Me llamo Mary.

So the common way to say this in English is "My name is Mary", but the literal translation is more like:

I call myself Mary.

So I wonder, if we take this in English:

Call me Ishmael.

In Spanish can we say:

Me llame Ishmael.

Does this have the same meaning (an order/command, using the third person, to call someone by a certain name?)

Following on this same thought, what about this:

My name is Joseph, but call me Joe.

Can we say this in Spanish:

Me llamo Joseph, pero me llame Joe.

Or, to differentiate between the two slightly different meanings, would it make more sense to say something like:

Mi nombre es Joseph, pero me llame Joe.

If this is acceptable, can we use the same idea for others as well?

His name is Reggie, but I call him Reg.

Se llame Reggie, pero se llamo Reg.

And wouldn't this get confusing if we tried to make this an instruction instead?

His name is Reggie, but call him Reg.

Se llame Reggie, pero se llame Reg.

Or something like this:

Your name is Morgan, but he calls you Johnny??

Te llames Morgan, pero te llame Johnny??

Or am I completely on the wrong track, and things like this are said another way entirely?

  • Interesting question. But wouldn't "Se llame Reggie, pero se llame Reg." be ambiguous in any case. Two another meaning that come to my mind are "Call him Reggie, but his name is Reg" and "His name is Reggie, but he gave himself the name Reg". In informal context and using "llames", then at least the second wouldn't be applicable. I'm curious, what the answer will be.
    – Em1
    Oct 28, 2013 at 21:45

2 Answers 2


There is one structure that many linguists use but is seldom referred by grammarians in either English or Spanish: the middle voice.

You know the active voice:

María vende pan. | Mary sells bread.

and the passive voice:

El pan es vendido (por María). | Bread is sold (by Mary).

The passive voice can have an explicit agent (“by Mary”) or a tacit agent: “Bread is sold (period).“ The middle voice can be thought of as a passive voice without any explicit or tacit agent:

El pan se vende. | Bread sells.

In English the middle voice is very uncommon, few verbs admit middle voice and there is no grammatical mark from an active voice: “Mary sells” v/s “bread sells”. OTOH, middle voice is common in Spanish and looks grammatically as reflexive. Note that in

El pan se vende. | Bread sells. / Bread sells itself.

It is not bread the one making the sale, but what is sold.

The construction in

Yo me llamo Carlos.

is more similar to a middle voice. It does not mean that I call myself Carlos but rather that people call me Carlos, regardless of people actually calling me Carlos.

On the other hand, an expression as:

Yo me llamo por teléfono. | I call myself by phone.

is a really reflexive action.

Spanish language grammarians call «llamarse» a pronominal verb, rather than a reflexive verb.

Pronominal verbs use a reflexive pronoun, but do not have a reflexive meaning. Some times the pronominal verbs have a middle voice function, and sometimes it is a different meaning.

In English, the phrasal verbs sometimes have a complete different meaning than the meaning of its parts: “to make up” is not the combination of “to make” and “up”, so it cannot be translated as «hacer hacia arriba» or any similar expression in Spanish.

Yo me llamo Carlos.

shall not be translated, and shall not be though as meaning “I call myself Carlos.” It is translated as.

My name is Carlos.

Me llamo José, pero dime Pepe.

There are different ways to convey the meaning you expect of

My name is Joseph, but call me Joe.

Me llamo Joseph. / Mi nombre es Joseph. / Joseph dice la tarjeta/el pasaporte.

Pero dime Joe. / Pero soy Joe para los amigos. / Pero llámame Joe.

Of course, you want the contrast between llamar and llamarse:

Me llamo Joseph, pero llámame Joe.

The first construction is:

[(tacit) nominal pronoun] + [pronominal verb _llamarse_ in indicative] + [the name]

(Yo) me llamo Carlos., (Ella) se llama María., (Tú) te llamas Joseph.

The second construction is (in imperative):

[transitive verb _llamar_ in imperative] + [enclitic pronoun of direct object] + [the name]

Llámeme Carlitos., Llamadla Marucha., Llámate Pepe..

