How good are you on names? I have a small problem with remembering them which dates back to school times. I attended a place with eight hundred other boys, 120 of which presumably in their leaving year, a large number somewhere in the middle, and another 120 just arriving. All dressed in the same uniform and haircut. All to be known by their last names. Then there were the masters and the associate staff. And Matron. There was a little ‘blue book’ that listed the whole lot of them by house, name and dates. There were twelve ‘houses’ of which, by the time I left, I could confidently locate four. But, the ‘blue book’ knew. Some fellows learnt the whole thing and could put the right name to everybody. People like that, we knew, would one day excel in public life. Now, I wasn’t as game at this as I might have been, never knowing by name more than about twenty people, students and masters, and by sight, perhaps another thirty or so (plus the tea-lady).
This didn’t prepare me very well for adult life, especially a place like Mojácar which, in a way similar to the old school (‘Gloreat Rugbeia’) has lots of both new-boys and, indeed, leavers. The difference being, according to my mum, that here is more like a lunatic asylum.
Which is why they won’t let us do sports.
Spain has its own way of dealing with names. While we get by with a first name, a middle name that no one knows and a last name, the Spanish go for a first name (un nombre), the more generic the better, and a handful of last names (los apellidos). Here, a woman’s surname doesn’t change on entering into the holy state of matrimony (unless the husband’s name is rather smart in which case she’ll tack it on the end of her own). She’ll keep her old collection and, if pushed, might accept being ‘la Señora de so-and-so’. Any children take the best bits from their two parents’ surnames and weld them together into a fresh and different name. Thus José López Rodríguez marries María Pérez Muñoz, who keeps her name as always it was, and the children are called María López Pérez and José-Luís López Pérez (who may call himself, quite correctly under Spanish logic, Pepe Pérez). I’ll explain that in a minute, but suffice it here to note that the Spanish authorities will always want to know the first-name from one’s parents. Francisco, son of José and Alicia.
You may notice, if you have one of those absurd green A4 documents, to be carried at all times, unfolded and together with your passport and a psychedelic orange pajama top (or is that for driving?), that the useless paper (‘this document is not valid as identification or nationality without an accompanying passport’) may not carry your photograph, or thumbprint, or inside right leg measurement, but it will solemnly list your parent’s first names. Doris and Percy. Like anyone knows or cares. They don’t list the middle ones though (which don’t exist in Spanish anyway), as these are just used in police reports to cause confusion when leaked to the press (‘Richard Waverly B was arrested yesterday in connection with…’). I mean, how many Dicks do you know?
My dad was known as ‘Chick Napier’ at school, not because there were many others with his name, but because ‘he had eyes like poached eggs’. Most people, equipped as they are with first, middle and a variety of last names, also enjoy an ‘apodo’ or a ‘mote’ – a nick-name. Somebody goes to work in Germany for six months in 1925, as happened in Mojácar, and the whole family to this day is called ‘Los Alemanes’. Another well-known family is Los Marullos, and one of them, Francisco Gonzalez ‘el Marullo’, was mayor of Mojácar. Marullo means ‘sneak thief’. Nobody from around here finds that peculiar. It makes it easier for people to identify one another. Another family from the hills is known as ‘Los Pajules’, the tossers. They may make one think of Onan from the Bible, whose unconventional sexual activities duly (and inevitably) wiped out his line, but the Pajules clearly have a wider repertoire, since there are quite a lot of them. In fact, every local family will have its own ‘apodo’ which, as we have seen, they will be fiercely proud of.
Small towns have a reduced number of ‘apellidos’. Here in my town, we have Flores, García, Gonzalez, Haro and a couple more. I had an employee called Paco Flores (Paco is really Francisco) and one day I went down to the bank to pay him something. The manager looked pityingly at me, ‘there’s twenty six Francisco Flores with accounts here’, he said. Turned out later that my chap wasn’t one of them anyway, being called Francisco-José Flores instead.
Spaniards, like the Welsh who apparently all share the same surname, are obliged to invent different nicknames, or just use different variations of their first name. Francisco can be Franco, Francis, Pancho, Paco, Paquito, Frasquito, Ico and Fran. Actually the most famous Pancho of them all, Pancho Villa, was really called Doroteo. Who would have guessed?
A friend called Diego has a sure-fire solution to his poor memory for names. He calls all the men ‘León’ and all the women ‘Guapa’ – Lionheart and My Pretty. It’s so much more elegant than the British ‘Ahhh, this is Errr-um…’ And then the Brits expect us to know the names of their children and their dogs as well.
Until ‘La Democracia’ arrived in 1975, you had to call you child by a nice Christian saint’s name, or two would be even better. Sometimes a boy’s name followed by a girl’s (which isn’t generally worth making fun of, unless you can show a good turn of speed). Like José María. Or, of course, María José. I can’t see those names working at my old school, even though, since my day, it’s apparently gone co-educational.
So here in Spain your married parents are separately named (father's name) (mother's name) and you legally take their two first surnames to make up your own set. You may use just your father’s name in the street or, both, or indeed, if your father’s name is a bit humdrum, then you can use your mother’s surname. Take our president for example. He’s called José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. He uses his mother’s surname. However, his kids won’t technically be able to call themselves ‘Zapatero’ which is a bit of a swizz. They’ll probably use it anyway.
Spaniards, for their part, are confused about us having two first names and one surname, which the ladies among us will change on getting married. Same surname? They sometimes confuse us as brother and sister.
If you are called Juan and you bump into another Juan, you’ll call him ‘Tocayo’ which means ‘namesake’, which in English, as far as I know, doesn’t work. Of course, I’ve never met another Lenox.