption, partial integration, or partial rejection of the new culture (Romero, 2004).

This is not only relevant to minority cultures. Christianity was born in the midst of multicultural and multilingual clashes, which were instrumental in the shaping of a new community, the community of the Messiah. The conflicts and challenges that quickly emerged among the believers derived from multicultural interactions (e.g., Acts 6, 10, 15, Galatians 2). The idea found in Galatians 3 that being in Christ meant that there were no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, was a cultural stretch that needed to be worked out, not only theologically but practically.

One of my favorite Scriptures is found in Acts 13:9 where it says: “Saul, also known as Paul.” This change of name, from Saul to Paul, has drawn a lot of attention. An exegetical exposition of the passage as a whole is beyond the purpose of this blog. However, it must be noted that from this passage on, within the book of Acts, Saul of Tarsus will only be addressed as Paul (which is also the only name used within the Pauline Epistles). Some have argued that this change is due to Paul’s conversion, but this is unlikely given that the text continues to use the name “Saul” even after his conversion. That is not to say that Paul’s conversion was not transformative or that, in his mind, the adoption of the name did not mean a change of vocation. Nonetheless, it is hard to argue from a textual point of view that the name change was purely spiritual. Many theories have been advanced  about the apostle’s adoption of a new name. The common denominator seems to be that the modification is due to a variation in the focal point of Paul’s mission (see Acts 13:46). The new missional priority required new cultural considerations, and with that came the need for the adoption of a new name.

Reading the New Testament with an awareness to the multicultural and multilingual challenges of the time enriches our understanding of the text. We are, thus, better positioned to consider the complex transitions the early church went through in order to take the gospel to the end of the world. The church today faces similar challenges due to globalization. Meeting those challenges will require a shift in our missional focus, an understanding of multiple cultures, and in many cases, a new name.

To conclude, let me introduce myself:

My name is Luis Guillermo [Luigi] Peñaranda. I am the new Assistant Professor of Latino/Latina Christian Ministry at Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University.


Romero, E. J. (2004). Hispanic identity and acculturation: Implications for management. Cross Cultural Management, 11(1), 62-71.

Guitart, J. M. (1997). Variability, multilectalism, and the organization of phonology in Caribbean Spanish dialects. In F. Martinez-Gil & A. Morales-Front (Eds.), Issues in the phonology and morphology of major Iberian languages. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Hofstede G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: comparing values, behaviors, institutions and organizations across nations (Kindle ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

  • B. Whitesel

    Not only a helpful story to get to know you, but excellent intercultural insights. We are proud to have you on our team.