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Marco Rubio’s “German Dam” mistake, explained

Marco Rubio confused journalist Germán Dam for an actual dam.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks about Venezuela during a rally.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks about Venezuela during a February rally.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

My confusing first name has done it again. This time, it led to a minor gaffe by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Some background: Since last week, Venezuela has seen massive power outages, rooted in the country’s poor maintenance of its electricity network and problems originating in the Guri hydroelectric plant. It’s yet another sign of the abysmal state the country is in under the leadership of President Nicolás Maduro.

Rubio tweeted about the news over the weekend — claiming in a now-deleted tweet that the blackout was caused by “another transformer explosion at the German Dam in Bolivar State.” But the tweet got a big thing wrong: This was not due to problems at Venezuela’s “German Dam.” Germán Dam, instead, is the name of a journalist who reported the story about the power outages.

The mistake was captured in a viral tweet, in which the journalist corrects Rubio:

As someone whose first name is German (originally with an accent), I can relate to this. I often get emails asking me what my “real” name is. I have heard from people who assume I am from Germany or that my family is, just because of my name. (This is not how names work, by the way.) Almost no one pronounces my name correctly on the first try, at least in the US.

Rubio, or his staff, seemed to make the same mistake here. Maybe he thought that the dam was a gift from Germany, or was otherwise a reference to the country.

Given this confusion, and a request from Vox’s Matt Yglesias, it’s time to clear up my name. Here’s a brief explainer.

My confusing name, explained

My name is written as German, but it’s actually pronounced, roughly, as hair-mon. The trick here is that the letter G in Spanish is pronounced like the letter H is in English.

Here’s a very helpful video for the pronunciation:

The name normally has an accent mark, as does López, but I got rid of both when I came to the US.

The name is not, as far as I can tell, a reference to Germany. My family is from Venezuela, where I was born, and Spain, where my dad is from. We also have some lineage in Italy and native cultures.

According to Wikipedia, the name “is a cognate to French Germain, and is a variant of Latin Germanus,” and these names were likely references to the word “brother.” Very interesting!

Another way to look at it: The name is the Spanish variation of Herman, except hopefully without the implication that I was born in the 19th century.

The name is somewhat common in Spanish-speaking countries. It was my maternal grandfather’s first name, and it’s my uncle’s first name as well. If you search my full name on Google, several results come up — including me (most importantly, my Twitter page, which you should follow), a tennis player, and an alleged criminal.

Unfortunately, the name’s wide acceptance in Venezuela blinded my parents to the fact that it’s a confusing name in other languages. But it’s okay, my parents are lovely people, and I think they did a good job raising me otherwise. (I love you, mom and dad!)

In short: My name is not related to Germany, and not pronounced like that wonderful country’s name. It’s a Spanish name that’s, unfortunately, confusing in English.

I hope that clears things up — for Rubio and everyone else.