The Name Game

Somedays, it feels like no one ever calls me by name anymore. I think my in-laws are the only people who call me Leslie. Most people refer to me as "La Güerra" or "la gringa". Others just call me "Señora" or "Doña" (Ma'am). And occasionally a few people still call me "Maestra" or "Teacher".

My given name at birth was Leslie Ann Harris. When I married Hubby in the States, I took his last name, so I became Leslie Ann Limon. But when we moved to Mexico, and I introduced myself as Leslie Limon, people commented on the remarkable coincidence that Hubby and I had the same last name.  (In Mexico, spouses don't have the same last name(s), unless they're actually related.)  I kept having to explain that I took Hubby's last name when we married.

This lead to a barrage of questions like:
  • Why would you want to take your husband's last name?
  • Isn't your last name good enough?
  • Don't you love your family?
  • Are you ashamed of your family?  Is that why you changed your last name?

Once I finished explaining the "Name Change" custom, the person asking would proceed to ask me about my apellido de soltera (maiden name), to which I'd respond "Harris". But what they really wanted to know was my second last name. What?!

You see, everyone (and I do mean everyone) in Mexico has two last names. The first last name is the father's last name and the second is your mother's maiden name. For example, my kiddies' last names are Limon Harris. Limón for Hubby's last name, and Harris as my maiden name. (UPDATE: As per a new law in Mexico, my US born children only have one last name to match the name on their US birth certificates. Read more...

The first couple of times people inquired about my mother's maiden name, I had to take a few moments to think about it. In all the years I knew my mother, she never used her maiden name. Not even when she was growing up. She took her step-dad's name when she was little, then took my dad's last name when they got married. Then years later she changed it again when she took my step-father's last name. For the sake of safety I'm not going to reveal my mother's maiden name, but for the purpose of this blog post we'll just say it's Salisbury.

So a few weeks after we moved to Mexico I started to introduce myself as Leslie Harris Salisbury, to avoid any confusion and personal questions. But I hated the fact that I no longer had Hubby's last name. People have enough of a hard time as it is pronouncing both Leslie and Harris. But when it comes to Salisbury, I'm usually met with a big QUE?  It's just too hard to even try to pronounce and even harder to attempt to spell.

I remember when I applied for a job as an interpreter at La Presidencia (City Hall). The hardest part of the application process was deciding what last name(s) to put on the application. Do I go with just Leslie Limon? Do I go the hyphenated route like Hilary and use Harris-Limon? Or do I just follow Mexican custom and use Leslie Harris Salisbury? It was all so confusing! Finally, the person conducting the interview went to ask the Secretario General (Deputy Mayor), who just happened to be my brother-in-law, what we should do. He said the easiest way would be to go by Leslie Harris de Limon. I couldn't use Harris Salisbury, because I didn't have any documents, US or Mexican, with the name Salisbury on them. I also couldn't use Harris-Limon, because Limon wasn't my mother or father's last name. If I wanted to use Hubby's last name I'd have to add "de" to signify that the last name belongs to my husband. I told you it was confusing.

But the tale continues....

Leslie Harris de Limon was the perfect solution to my name problems. That is until Jack was born.  When the doctor was filling out the birth information, I told him my name was "Leslie Harris de Limon".  To which the doctor responded, "No, I don't want your husband's last name, I want both of your last names." So I said "Harris Salisbury", which only lead to the doctor going on and on about what a strange last name it was and how difficult it is to spell in English. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah....

After filling out all the forms, the doctor had me look over them to make sure all of the names were spelled correctly. He then asked me to verify that Leslie Harris Salisbury was my full name. That moment seemed as good a time as any to mention my middle name: Ann.  Bad idea!  Okay, not really, because you do want to make sure all documents are accurate and legal.

The doctor then berated me for not using my full first name - Leslie Ann, even though I counter-argued that Leslie was my first name and Ann was my middle name. But the doctor wouldn't hear any of it. "If a woman's name is Maria Guadalupe, that's her name. Not Maria. Not Lupe or Maria G. It's Maria Guadalupe!" (He was a really nice doctor, but extremely passionate about this name business.) He then suggested that whenever I introduce myself I should do it as "Leslie Ann" not just "Leslie". My apologies to the doctor, but my mother was the only person to call me "Leslie Ann" and that was only when she was angry or I was in trouble.

