A lot of people from the UK react with shock horror when I say that I am still Valerie Collins. They expect me to have a Spanish married name: some sort of aristocratic double or triple barreled mouthful: at the very least an exotic and probably unpronounceable surname.
But many of them don’t realise that even in the UK it’s not legally obligatory to take your husband’s name – it’s simply a custom, albeit a very deep-rooted one. And even though Spain has always been pretty poor on equality and women’s rights, we have always kept our own names. As we explain in In The Garlic (see Apellido), everyone has a double surname: your father’s first surname followed by your mother’s first surname (her maiden name) (traditionally – now, in the interests of equality, I think you can do it the other way round.) And your ID will also say that you are hijo/a de (son/daughter of followed by your parents’ first names: your afiliación). This really makes sense when it comes to identifying people, as a true story of mine shows.
An elderly Australian friend died. She was twice divorced and always used her second married name, which was the one that figured on her NIE (foreigners’ ID). Her married daughter arrived from Australia just after she died, and our group of friends were helping her with the funeral arrangements. To cut a long story short, Barcelona funeral services refused to go ahead. Why? Because Gwen’s daughter’s only ID was her passport in her own married name. The papers of the two women, Spanish NIE and Australian passport respectively, showed no documentary proof of their relationship. If you look at it from the Spanish bureaucratic point of view, they were right. British people, many of whom consider the ID card to be the final nail in the coffin of personal freedom (as if we weren’t already fichad@s all over the place!), think that Spaniards are far too fussy about paperwork. But in a country where charlatans, impostors, masqueraders and dissemblers of all kinds are a way of life, you can understand why.
Conversely, Spaniards think we are incredibly lax and irresponsible about ID.
Recently we decided that my mum, who lives in the UK, should give me a power of attorney. A friend who works in a law office in the UK sorted it. Mum signed the papers, then sent them to me to be signed by a witness. I asked my Catalan lawyer and he duly signed the paper sitting across from me in his office. No notaries were involved.
And then he said, deeply puzzled: “That’s it? That’s all?”
“Yes. Thanks so much.”
“But how do they know I really am who I say I am?”
So what happened with Gwen? Well, a quite venerable Catalan friend (actually he was a retired vice-dean of the Universitat Autònoma) yelled and shouted: they should be ashamed of themselves. This was the 21st century and Barcelona was an international city and they ought to know full well that Brits and Aussies have IDs with their married names and if they didn’t believe him they should call the British Embassy… Sometimes authoritative native bellowing works, and the cremation and funeral service were arranged.
But there was worse, much worse to come: the sorting of the will…. (to be continued)