How I Became an Emperor

A faceless DNI, waiting for two last names to be inserted

Spanish names are a delightful mouthful, even the simplest combinations conjuring images of a regal past of Dons in damp castles surrounded by piles of New World gold (at least in my mind).  Everybody has two last names, the first being their father’s first last name, the second being their mother’s first last name.  The first name is often two words, frequently incorporating María for ladies or José for men.  María Pilar Fernández González.  She’s definitely the parlor maid who caught the king’s eye, am I right?  José Antonio Ramírez García surveys his land on a black stallion and drinks from a jeweled goblet.

I consider my own last name, though devoid of any exotic overtones, to be quite pleasant.  It’s Irish, so there’s a darling apostrophe adding a little skip to the affair (think of a leprechaun if you must) and several round Os that makes it fun to say.  I never considered my last name to be deficient, until I moved to Spain.

The problem with my last name, in Spain at least, is that it’s just that: a last name.  Nothing else comes after my last name; it is utterly and finally the last name I have.  In Spain they expect more.  They want me to have a second last name, too.  This became obvious when I started making my presence known to various Spanish administrations.

The first stop was Social Security.  The bureaucrat couldn’t make heads or tails of my form.  Was Elizabeth my first last name?  No, it’s my middle name.  Middle name?  Second first name?  A composed name, like Maria Teresa?  Not really, but if that helps you understand.  Oh dear.  The computer won’t accept the apostrophe.  Should I leave a space?  No, don’t leave a space, just take out the apostrophe.  (Luckily I was quick, imagining years of government agencies thinking my first last name was O.)  So what is my second last name? I have none, just the one last name.

She typed and typed again, sighed, typed again and then with a frazzled, slightly accusatory look, announced, “We’re just not prepared for this.  The system is not prepared for this.  You really have no second last name?”  I was tempted to say Goebbels to see if she’d flinch but decided on honesty.  I am completely bereft of a second last name.  So she made an executive decision.  A bureacrat’s type of executive decision.  My second last name would be –.  Maybe the orphaned parlor maid of unknown origins who caught the king’s eye?

The National Police were slightly more reasonable.  They surgically removed the apostrophe without a thought and ignored the “–” bestowed on me by Social Security, but they insisted on using my middle name.  It’s listed in my passport, so it goes on my ID card.  There it is for all to see, what has been carefully hidden behind a mysterious “E” in most of my American existence.

I didn’t run into my — for awhile, until I applied for my medical card for the public health system.  They set it up from the Social Security data, but the public health computer system wouldn’t accept — as a last name.  It had to be letters.  Uh-oh.  Another executive decision was on its way.  And that’s how I became:

Casey XX

The Empress of Basque Country

Post your comment


  1. Posted by Jorge, at Reply

    Welcome to “pais de pandereta”. But to be honest with you something similar happens to me in England where they do not understand that I have two surnames ,)

    • Posted by Casey, at Reply

      For sure! At least you do not have any “ñ” in your name which is always a disaster abroad…

  2. Posted by Cristina, at Reply

    LOL what a good post hahaha here in London they think that Saenz is my middle name…