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Who’s your mommy? What’s in a name?

who's your mommy - mother with baby photoWho’s your mommy? If you’re American or Western, you probably carry your father’s surname. If he was John Jones, you’re automatically a Jones yourself. The rest of your name doesn’t serve to further identify your family.

If you have four names, you may be Catholic and one of them is probably the name you chose at confirmation or baptism. But the rest of your name? It might have meaning to your family but it doesn’t usually tell others about you.

If you’re Filipino, though, a male or an unmarried female, your full name answers two questions: “Who’s your mommy?”, and, “Who’s your daddy?”

Names: Double Duty

In the Philippines, the common practice is for the children to take the surname of their father and their mother’s maiden name as their middle name. Is that cool, or what? John Smith Jones here would be the son of a man named Jones and a woman whose maiden name was Smith. That’s why some Filipino names can sound weird to Westerners. There are surnames in the middle!

Filipinos can get confused in the opposite way, though. Back when my wife Menchu and I were filling out the reams of paperwork necessary to secure a fiancé visa for her to travel to the U.S., I got a frantic message from her as she was filling out a form here in the Philippines. She was confused because she knew my middle name was Daniel but she was sure that my mother’s maiden name was different. She didn’t know that the American naming custom is not like the Filipino custom.

Who’s Your Mommy Again?

The Filipino naming convention goes out the window once a woman get’s married, however. The names change places and it can get confusing.

Just before the judge in Seattle performed our marriage ceremony, he sat down with us to guide us through the paperwork and talk us through the ceremony. He asked Menchu if she was going to change her name. I thought he was asking her if she was going to take Cook as her last name, because some American women join their husband’s last name to theirs with a hyphen (Jill Smith-Cook) or choose to keep their own last name after marriage.

It turned out that the judge had longtime friends who were Filipino and he knew something that I didn’t. He knew that the Filipino custom for a married woman is to drop her mother’s maiden name and move her family name to the middle.

So, If Jill’s mother’s maiden name was Smith and her father’s surname was Jones, she would change her name from Jill Smith Jones when she married me, and become Jill Jones Cook!

That’s kind of male-centered, don’t you think? Everyone would know her father’s surname and her husband’s surname but they’d have to ask about dear old mom. “Who’s your mommy?”


photo credit: 21/366 – staring via photopin (license)

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