Lenten Program at School


Danny’s now gone to two different Catholic schools here in Mazatlán, and they both have required parents to attend meetings or retreats in order for the kids to get a better grade in religion class. I have trouble with that, but that’s not what this post is about. I do see that it motivates parents to attend and to learn.

I am a Christian and I love this time of Lent. This year I’m doing some social justice meditations along with Bible reading.

But, tonight as I was heading to school to the first of THREE required Lenten meetings, I was not in the best frame of mind. I also have a horrible cold, and am at the point where a tissue needs to constantly be in my hand, and a lozenge in my throat, so I felt very sorry for my neighbors sitting near me.

Anyway, tonight ended up being really interesting. I am so glad I went. There were four married couples on stage, all different ages, from married 8 years with young children to married 36 years with grandkids. The theme of the evening was “weathering economic crisis in your marriage.” The couples each took turns answering a series of three questions on the topic.

Each of the four women said that, when they married, they expected to not have to work. And the husbands all said they expected to be the family provider. All four of them then went on to describe that times have changed from our parents’ days, and nowadays both spouses need to work to maintain a family; it’s the reality and most everyone has to learn to adapt. The couples all told poignant stories about the emotions they went through, and the blame or judgment they heaped on each other, as they worked through to the reality that they would both need to work.

The answers to the first question were pretty astounding to me. I have a couple of girlfriends here who work, and both of them keep their money separate from their husband’s money. The idea seems to be that the man’s duty is to provide for the family, and any money the women makes is her to use as she pleases: things for herself, special items for the kids, etc. But, I’d always figured my friends were exceptions to the rule. Greg and I have always pooled our money, and I figured most Mexicans must, too.

All four of the couples who spoke this evening, however, shared that same perspective as my local girlfriends: that the wife’s income should be for “extras” and the man’s income for the basics. The men want to be the breadwinners; the women want to be provided for. This shocked me. Though I know it’s true in a lot of places, to experience it so blatantly and close to home, when it’s so completely different than the assumptions I grew up with, was interesting for me.

Then, three out of the four couples proceeded to explain that this solution of keeping incomes separate was not a sustainable or constructive one, that pooling the two incomes was better. The fourth couple had actually pooled their money for a while, and then decided to go in the reverse direction, to the “Dad pays for the necessities and I pay for the extras” route, so that the wife could still feel that her husband was “taking care of” them, and so that Daddy could feel he was doing the bread (or tortilla) winning.

The other questions involved how the couples had weathered unemployment, and whether they had ever lived beyond their means and how they’d gotten “out from under” if they had.

The beautiful thing, for me, was that these couples all spoke from the heart. They shared the anger and doubt they’d gone through, they shared that they’d made poor decisions, they put themselves in a vulnerable position in front of hundreds of other parents, many of whom they know. It was so powerful, and so moving.

Just a little reflection and personal anecdote on a Tuesday night.


Names and Apellidos

Phone calls are rarely easy in a new language or culture. I remember calling a friend, Arnoldo, shortly after we’d moved here. The person who answered yelled out for “Lalo” to come to the phone! What’s up with that? “Lalo” is short for “Eduardo,” not “Arnoldo!” Had they misheard me? Was my pronunciation that bad? I didn’t want to speak with someone I didn’t know…

A few months later I received a call from a friend who told me she was “Bertalicia,” a rather long name with the emphasis on the “Alicia” ending. I couldn’t figure out who she was, even though she repeated herself several times. It was embarrassing. Eventually she had to explain to me who she was. Why? Because I knew her as “Bertha.”

Then, I’ve called a home to ask for someone, only to be asked “which one?” It is a very common practice to name daughters after their mothers, and sons after their fathers. So, they could be asking whether I want to speak to the parent or the child. But, at least in this part of México, it is also common for several (or all) children to share the same first name!!!! We know one family of girls named María Ana, María José, and María de la Luz, and María de Pilar. Through experiences like these I’ve come to learn that particularly “José” and “María” are more like placeholders or titles rather than names; the commonly used name would be the composite or, often, just the second name.

