Growing up with the name Wylbia Juliá I had dreams of having a more common Puerto Rican name. Anything would’ve worked. There were one or two reactions I got whenever someone learned my name; in my teens they would question if I was related to the late actor, Raul Juliá, and for most of my life they would butcher my name in some horrific way. The Raul Juliá thing I was okay with; “Sure, I’m related to Raul Juliá,” I would say to anyone who asked because why not give it some cool points. The butchering and constant having to correct people who either mispronounced it, or worse, turned it into Julia Wylbia was what I couldn’t tolerate: so with all my teenage smarts and ability for logical thinking, I made the decision to change my name.
I approached my Mom with my decision and the reasoning behind it when I was about 15 years old. The conversation went a little like this:
Me- “Mom, I have decided to change my name.”
Mami- “To what? What are you going to call yourself?”
Me- “Ivonne Vazquez. It’s my middle name and your maiden name so it’s not a bad change since those are a part of my name anyway.”
Mami- “That’s true but did you know your name was going to be Lisa Marie like Elvis’s daughter? Not because your Papi and me liked Elvis but because I liked the name?”
Me- “How did you go from Lisa Marie to Wylbia?”
Mami- “After Lisa Marie we thought about Maria Julia after your two abuelas.”
Me- “And you ended up with Wylbia????? Where did you get my name? Did you make it up What about Juliá, where is that name from since we don’t know any other Juliás?”
Mami- “Hay mi’ja tu molestas mucho con tus cosas. Cuando tengas 18 años te puedes cambiar el nombre si quieres.”
Simple translation- I was dismissed as a pest and told I could change my name when I was 18. My 18th birthday came and went and I had stopped caring so much about my name and its origins. A couple of co-workers gave me the nickname Libby and it stuck; I had stopped spelling Juliá with the accent on the ‘a’ and it all really became a non-issue in my young adult mind. That held true for many years until I had the opportunity to go to Spain in 2003.
I’d heard random mentions of the Spanish and French heritage of the last name Juliá while growing up and it always peaked my curiosity. I quickly became excited beyond words at the prospect of learning more. All of a sudden my heritage was important to me again. I arrived in Madrid, my mind filled with all of the questions I had as a teenager, hopeful that the experience would help me find some answers. I immediately made friends with our tour guide and asked her if she knew any Juliás or had heard of the last name. She told me that I might find some answers when we made the trip to Toledo. In the time in between I enjoyed Madrid, felt at home and wondered what it would be like to move there since it was sort of my home country. When we finally made the trip to Toledo these are the things I saw from our bus: my last name on a bus and on a restaurant, accent on the ‘a’ and everything. I was beaming with pride pointing them out for all my tour mates to see.
Unfortunately, we didn’t stay in Toledo long enough for me to do any real research. I was the tour leader and couldn’t stray from the group but to this day it is one of the most poignant moments in my life. I had the opportunity to see a part of myself in the land of my heritage and I was once again motivated to continue to ask the questions I had given up on so many years before.
The research is not an easy task as I’m often limited by the internet, which interprets every search for Juliá as a search for the first name Julia, but I and my brother, whom I’ve recruited for the mission, will continue on and maybe find more gems like our family crest. Thankfully these days there are also sites created just for ancestral searches. As for my first name, Wylbia—my guess is that my parents just wanted to rhyme my name with my sisters’ Hypsia and Sylkia though I may never really know.
Whether your last name is as rare as mine or as common as (insert name you think is common here) you can do your own search. If you’re interested in starting a search to discover your heritage, there are many sites available and most will show you how to get started. Good luck on finding what’s in your name!