Monday, November 22, 2004

My Mother will be Proud.

Most of you will already know that the Spanish people are blessed with two surnames (Apellidos). For a long time of course I failed to see the reasoning behind this and even perhaps considered it to be an unnecessary and overly complicated tradition. What was wrong with the short and simple Murphy, Kelly or even Walsh. If it works for us why shouldn´t it work for them? To my recollection no confusion has ever been caused on account of me possessing only one surname !! Why can´t they just do like the Irish?

A typical Spanish name might be Jose Sanchez Martin. The first surname e.g Sanchez, is always the first surname of the father while the second, Martin, is the first surname of the mother. If Jose Sanchez Martin then marries a Carmen Lopez Rodriguez their children will take the surnames Sanchez Lopez (in that order). In short, the only surname which I as a parent would give to my children is the first surname of my father. This means that if the "Sanchez Lopez" children start their own families , the only name which they will hand down will be that of their father - Sanchez. As you can see, the apellidos of the female side of the family are slowly dropped with time. It is only the name of the male maternal line of the family which survives, meaning that at the end of the day the system and its effect not very different from our own.

Interestingly however the woman never changes her name with matrimony. Down through the ages Spanish wives have never taken the name of their husbands. Given the nations history, traditions and especially machismo, I find this to be an unexpected Spanish display of equality of the sexes. When in years gone by the debate in Ireland was whether or not a woman should hold on to her maiden name, the Spanish were arguing over why the fathers name should come before the mothers. Recently legislation has been passed allowing for this order to be reversed on the condition that both parents are in agreement at the time of registry.

Where in Ireland we use the Mc and at the beginning of the name, in Spain they add "-ez" to the finish. The ending "-ez " as in for example Gonzalez means " son of " which is therefore not unlike Irish names such as O´Neill or McCabe. Following on from this, the surname Gonzalez would originally have meant The Son of Gonzalo.

The most common Spanish apellidos are Garcia, Gomez, Perez, Rodriguez, Sanchez, Gonzalez, Martinez and Fernandez. As you can guess it is not all uncommon to meet people such as Maria Sanchez Sanchez or even Marta Martinez Martin. For people who are especially proud of their family name they often join their surnames in the manner of e.g Lopez-Garcia, in order for their children and grandchildren to take both surnames, one of which was originally meant to be dropped. This is often for reasons of family prestige or reputation which the family name might bring.

Up until recently orphans were given the surname De Dios meaning " of God ". I have had a number of students with this surname, obviously meaning that at some stage along the family line somebody was orphaned. Meanwhile Exposito was the surname given to children who didn´t know the identity of their father or who were abandoned at birth. As you can guess there was a sharp increase in the occurrences of such names with the Spanish Civil War. Those of my friends with such surnames cite this very reason. Fortunately nowadays a single mother simply passes on her own two family names to her child rather using either of the above.

I may have initially failed to see the logic of having two apellidos, but in my defence there are many Spanish who simply cannot comprehend how I could possibly only have one. To add to their disbelief I often boast that I do however, as do my friends from Catholic Ireland, possess three first names, the third of these being taken on our youthful Confirmation. While my Spanish friends may not have so many first names, they are all however invariably named after saints, as such was the law during the time of Franco. One girl has even told me how during this period, her local priest refused to baptise girls in the village unless they had the name Maria inserted.

Given the level of bureacracy I face in Spain, be it to pay tax , see a doctor or even to buy my monthly metro pass, I find that am forever filling out forms. At times however the officials with whom I have to deal are far less understanding than others. Because of this I am frequently on the receiving end of puzzled looks and interrogations as to why I have not filled in the blank space for my second surname. As a result, last week rather than ryhme off my usual verse on how despite my red hair, I am not in fact Spanish, I chose to save myself the bother and used my mothers surname. My city library card now reads SeƱor Alan Moran Daly. My mother will be proud given that she has no surviving brothers and her family name which is no longer carried in Ireland, has been brought back from the dead in Spain !!

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