Sunday, December 14, 2008

Name Tags, Hispanic Names and Spanish Community-based Learning

Last week I attended a very nice luncheon sponsored by the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership. The Academy's new Faculty Fellows were announced, and old and new Faculty Fellows and other friends of the Acadmy had a chance to mingle.

I offered to pass out the name tags, and I was once again struck by the difficulties and the importance of teaching our students to understand the systems behind Hispanic names so that they can appropriately speak to people in the community and file their documents.

Prof. Feniosky Peña Mora is a professor of civil engineering and an Associate Provost. His name tag for the AEL luncheon was written this way: "Feni Pena-mora."

Just imagine our students were working in the community and encountered a document with his name written like that. What are the potential problems for our students if they need to access his file, add to it, or address him personally?
  • Titles. The name tag did not include his professional title, Prof. or Dr. And rightly so for the occasion. But all too often our students apply the same casual cultural rules that they have for addressing people--even adults they don't know--by their first names only, whereas in most Hispanic cultural context and even US professional contexts, one shows respect by using a person's professional, educational or status-related (Don, Doña) title.
  • Variety of first names. Our Spanish textbooks tend to present "typical" Hispanic names: Juan, María, José, Isabel, etc. Then students are surprised when they encounter first names that don't fit within their schema. Pere from Barcelona. Yorleni from Costa Rica. Saudi from Honduras. And Feniosky from the Dominican Republic. Written without any context, our students may not know if those are male or female names. I think they may also not know if they are first or last names. The same goes for last names. Many people from Latin America have Italian, Jewish, Russian or Asian last names.
  • Nicknames. If our students found documents about "Feniosky" and "Feni," hopefully they would recognize that "Feni" was short for "Feniosky." However, not all Spanish nicknames are so obvious. "Paco" can be short for "Francisco." Pepe = José. María Jesus = Chus. Nacho = Ignacio. If they found documents for Paco García and Francisco García would they know that they might be the same person and that they should look for other, identical information in order to file them together? I doubt that most would.
  • Diacritical marks. Accent marks over vowels, "ñ" and "ü" will probably not be written in many files. The "ñ" was missing from Feniosky's name tag. That's fine, but if you are helping someone submit official paperwork, their names must match! The birth certificate must match the name on the passport, for example. An apparently little item like "~" can cause real headaches and cost clients time and money when their papers get caught up in the system because of these types of inconsistencies. Finally, "Pena" is a legitimate Spanish word, so spellcheck wouldn't catch that. But given the meaning of "pena," would you really want that to be your last name?!
  • Hyphenated last names. Since most American documents only allow for one last name, some people with two Hispanic last names hyphenate them in order to preserve them both. I suspect this is the case with "Peña-Mora." (See Marcos' comment to see the alternative meaning to hyphenated last names.)
  • Other possible confusions. Hopefully our students would recognize the lower-case "m" of "Pena-mora" on the name tag as a simple typo. But what if they thought that they name went all together?: "Penamora."
Okay, so here is another little quiz. It's easy. Write your answers in a comment to this post. Answers posted next week.
  1. If there are files for "Peña Morales" and "Peña Mora," which name should be filed first?
  2. If there really was a last name "Peñamora," should it be filed before or after "Peña Mora"?
  3. Should "Peña" be filed before or after "Pena"?
p.s. I won't post answers to my previous quiz until at least one person tries to answer it in the comments. Come on, try! :)


  1. Yes,

    I forgot to say that thing about hyphenated names in the specific case of Latinos in the US, as I use it myself that way. I want my identity to be complete, and I would not be happy with using just my first Last Name as some people do...

  2. Here goes my "guess":

    1. One files first the one file which is finished first (the other one will remain on top of the desk until completion) ;)

    ok ok real answers:
    1. first the shortest "Peña Mora", then the one including more letters after the part which is exactly the same "Peña Morales"
    2. first, "Peña Mora" as it counts as only Peña, then "Peñamora"
    3. ñ after n.