Some of my posts will be pulled directly from what’s happening in my daily life. There’s a lot of blog fodder there, believe me. Some of the posts will come from my cache of stories going back to when I met Jorge five years ago and along the colorful journey since. Some will be simply observations and funny anecdotes, and coming soon, some recipes too!
Today I’m pulling from the observation/funny anecdote category. Naming tradition in Mexican culture is a bit different than in American culture. I’ve learned this over several episodes. You know how when you imagine a Mexican telenovela star, you automatically give them 4 or 5 names? There’s a reason for that. In Latin cultures, people really do often have 4, 5, or 6 names.
Naming in the States
In the States we typically have a first name, a middle name that is rarely used (of course there are exceptions to this!) and a last name. Your last name is usually your father’s last name. In the changing times of female empowerment, there has been a shift toward including the mother’s maiden name in some fashion. But for the sake of this description, let’s stick to the typical formula of 3 names. When a woman marries, it is still the norm to take her new husband’s last name as her own. Again, there are variations on this theme, but let’s keep it simple. This way, if you have children, they will have the shared last name, and you all will live as one, big, happy, singly-named family. You can get your welcome mat that says, “Welcome from Los Tadeos,” and your kid’s teachers aren’t perpetually confused.
Naming in Mexico
In Mexico, and this is true in most (maybe all, but I can’t verify that at this moment) Latin American cultures who were influenced by the Spanish, naming has a very set formula. In many ways it makes so much sense. Each person, male and female, has two last names. They take the first last name of their father as their first last name and the first last name of their mother as their second last name. I just read that back. God, how confusing! Let’s use an example that I am making up as I type: José Carlos Tadeo Garcia. In this case, José is the first name, Carlos is the second first name, Tadeo is the last name from José’s father, and Garcia is the last name from José’s mother. This way, the family lineage is more obvious to someone meeting you for the first time. This is particularly important when you’re meeting one of your 200 or so cousins for the first time, and you’re trying to place exactly how they fit in the family tree. I swear, everyone in Mexico is related somehow, distantly, and once they figure out exactly how they’re connected, they celebrate the bond over tequila and that’s that. They’re familia! When a woman marries, she does not take her husband’s last name at all. (That would be ridiculous) Their future children do not share the exact same name as either the father or mother. They have their own special blend of family lineage to preserve. Everyone keeps their names for life.
Side note: There is more of the story when it comes to first names and second names and middle names, and on and on… for a different blog post. I’ll explain why my suegra (mother-in-law) is not on board with our daughter’s name and why I’m relieved we did not have the first, first-born grandson.
My Naming Episode
So what do you do when you live in America, with a naming norm that says to take your husband’s last name and ditch your own, and have a Mexican husband who doesn’t even understand the concept of changing your last name? Well, I decided to stick to the American tradition and take on Tadeo. Our baby also has the one last name – Tadeo. And we can get the doormat 🙂 (Christmas present idea, folks? We don’t actually have the mat yet.) But then there’s the Mexican family… can you imagine the confusion when Jorge has to introduce me as a Tadeo? In Mexican culture, you can’t just become a ‘Tadeo’. Family roots are incredibly deep, and you can’t simply decide one day to become a Tadeo. You already have your own family. We’ve been married for two years now, and this confusion runs so deep that just the other day while filling out a form, Jorge was writing my name and filled in Kristina Tadeo Wollaeger. Good thing I proofread. I asked him why he put ‘Wollaeger’ on the form. He knows I changed my name to Tadeo. He looked confused and said, “But you can’t just get rid of your name.” See, to him, the name is an essential marker of family membership and not something you can sign away. Well, honey, here you can. And so I did. And now you have to explain to your father how I somehow, overnight, I became a Tadeo… and that I’m not a long-lost Tadeo cousin.
In full honesty, I feel strange about changing my name. Partly that has to do with losing my father this year and feeling a loss of that Wollaeger identity in some way. Partly it has to do with my feminist mindset. And partly it has to do with the fact that I kind of like the Mexican way of naming better (saves a ridiculously annoying process of changing your name on EVERY. FREAKING. ACCOUNT).