I think my fellow expat friend was on to something when she wrote her post about her struggle to figure out what to do with her name following her marriage to a Chilean this year. You see, as she explained quite eloquently in her post, Chileans have a certain way of viewing the last name game and it’s basically this: first name, middle name, father’s last name, mother’s last name. This is the case for every single person born in Chile and this is the case for men, women and children, alike. There are a few exceptions, such as, for example, when the father has completely disappeared and the mother chooses to give her child both her last names (which technically speaking would make Chileans think that the child was actually her mother’s sibling and of course, eyebrows would be raised.) Women don’t take their husband’s name after marriage and are forever known by the name they were born with, regardless of marital status. This is the antithesis of what we know in the States because many women choose to either keep their last names or adopt their husband’s last name once married and if you live abroad, this options somehow becomes obsolete. At least, this is what we’re faced with here in Chile.
My issue with the name dilemma here in Chile is not quite the same as my friend’s and it has more to do with Chilean society and their obsession with last names. Although perhaps outwardly Chileans will argue that classism and discrimination based on one’s last name no longer plays a major role in opportunities for advancement here in Chile, incognito, it really does. How do I know this? Besides the reliable source that is my husband and his experience with the matter, I have many other reliable sources who have given me their input based on experiences in college, experiences in the work force, their personal experiences as decisions makers within their companies, experiences in their social life and so on. As much as I wanted to believe that such a reality was no longer the case in this age of globalism AND considering that there are many expats who live in Chile, the reality is that sadly, last names matter. They matter just as much as where you live in Santiago and where you went to school (and I’m not talking school as in which you university you attended. Rather, I’m speaking of where you went to KINDERGARTEN. Believe it or not, these factors also still matter in Chile).
I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify that not all of these variables are important 100% of the time. For instance, there may very well be many examples of how someone who lives in Puente Alto (a lower to lower-middle class neighborhood in Santiago), went to a mediocre school, achieved the best grades possible, attended a prestigious university, such as Universidad de Chile, based on their own personal merit and consequently landed a great job where he/she moved up the ranks and is now a decision maker at a very good company. I totally believe that happens and I’m HAPPY it’s possible. On the flip side, just because the aforementioned is possible, is BY NO MEANS an indication that the opposite doesn’t happen. Meaning, without seeing a face, without knowing a background, without even bothering to type the word GOOGLE in the browser to find out more, someone may very well look at G’s last name, coupled with my last name and completely disregard our future children for a number of things (including entrance into a good school.) I totally believe that happens based on REAL examples and it’s worrisome.
I’m not gonna lie. G’s paternal last name and my paternal last name are bad. I say this not because the actual, physical spelling of either name is phonetically equivalent to the word shmagina (God forbid), but because they are so blah, so common, so ORDINARY, and so typical, I truly believe it will be a disadvantage to our future children (hey, I didn’t make the societal rules here in Chile, but I’m here and I need to plan for them). Seriously. You might call me crazy or think I’m exaggerating but what I’m telling you is based on the social sphere we find ourselves circulating in more and more and this stuff REALLY matters (in this circle)! So what am I going to do? Fight the power my entire life? With the last name equivalents of Smith and Jones, G and I are seriously considering putting our second last names as our children’s last names, IF ONLY, the proposed new law that is circulating in the congress-equivalent would JUST PASS. After all, if I have two last names that identify me as, well, ME, shouldn’t I have the option to give my future kids one of those two last names? Why does the government get to decide what I get to name my future kids? Truth be told, G’s second last name might secure our future kids a senate seat and why should we have to give up that option just because the government tells us that we HAVE to give each kid the grandfather’s last name? Needless to say (in case you can’t tell) I’m irate over the matter. If being born in Chile means you get two last names, my thought is that of those two last names, one should be able to choose which of the last names you give your children. Plain and simple. It’s not like I’m suggesting Chile adopt the practice of allowing anyone to give their kids ANY last name imaginable! (Imagine if that were the case, what roll call would be like at school: “Manchester United? Here! San Francisco Forty Niners? Here! Lan Chile? She’s absent. Ok, thanks.”) If given the option to choose one of your two last names to pass on, I totally agree that all the kids should share that same pattern of last names so that you don’t have a family of five, all with different last names. I get that consistency and the ability to trace your roots back to the time of the Spanish Inquisition makes sense to some.
In short, I hope this law finds its way to passage. I’d really, really like to give my kids last names other than the paternal ones G and I unfortunately have. Again, nothing is wrong with the names themselves, but everything is wrong with what Chilean society will do or not do, how it will react or not react, based solely on these last names as they are. I have two last names and I should have the right to pass on whichever one I choose. Why the h*ll does the government of Chile get to decide this? And why the h*ll do I have to give credit to and pass on ONLY the paternal one?
What century are we living in, Chilean government? Get with the program and lighten the h*ll up.