“María” and “José” are obviously very, very common names in Spanish. Want to complicate matters a bit more? A man can have the name “María,”as in “José María.” Likewise, a woman can have the name “José,” as in “María José.”

And, we all know that Mexicans LOVE apodos or nicknames! There are the “standard” versions for men and women, such as when Jesús become Chuy, Mercedes becomes Meche, or Francisco becomes Pancho or Paco. In the above case, Ms. María Jose might be called Pepa, Pepita, Josefa, or even José, so be careful about gendering! Likewise, “Lupe” or “Guadalupe” can be male or female. There are also the individual nicknames, most often referring to a physical feature (flaco, pelón, negro) or personal characteristic (loco).

The stereotype, of course, is that Spanish speakers all have llllloooooooonnnnngggg names. How many movies have we seen where, women particularly, spend several minutes rattling off their multiple names? But what I have found most surprising and confusing is that people are called differently by different people. What should I call people? Ok, my Dad was called “Charlie” by people who grew up with him, and “Chuck” by those who knew him as an adult. But names here are more complicated than that. We know one guy who told us his name was “Victor.” Most everyone else we know calls him “Lorenzo.” At work, however, he is called “Toby,” a nickname taken from a television show about a boys’ club. I hate to ask him what his family calls him.

Remember back in high school Spanish classes, when they taught us the “rules” around names in Spanish? Here’s what I remember learning way back then:

  • People have a first or given name (e.g., Ana or Juan).
  • Sometimes they also have a second name (e.g., María or Pedro). In this case, their given name is a composite: Ana María or Juan Pedro. They may be called by one or both names.
  • It is also rather frequent for people to use a confirmation name (e.g., Teresa or Antonio). These often are not used on a daily basis, but can form part of a person’s complete name.
  • These given names are followed by apellidos or family/surnames: their father’s family name first (e.g., Ana María Teresa Pérez, or Juan Pedro Antonio Lizárraga), followed
  • By their mother’s family name (e.g., Ana María Pérez Fernández, or Juan Pedro Antonio Lizárraga Castro).
  • When a woman marries (e.g., the two people named above), she maintains rather than changes her family name and, in some situations, adds “de” and the family name of her new spouse (spouse’s father’s name) (e.g., Ana María Pérez de Lizárraga or Ana María Pérez Fernández de Lizárraga).
  • Their children’s names would follow the same rules, so in the case above the children’s last names would be Lizárraga Pérez, with “Lizárraga” being the main apellido.

That’s all fine and good, but I’ve come to find out there are national, regional, ethnic, socio-economic and familial variations on naming, as well as LOADS of exceptions to these rules. I know one family, for example, where each son in the family fortunately uses only one given name, but they have THREE surnames: de Alba Rulfo de Jimenez. Huh? Two Moms? Children of divorce? What the heck??? No, I’ve come to find out that there are also composite last names! Such composite surnames may be connected by “de” or by a hyphen. Sometimes only one of these is used, though officially it should be both (or all). And we can all see what happens when someone with a composite surname marries another person with a composite surname! Bring on the funny movie clips!

And if you, like us, have “gringo” names or, worse yet, a spouse with ONLY ONE given name, Lord help you when people try to enter your name into a computerized form down here. Most programs seem to require a second surname, and many also request a second given name. Thus our son ends up having to use his middle name, which he very much dislikes.

As with English names (hyphenated family names, for example), there are modern-day variations on naming practices in Spanish. In Spain, for example, the traditional order of surnames can be reversed under current gender equity laws, so that children use the mother’s surname first, followed by the father’s. There also seem to increasingly be more women who do not use their husband’s names. Maybe they established themselves professionally before marriage, or they hold professional licenses in their maiden names.

One final confusion I’d note is that, in writing, people often abbreviate names, whether given names or surnames. Thus, “María” becomes “Ma” and “Agustín” become “Ag.” It might be worthwhile to familiarize yourself with a few of the more common abbreviations.

I eagerly look forward to your teaching me more, or correcting my errors!!!! Thanks!

Have fun!


Dianne, Diana, or Di