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.


engrish espanglish

list of words/frases I maintain in English while speaking español:

I wish
magic eightball
spring break
by the way (btw)
instant messenger/messaging
internet (dicho con acento estadounidense)
whiskey tango foxtrot
hang out


But in general, sabes, normalmente son ideas inglesas de que me siento muy strongly o son ideas de que no se existen traducciones extactas.

Also, por suqueso hay palabras/frases también que digo en español aun mientras hablando en inglés…

brought to you by the letter k

Bugs me whenever I see the letter K in Spanish. Most often I see it in names borrowed/permutated from Norse-descended languages (Karla, Erick) or stupid internet/text message language (“tE KIErO mUCho!!!!!!!!..!/::/,” “por k?”).

I just saw “Irak” in one of the left-leaning newspapers. Sometimes you see it in “Kuba,” too.

Oh yeah, and in Starbucks, of course…

Always the letter K in Spanish seems to be linked with fads. I dunno, it bugs me.

Spelling, like so much else here, doesn’t seem to be as widely standarized as in English anyway. I see X, Ch, S, Z, V, and B getting switched around too. Funny because I would call Spanish pronunciation more “precise” than that of English– it pronounces the sounds more distinctly– but I guess for many people, a sound’s phonetic correspondence with only one letter is less crucial.

bullshit, politicians and bureaucrats

So I have started doing translation work for the Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos. When I think “Human Rights” I think NGO/nonprofit/volunteer/advocacy work… the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, Unicef. But I think that’s super “Mercan” of me.

As it turns out, according to several national conventions, in addition to stuff like life and freedom and equality, things like social security and work are also human rights. As it turns out, the Mexican National Human Rights Commission is a governmental agency.

I thought it would be fun, though hard work, to translate for them. It’s a lot of legalese, not surprisingly. I thought initially this had to do with lawyers, but nothing doing. It’s coming from bureaucrats.

Distinguishing the source of BS is important here, because it is related to the reason I got completely reamed for a translation I did yesterday. The key problem with my translation? I cut out all of the redundant crap.

Yeah, yeah, I know, I know, when you’re dealing with law and policy and stuff you have to be precise-verbose/interpretable-vague. But these are not exactly law and policy documents– they hire actual lawyers to translate anything that is legally binding. These are “recommendations,” basically correspondence that is sent to Mexican authoritative bodies presumed guilty of violating human rights. The recommendations also get published on the CNDH’s freaking webpage… in theory you want the public to be able to understand them, no?

My editor said it to me best, I think unconsciously, that I have to think like a politician when I am doing these documents. This made me realize, the people writing these human rights recommendations are politicians.

Silly of me to think otherwise, I guess, that “politician” and “bureaucrat” were mutually exclusive.

“You guys, don’t you want your political infighting to read clearly?!”


Not to be a jerk, but the Pledge of Allegiance really is poorly written. Check it:

I pledge allegiance to the flag
Of the United States of America
And to the republic for which it stands,
One nation under God, indivisible,
With liberty and justice for all.

It’s like 45 syllables long, and only 20 of them are important/not redundant. That number drops to 10 if you take out “the United States of America.” Also, allegiance to the flag? Okay I get it, but zzzzzzzzz. And, if we are going to be pledging to the flag, pointing out that the flag stands for the country is excessive.

We’ve got legalistic fluff written into a chant children are expected to perform daily for 12 years. Do schools still do it, I wonder.

We already know about how “under God” was added in the 50s to keep it from sounding Commie… I’m going to look into the Pledge’s origins. I call bullshit.

Happy Independence Day, estadounidenses! Let’s remember what it is we’re supposed to be independent from.

ave maria

An acquaintance of mine is assisting with a documentary project for the Knights of Columbus, about the the Basilica of the Virgin Guadalupe. He asked me to participate in it by saying the Rosary in English. I agreed, although I had to ask my roommate what it was… it’s the Ave Maria aka Hail Mary. Okay.

So I looked it up and memorized it.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Hail Mary, mother of God. Pray for us sinners, now and in the hour of our death. Amen.

In order to memorize this, I of course had to repeat it over and over again. Blasphemy central. It felt really weird, for example, “sinners.” I don’t think I have ever called myself that.

Another assistant told me that they were also having people say the Lord’s prayer in English, too. I could have totally done that without any homework, and felt less weird about it, since I grew up hearing that. (Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…)

However, members of the crew commented on how I sounded like I really was praying when I said it, and that could be because I had to concentrate in order to get the words right. That would not have been the case with anything I knew by heart.

They made me put on a pin with Mary on it, too.

Qué chingados. I’m going to hell.

language nerd: will

This is a discussion I keep wanting to have with students when we use future simple language tense patterns. However, due to the fact that future simple is pretty basic-level stuff, I always have to bite my tongue.

“Do as you will.”

That can either mean “do what you will inevitably do” (because it is a definite future event, the simple future) or “do that which you will to do” (will in the sense of “wish”). To me it’s interesting to examine the relationship between the verb “to will” and its use as mode for discussing the future.

Like I said, nerdy.