un apellido

María Clara Velázquez García

In Spanish-speaking countries, people have two last names (apellidos), their dad’s, then their mom’s. When women get married, they don’t change their names. When children are born, they get their dad’s first last name and then their mom’s first last name.

A couple people have asked what my second apellido is. I tell them that I don’t have one. Solo tengo uno. And then they’re like, you have a mom, right? I say, I can tell you my mother’s maiden name, but that doesn’t make it my second last name.

It’s just occurred to me that for them name is less of a legal question than it is for me. I say I don’t have a second last name because of what it says on my birth certificate, obviously in addition to the fact that I have never gone by “Mary Claire Whitaker Harvie,” ever, not even once. But here names are used as an indication of family lineage as much as they are an indication of identity. So if you have both a mother and a father, which how can you exist if you do not, then you must have two last names.

Using names to trace a family’s members of course is not feasible in cultures where people change their last names upon changing their marital status.

If anyone’s curious, no, the government does not force people to have two last names. I am legally as I am on my passport, with solo uno. Not sure if there is an international convention addressing that or what.