Thursday, 28 October 2010

What's in a name?

Looking at the figures for the pilgrims arriving in Santiago I was struck by the fact that people from every part of Spain walk the pilgrimage route.My ear is not yet attuned to their many accents and dialects but what I can recognise is when they are speaking in different languages. They say that a nation’s culture is defined by their language. That is true in Spain as in many other countries. Although Castellano is the “official” language of Spain, what we would know as “Spanish”, there are other languages in different parts of this country which has seventeen autonomous regions each with their own flag and sometimes their own language. Gallego for example is the other language of Galicia. It is like a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese. In fact those from each country understand each other perfectly. There are many “schhhhh” sounds as vowels and consonants are softened. Thus when talking about the route to Finisterre and Muxía, the latter is pronounced Mushia. When walking through Galicia I’ve met older people who have only ever spoken Gallego and whilst they can of course understand Castellano they think that it is second class and the language of “Madrid” – the capital about which there is a national suspicion.
Then there is the language of Catalan from Catalonia which comprises four provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tarragona. The capital city is Barcelona. Catalonia borders France and Andorra to the north, Aragon to the west, the Valencian Community to the south, and the Mediterranean Sea to the east. The official languages are Spanish, Catalan and Aranese. Catalan to my ear sounds vaguely French, less rough than Spanish and much less enthusiastically spoken. It is closely associated with Valenciá, and the languages of the Islands: Mallorquí and Menorquí for example.

It seems to me from pilgrims arriving at the office the proudest of their language and region are the people from the Pais Vasco or Vasconia – the Basque Country. The names on the credenciales look as if they have been written in a version of Greek. The region has struggled with ambitions to independence much the same as my own country Scotland and indeed when I explain where I am from their eyes often light up. “Hermanos primeros”, “first brothers” a pilgrim called us recently. The language of the Basque land is called Euskara. The main feature of this language is that whilst the others can trace their roots to Latin or Greek or for example Anglo Saxon, try as they have linguists cannot find any other living language even vaguely connected to Euskara. The people are very proud of this!

During the Franco regime all these different language of Spain were oppressed. Franco wanted national unity, “with a single language, Castilian, and a single personality, that of Spain.” Of course despite the oppression and banning of the use of different languages in schools this was doomed to failure much as the English banning of wearing tartan could never stamp out the fierce sense of nationhood of the Scots.

Whilst historically all of these differences in the lives of the people of Spain waxed and waned one constant was the national religion – Catholicism. On the surface Spain remains as much a Catholic country as it did in the time of the Spanish Inquisition. But let’s not go there! Although these days the country has become much more secularised and liberal in its laws and the opinion of its people the deep religious affinity and tradition of Spaniards can be seen in their names. In the pilgrims’ office seeing passport after passport this is striking.

Spanish names are universally in the same form: first name, father´s family name and then the mother´s maiden name. What is also very common is the influence of religion in the peoples’ names. This is particularly striking in the Office when we convert the names into Latin to write them on the Compostela. First there are the many names of Santiago, the patron Saint of Spain. Some men are called Santiago, others Jacobo or  Jaime. Others are called after Saints, Pablo for Paul, Pedro for Peter, Ignacio for Ignatius. The longest list though falls to the women who are named after one of the many titles of the Virgin Mary. This reflects the national respect for motherhood and family whether religious or not. In a morning in the office you will meet several, Mary of the Angels (Maria Angeles) one or two women called Adoración or Almudena, meaning both Mary the Adored and Mary of Almudena, after whom the Cathedral in Madrid is named. Then there is Amparo, Anunciación, Arancha, and Asunción. These are all common names meaning Mary the Refuge, Annunciation, Mary of Arancha, and Assumption. We haven’t even left the A’s on the list yet.
 Add to these very common Spanish names like Carmen and Pilar. Carmen is Mary of Mount Carmel. Pilar is short for Maria del Pilar is Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragoza. The pillar referred to is the jasper stone upon which Our Lady is said to have appeared to St James circa 40 AD in which she encouraged him to continue with his mission in Spain. This is said to have occurred while Our Lady was still alive and living in Jerusalem. The basilica in Zaragoza is considered to be the first Marian basilica in Christendom. The devotion to Maria del Pilar is the greatest of all devotions to Our Lady in Spain...add Belén (Mary of Bethlehem) Concepción, Dolores, Fátima, Encarnación, Inmaculada, Lourdes, Montserrat, Mercedes, Rosario and many, many others. So next time you hear a woman’s name in Spain, think where it comes from. This may be a very good conversation point. There are also names after events in the life of Jesus: Concepción, Visitación, Circuncisión are three examples. In this country calling someone Circumcision would raise eyebrows to say the least. Not so in Spain and I wrote down the lady’s name, Circuncisión Garcia Miguel Ramirez, as if it was an everyday occurrence.

Some of the religious connotations of well used names are obvious and so are the ways in which they can be constructed into longer names. You will hear many combinations of the following: Esperanza (hope) Jesús. Maria, José, Milagros (Miracles) Nazareno, Diosdado (God-given) and so on.

Some names are very descriptive Jose Manuel Miramontes – Joseph Emmanuel Lookingatthemountains.

Over the summer I started to write down my personal favourites but there were too many! However two in particular come to mind as the most florid relgious based names I have ever heard so have some sympathy if you meet Arceli Armero Garcia – Altar of Heaven Armero Garcia, or Maria a Refugio Espinilla de la Iglesia – Mary the Refuge Spine of the Church.

Sometimes I’m glad I’m just called Johnnie Walker. Cheers.

1 comment:

  1. interesting subject, years ago we met a Spanish barman in Mallorca and he always said he could tell where anyone came from in Scotland by the way they said aye and was usually right.