For my first few years on La Palma, I had an intermittant nightmare, in which the police stopped me, and asked me to explain why my handbag contained eight different names and four different addresses. Who but a con-artist would have so many? In my dreams I looked helplessly at the policeman, my mouth moving soundlessly. I was hideously aware of how guilty I must look, but I simply disn’t know where to start the explanation. Look officer, it’s all quite complicated really.
Spanish women don’t change their names when they marry, and everybody has two surnames. Your first surname is your father’s first surname, and your second surname is your mother’s first surname. This would make the Prince of Wales, Charles Mountbatten Winsor, and his oldest son Harry Mountbatten Spencer. Except that all christian names are spanicized, so it would be Carlos Mountbatten Winsor and Enrique Mountbatten Spencer. Spanish magazines and television refer to Queen Isabel, prince Carlos etc. You get used to it.
I was born Miss Sheila Marjorie Crosby, and when I married Carlos Gonzalez Suarez I changed my name to Mrs Sheila Marjorie Crosby. Not surprisingly, my British friends find this terribly confusing. I get letters to Mrs Sheila Gonzalez, Mrs Sheila Gonzalez Crosby, Sheila Crosby Gonzalez, Mrs Carlos Gonzalez, Señora Sheila Gonzalez, Señora Crosby, and so on. A friend sent us a sterling cheque as a wedding present – to Mr and Mrs. Gonzalez. We couldn’t cash it.
My Spanish friends (and bureaucrats) find it equally confusing. They expect two surnames and one (or ocassionally two) christian names. When they see Sheila Marjorie Crosby on any offical form, they assume that my surnames are “Marjorie Crosby”, so at first they put me on the electoral roll as Señora Marjorie. The bank are rather more used to foreigners, so they know me as Sheila Crosby. If I ever take Spanish citizenship I’ll need a second surname, so I’ll use my mother’s maiden name which is Patterson – Sheila Marjorie Crosby Patterson. This will reduce the confusion in Spain, but I hate the thought of explaining it in Britain. Maybe there’s a law of the “Conservation of Hassle” – less in Spain, more in Britain.
I’m begining to feel like an old-fashioned chinese restaurant. Pick one name from column A, one from column B and one from column C. In fact pick any subset of Miss. Mrs. Ms. Doña. Señora Sra. Sheila Marjorie Crosby Gonzalez Patterson Suarez. I’ll answer to any of them.
I’ll also answer to “Sheila” pronounced the Spanish way (Sayla), or any mis-spelling, however creative, including “Shiela”, “Shila” “Shelaugh” and “Cyla”.
That’s just the names. Until recently I still had a house in Wales. That is, it was on a 100% mortgage, and rented out, but the deeds and mortgage were in my (unmarried) name. That was also the name and address on my driving license, until I got a Spanish one. When I moved out here I didn’t know where I would be living, so my credit card address was the PO box for the observatory, and in my unmarried name. My UK building society won’t post chequebooks abroad, and the post office won’t forward things indefinitely, so my UK bank account is in my married name, but my brother’s address. My Spanish bank accounts both have the address of my house, but my current account is Sheila Crosby, and the savings account is a joint one, and therefore in the name Señores Gonzalez.
Honestly officer, there’s a perfectly innocent explanation for all of this. Truely there is…