Saturday, November 06, 2010

Alphabet Soup: Surnames and spelling

Revolution. Reform. Not quite. A bit of a change more like. Change which, to the British, will seem distinctly peculiar.

The "revolution" applies to Spanish surnames; the reform to some language use. That there are bodies which adjudicate on such matters, form laws or conventions to cover them might strike you as somewhat bizarre. Not so to the Spanish, however. Such as in the case of names.

The Spanish find the British concept of the "middle" name, i.e. the second, third or fourth Christian name, distinctly odd, notwithstanding the existence of a Juan Antonio here or a José Maria there. But these aren't examples of middle names, as they're first names, both of them. Use your British-given middle name in official documents and you will, in all likelihood, be called by it, as in Señor or Señora (Middle Name). If you are a woman and your middle name is Joan, in Mallorca you will be addressed as and pronounced as Senyora (as in the Catalan) Joanne. A man's name dressed up as a woman's. It does get dreadfully confusing.

Personally, I find it quite amusing. My middle name, Colin, crops up on all sorts of things. Medical card, for example. I am, where a receptionist, nurse or doctor is concerned, "Señor Colin". Not that I'm that bothered. Quite the opposite. It's just one letter away from Colon, which thus makes me - nearly - a descendant of Columbus. Possibly. They've not asked me for my DNA yet though in the attempt to establish that the old Italian came from Felanitx.

The revolution in surnames, coming on the back of greater acceptance of "new" Christian names, which has seen Kevins (for example) becoming more common, as well as Mohameds, will be one by which the paternal surname will not automatically be the first surname. First surname, you ask? Yes, first surname. There are always two, unless there are more. But the more is usually only because of some long, drawn-out, pompously aristocratic styling, especially if the surname isn't particularly distinguished.

The current norm, under birth registration laws, is for the father's surname to come first, the mother's second. Which means their first surnames, because they of course have two. Maybe. But you can swap them around, if you want, just to add to the confusion. And you can also choose to be known by your second surname, if you so wish. President Zapatero is an example. His first surname is in fact Rodríguez, but Zapatero is less common. He wishes to stand out from the Rodríguez crowd, even if he has acquired a further surname - Bean. Picasso was another who went maternal. He was paternally a Ruiz.

Under the new law, the alphabet rule will apply. Picasso would have been Picasso after all. But not if the parents decide otherwise. As ever, there will be an exception to the Raúl. Apparently this will all be more equal, says the ruling PSOE socialist party, not that everyone is in favour. Let the alphabet decide and those surnames towards the end of the alphabetic chain will slowly die out. No more Zapateros, for example.

Oh, and by the way, if you were thinking of becoming a Spanish citizen, you would have to find a second surname, assuming you didn't already have one. That's the rule, and it often leads to double-barrelled repetition. Imagine it. Potato Head is transferred to Real Madrid and decides to become Spanish. Two Wayne Rooneys. There are only two Wayne Rooneys. Wayne Rooney Rooney.

While the politicians have been looking to establish a new order in surnames, the Real Academia Española, which sets out rules for language, has been hard at work preparing its new official spelling publication. It will be out in time for Christmas. Get your orders in now! It's not, says the co-ordinator Gutiérrez Ordónez (first name Salvador, or is it Salvador Gutiérrez?), revolutionary or a reform. But it will make things simpler. Allegedly.

Among the changes are those to the alphabet. If you weren't aware, "ch" and "ll" are parts of the alphabet. Not any longer, according to the new "Ortografía". Moreover, "i griega", which is a considerable mouthful for "y", will become obsolete and hereafter be merely "ye". And there will be all sorts of other useful spellings for you to learn and digest. Planning a trip to Qatar, for example? Well, you can still plan the trip, but you will be going to Catar. Or maybe you want to go there four or five times. Hitherto, had you wished to do so, you would have written "or" as "o" with an accent - "ó". Why? To avoid confusion of course with the or "o" without an accent, which is how it is normally spelt, when you are creating emphasis between one number or another. But no more. The accent is to be dispensed with. Far less confusing. Just like the order of surnames of which there are only two - ó three ó four.

Any comments to please.

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