Now whenever someone asks me my name, I just respond "Leslie" because that is my name.  But if they want my full name, I say "Hi! My name is Leslie Harris de Limon." (No mention of Salisbury or Ann, even though I do add Ann on all my legal paperwork.)

Men, you have no idea how lucky you are!

For more Name Game fun, be sure to read The Name Game: Back to School Edition 


  1. Ooooh I feel your pain!! Try getting Mexicans to spell "Winfree".

    My full name is Laura Jean Winfree. Takes awhile to explain that Jean is my middle name, not my paternal last name. *sigh*

    Now that I'm married, I have no clue how the crap I'm going to do this.

    My main course of action will be just to keep my name exactly the same on all my official documents.

    Still, I want the same last name as my kids. What the HECK?? haha

  2. Oh, and my nicknames include Lau, Lauris, Loris, Lorita, Laurita, Wera, Gringa, Jean (pronounced "Yeah-an") and Flaca.

    Does anybody here actually call me Laura? Nope. haha

  3. GRINGATION: Has anyone called you "Laura Gana-Gratis"? Because most people LOVE to translate everything into Spanish! :)

    Don't worry, you will have the same last name as your kids. Atleast one of them. Soon you'll have a young Mendez Winfree running around the house! ;)

    And don't get me started on the mispronunciation of English names. That's an entirely different blog post! :)

  4. you dont have to take your hubby's last name? man, if i had known this, i'd be married there!

    here in the philippines, it's the other way around. if you dont use your hubby's name, they ask why. arent you married? does your hubby know this? what does he think?

    blech. solution: cherrie rose gomez-tuazon, gomez being my maiden name.

  5. Too funny. When we visit mexico from chicago there is at least one relative that has to insist on seeing my driver's license or passport to see that yes- i did take my hubby's last name and that my maiden name(s) are no where on there and then they have to see the kids passports that show that yeah- they too dont have any of "my" names but rather hubby's. every.single. time.


  6. I had wisened up to the problem before Saul and I were married and decided to avoid hassles on both sides of the border to keep my maiden name, Flinn. I knew this would happen here, not to mention the hassle of changing the last name on ss card, credit cards, tax forms, etc, NOB.

    The barrage of questions then comes from those NOB - "why don't you take your husbands name?" "aren't you worried that if you have kids you all won't have the same last name?"

    Flinn is pretty easy for most here, but even my in-laws for some reason canNOT say Leah. I've explained, "it's like TIA but with an 'L' - LIA". It always come out like Lias, A-lee-as. I never thought my name was so difficult.

    Guess there is no simple solution. :-)

  7. i remember in high school, there was a kid in my class who had two last names and a 'de la garza' at the end. we all thought it was so funny because no one understood why jose had so many names.... and then in college, there was an indonesian girl in my class with NO last name. so, the registrar doubled her first name, and she became erma erma. haha...

  8. I'm with you! Leslie is becoming quite a common name around here for hispanics born here (I visit them after they are born) because it sound American and easy to pronounce like Ashley and Stephanie. What a great post. I went through all that on this side of the US. My husband says it'll get more confusing when we enroll our kids in school in Mexico. Right now we all use his last name. My maiden name is Puffenbarger..which doesn't go so well with....well, anything in Spanish! Since alot of hispanics have a hard time saying "Brooke" it sounds like "broo-kay" I get Arroyo, Arroya, Arroyita, etc...

  9. I have a Leslie and everyone calls her guera too! But she also goes by Lay, and LayLay, Mexicans are funny ;) Me and my family LOVE translating stuff that doesn't make sense in Spanish, I get a kick out of watching people try to figure it out!

  10. I go by "Meri" here (imagine pronouncing "Meredith"), but it doesn't mean I'm ever called that. Guera, Guerita, Pancha, Panchita, Cha-cha, Changa, Changuita... no one calls anyone by their real names here.

    I have always appreciated the simplicity of the naming system though, and it strikes me as more equal between the husband and wife (although the husband's last name still gets the first spot). I'm sure it makes an easier job for genealogists!

  11. Whenever I tell someone my name and we're speaking Spanish I say my name is Teresa Díaz but if we're speaking English it's Theresa Gray. Not that it really matters because the Spanish speaker automatically changes my name to Teré, sometimes it Doña Tere. I have given up and just answer to it, no matter how much I dislike that name.
    It could be worse, invariable people write Husband's first name as Duck....that always quacks me up...