(Note: «Llama»/«llámame» is the imperative for «usted», while «llamad/llamadla» is imperative for «vosotros»)

If you don't want an imperative but rather an indicative sentence:

Se llama Joseph, pero lo llaman Joe. | His name is Joseph, but they call him Joe.

Also, the first is the pronominal verb llamarse, while the second one is the transitive verb llamar.

In most of these examples, I would rather use the verb decir for the second part.

It might not make sense to you if you translate «decir» as “to say”/“to tell”, but another meaning of «decir» is “to call smthg as smhw”, particularly when used with an enclitic pronoun.

¿Cómo se le dice a donde se dobla el brazo?


— How do you call where the arm bends?

— Elbow.

The best way to say what you want to say:

My name is Joseph, but call me Joe.

Me llamo Joseph, pero dime Joe.

  • 1
    Wow! What an excellent and thought-provoking answer! I learned a lot (even about English! I'd never heard of the middle voice), and I imagine I'll come back through to re-read this several more times. Thank you so much for answering my question! If I could +10 I would ;)
    – WendiKidd
    Oct 29, 2013 at 21:48

Err, sorry to say but you're on the wrong track. I'll see if I can take an example and answer it and see if I can enlighten you as to why, but you've really come up with some brain twisters here (at least to someone like me; English is my second language and Spanish is my first so the first thing to keep in mind is that our linguistics function differently from a basic level).

Call me Ishmael.

In Spanish can we say:

Me llame Ishmael.

Nope. Actually, and I hope this doesn't confuse you, but this is supposed to be translated as "Llámame Ishmael," or "Puedes llamarme Ishmael." The example that you mention, "Me llame Ishmael" doesn't really make sense to me, probably because "llame" is an alternate translation to the infinitive form of the verb (calls). You wouldn't really say "Calls me Ishmael," unless in the context of "He calls me Ishmael." An example of using it that way is:

¡No le contestaré aunque me llame mil veces!

That translates as "I won't answer, even if he calls me a thousand times!"

Mi nombre es Joseph, pero me llame Joe.

The proper way to get this idea across and still use "call" as the verb would be "Mi nombre es Joseph, pero puedes llamarme Joe."

I guess the important thing to keep in mind here is that translations don't really work very well when going for a one-to-one translation ratio. What may sound like proper grammar to someone when translating may just confuse someone who speaks the language for which it was translated.

I really hope this helps, but if not, at least it doesn't confuse you!


I don't have enough points to comment yet, so I'm answering your comment from my post. What I understand is you want the imperative declaration for someone to call you a name or nickname. "Call me Robert." Where we live we'd use:

Llámame Robert.

However, this isn't recognized as proper Spanish by the Real Academia Española, those strict stooges hah! A way to get that message across that's bound to be recognized by the RAE (but uses more words) would be:

Quiero que me llames Robert.

That translate as "You should (or must) call me Robert."

I'll give you a few alternatives based on your example in the comment with translations so you can pick.

You can call me Robert." "Oh, but I want to call you Bob!" "No. Call me Robert."

«Puedes llamarme Robert». ¡«Pero quiero llamarte Bob»! «No. Llámame Robert». - This is not acceptable by the Real Academia Española. Works fine at least in Puerto Rico though and the final sentence translates as "No. Call me Robert," which is pretty much the original idea word for word.

«Puedes llamarme Robert». ¡«Pero quiero llamarte Bob»! «No. Vas a llamarme Robert». - The final sentence translates as "No. You will call me Robert."

«Puedes llamarme Robert». ¡«Pero quiero llamarte Bob»! «No. Quiero que me llames Robert». - The final sentence translates as "No. I want you to call me Robert." This is probably the most imperative way.

  • No, you didn't confuse me; this actually makes a lot of sense :) I'm still not quite sure how to instruct someone to call you by a certain name, though. Puedes llamarme Ishamel seems to translate as You can call me Ishmael. Which is the polite way to say it, and would work in most circumstances. But what is the idiomatic way to order someone to call you by a certain name? Ex. "You can call me Robert." "Oh, but I want to call you Bob!" "No. Call me Robert."
    – WendiKidd
    Oct 29, 2013 at 14:24
  • Call me Robert -> Llámame Robert
    – Envite
    Nov 18, 2013 at 15:41

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