Andersson, ¿y más?

In the strange, cold country, far far away where I'm from, it's normal to have one surname. Before my parents got married my full name was Jonna My Håkansson, with the surname of my mother. But when my parents decided to marry we all changed to my fathers name, Andersson. Having the same name within the family in Sweden is a way of showing unity, that we all belong together. Some have two surnames, mostly as a way to keep their own names when they got married or maybe if one have divorced parents, correct me if I'm wrong.

Here in Guatemala, and in most latin cultures, it's almost the other way around. Here the system is made for two surnames, one from your father's side and one from your mother's. If I would have been born here, my name would have been Jonna My Andersson Håkansson, showing first my father's name and then my mother's, always in that order. It shows your heredity, it tells the people you meet about your family and your history.

But what happens if you get born by a single mother? Well, almost all children getting born in Guatemala do have a father, somewhere. Even if the parents don't live together the father can still register his name for his child so that it gets one name from each parent. But the father has got to do it. He's got to go to the municipality to register for his child, it's not enough if the mother goes there.

If the father refuses to give his name to his child, or if he simply deny that he's the father of the child (and this happens a lot here...) the mother has to start a process against him, proving that he actually is the father. This will take a lot of energy, a lot of time (bureaucracy in Guatemala is cooooomplicated stuff...) and it can get expensive.

So why would the single mother even care about getting the father to registrate his name for their child? Isn't it just easier giving the child only the mothers name?

Well... First it's about tradition and structure. The system is not made for persons with just one surname, that means the child of a single mother will get registred as her sister or brother... At least when it comes to the name. Because the child will get the same surnames as it's mother, that is first the name of it's mother's father and then the name of it's mother's mother. And in the register it will look like they're siblings. This will also make it obvious that the child doesn't have a father. In school they might just use one surname for those kids, excluding them from what's normal here. And it's not a got thing not being normal, not following the traditional structure. Being a child without father will mean a lot of disgrace and reasons for the other children to bully the fatherless child.

And of course it's also about money. Somehow it always comes down to money. By register the father's name to the child it confirms that there is a man taking responsibility for the child's life. And in a country ruled by the laws of machismo, the man is the one making money and taking care of his family. So bearing the fathers name also means that the child will be, by law, entitled to economical support by its father. Unfortunately this is a system that isn't followed to well. The mothers that I've been talking to, who actually managed to persuade the father of their child to go register their name, still doesn't get any support from the men. And in a country with 98% of all crimes being unsolved, there is a long way to justice. A long way for the fighting, single mothers and their children to get the support they're actually entitled to.

So if you ever travel in Latin America and they look strange at you when you say that you just have one surname, don't be surprised. Here it's not just a name. It's about culture, it's about pride, it's about responsibility and it's about survival. With just one surename you will probably also mess up the whole registration system!


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