Friday, September 17, 2010

What's your second last name? A tale of nomenclature and identity in Chile

I have gone on and on about my name, my first name (always misspelled), my medical name (señora Barbara) and other nomenclature-related things, but I don't think we've ever explored my last name.

Smith, or esmeet, as I should pronounce it, so that we're all clear about what's going on, tends not to be a problem. People can either spell it on their own, or respond quickly to my "EH-say, EM-ay, EE, TAY, AH-chay). What truly worries people is my lack of a second last name.

Segundo apellido, they say (second last name). No tengo, I say. And they look up at me, perhaps expecting to see just half of someone, or perhaps a person who looks like they might have hatched out of an egg, since the second last name I'm missing is my mother's. It's not that I don't have one, of course (hey Mamaj!), but we don't use that last name, and anyway, at this point my mother and I have the same last name anyway. And believe me, I don't want my last name to be Smith-Smith, both because it sounds like I have a stutter and because mostly it's illegitimate children who are not recognized by their fathers that get the repeated (in this case mother's) last name.

Somewhere along the way I was told to put NN, for ningún nombre/ ninguno (no name/none, not sure here ) in the case where I was asked for a second last name. In general this works just fine, though people still give me the fish eye for not having two last names, and occasionally say "Allá no usan los dos nombres?" (They don't use both names over there?)

But the best part of the story is that another friend, for whom I shall shortly invent a pseudonym, (though she may later choose to identify herself) was also faced with the lack of a second last name, and chose the US-based answer to something when you don't have an answer, which is NA (not applicable).

And now, everywhere she goes in Chile, she's known as Samantha Gilbert Na. (except her name isn't Samantha Gilbert, of course, remember the pseudonym promise?). And then they look at her like she has two heads, because they're expecting someone who's at least partially Korean (which she's not). Or they think it's totally normal, and that her second last name is Na. Which is a fine last name, or the chorus of a song that's now stuck in your head.

na na na na na na na na

So what's your second last name? or alternatively, what's the song that's now stuck on repeat in your head-head?

11 comments:

Annje said...

ah, the name issue. I don't have a second last name, as a gringa. My last name is Martin (as you know). In Chile, they always ask if it is MAR-teen or mar-TEEN... and what I really want to explain is that it is neither... it is MARtin (with a glottal stop in the middle instead of a t -but they can't do those-ha!)
I also don't have a middle name- just a long first one ;-)

claresays said...

Here is my last name predicament: http://claresays.wordpress.com/2009/09/08/what-is-in-a-name/ Basic summary, a hospital tried to refuse to give me an appointment because I don't have a second last name.

claresays said...

Here is my last name predicament: http://claresays.wordpress.com/2009/09/08/what-is-in-a-name/ Basic summary, a hospital tried to refuse to give me an appointment because I don't have a second last name.

Kristin said...

Interesting post. I haven't experienced that yet here in Panama, but I'm going to Argentina and Chile next. Now, at least I'm prepared when someone asks me! I'll just use my maiden and married name I guess.

sarabeck said...

I always got the sad head shake. Like, this poor, poor turkey baster baby. So sad...

Oh and when I went to the international police to get my visa in order the woman who took my picture told me it was NOT possible to have only one last name. Really? You sure? Because I'm pretty sure millions of people where I come from are just like me.

Gonzalo said...

If I was in the USA, I figure I wouldn't use a second last name, which is simply my maternal grandfather's last name. But here in Chile people use it. Why can't you just do the same thing?

Eileen said...

Gonzalo, very good question! First, it's not my name. In the United States, they would not identify me by my double last name. It's like how George W and George H Bush are not the same person even though they're both named George Bush. Or something similar. I'm not Eileen Barbara Smith Othername, I'm just Eileen Barbara Smith. That other person isn't me.

Secondly, the secret code at many banks, and an important part of keeping your identity unhackable in the United States is, you guessed it, "your mother's maiden name" or as you said, my maternal grandfather's name. So that's another reason I don't want to use that last name.

Thanks for commenting!

Gonzalo said...

Eileen, you've got a good reason! Though it seems to me that the strength of that secret code is sort of "very week".

Abby said...

The only time this has really been an issue for me is when filling in online forms that don't let me continue unless all the fields are filled in. When I signed up for Club Lider, I just picked a random letter and now every time I pay it comes up Abigail Hall V. Not sure why I picked V, but I guess it's a good enough letter.

Sharon said...

One of my friends was born in Argentina (and never naturalized) and since they don't use two last names there, she also has one and whenever someone asks, she simply says "mi mamá nunca me reconoció".

But joking aside, I love having two last names and I always find an excise to put both in everything, even when it doesn't apply (which makes my name extremely and annoyingly long BTW).

Anonymous said...

I just used my mothers last name witch is White it would then turn up as Blanca, it was my first name Lee that was a hugh problem ;)