  12. humph, I meant to write invariably not invariable, sort of changes the meaning of my sentence doesn't it?

  13. Yep! I'm "la Bebé"! It's so funny to hear my father-in-law, or even little kids, call me "baby"? I also get a lot of Güerita". But everyone's got a nickname down here, so it makes me feel like one of the gang! I've been with my husband seven and a half years now, though, and I'm certain that many of the fam have no clue what my name is. Anyway, I have TWO middle names and a two word last name. You put my mother's last name on the end of that and you get something that looks like 6 words. There was NO WAY I was going to add my husband's last name onto that, which isn't customary in my family anyway. It makes tidy hand-writing essential for completing forms! :)

  14. Its amazing what customs you learn when immersing yourself in another culture.

    I say, when in Rome do as the Romans do. Use all your names in Mexico, but your husband's in the USA.

  15. Wow - that is quite the name game... so what did your kids finally end up with, Harris Limon? This is one problem I didn't encounter moving from Canada to the US, although I'm kinda surprised... although I do have to say that I use my maiden and last names on facebook so people can find me...

  16. I just love the mixed names! I had to take our siamese cat to the vet once and filled out paperwork for "Shogun Gonzalez Wilkinson"

  17. I live in Italy where women keep their own last names. Mine is impossible for Italians to pronounce or spell because it has an h in the middle. For official situations, I patiently spell it out, but otherwise I just use my husband's last name.
    My grandmother used to write me letters addressed to "Mrs. Francesco Grillo" and that was kind of strange, too.

  18. Good post. Well done. I am just Lorena Martinez in many spots here! Because my last name is impossible, on the phone or around town, I just say Lorena Martinez. Laurie is not good. And I don't like Laura. I do like Lorena. Only at a doctor's office or such do I spell out my full name for everyone. And since my mother's maiden name was Martin, that's where I came up with Martinez. Just easier. Lots of times, I am just La Gringa, which is not an insult here. Or La Gordita! Gotta work on that one.

  19. When my grandson was born (in Mexico) the hospital insisted that my daughter put her maiden name on the birth certificate - would not allow it to be otherwise! However, this is different from her name on her passport which created problems when she tried to renew his passport. Oddly enough they did allow her to get a passport for him when he was first born, but not later. Por que? Who knows. Anyway, she has to get a new passport for herself showing and AKA as her maiden name before she can get him a new passport. Anyway, just letting you know to be prepared if you are getting passports.

  20. This was an excellent post!!! You nailed it. My family is from So. America, and names in the states are so casual here. My mother would say, "like pets."

    I'm going to hilite new blog finds next week, and yours will be among them.

    I have to make the time to come here more often, each time I do, I say to myself, "I have to come here more often."

    You have a tremendous blog.

  21. awesome post! i have had the hardest time navigating all the names, especially since my son was born and I've had to be really careful about all the important documents matching each other. Whew. It can get confusing!

  22. That's so interesting! I took for granted that women take their husband's last names!

  23. Laurie, Martin is a Spanish last name, you don't have to be Martínez. I know, because it's one of my great-grandmother's last names and she was a Spaniard. Of course it's Martín with a written accent but you probably already know that.


  24. Ok, let's see, my husband's name is Kovahin Antonio Arano. His dad is Mariano Antonio Juan. Kovahin is not a hispanic name (or an anything else name as far as we can tell.) Maybe he is the only one in the world. Anyway it is hard for people here to believe that his name isn't Antonio (which is one of his last names.) Obviously his dad must have the same problem but doubled. His dad is indian and I believe (with no proof what-so-ever) that his last names were originally first names and that the ancestors with those names didn't have "last" names. When we married in the states I added his mother's last name of Arano at his request. I have no idea why he wanted me to do that. So I am hyphenated- McKown-Arano.

    My daughter also hyphenated her name and is McKown-Zamora, but their kids are Zamora McKown. They are currently in the states and the schools refuse to let them use their real names. Her grandfather-in-law was Isidro Ayala Ayala, and the newest babies in the family are "Zamora Zamora"s.

  25. I am a Leslie Ann too! Except I spell mine differently. :-) I'm always called by both my first and middle name too, but unfortunately no one can pronounce it right. I'm always "Leslie Annie." In the doctors office it's "Señora Leslie Annie?"