What is my last name?
July 28, 2006 12:52 PM   Subscribe

IdentityCrisisFilter: What is my last name?

I won't use my full name, not because of paranoia (my name was in my profile until last week), but just because it feels weird putting my full name in the thread.

Suppose my name is Ricardo Macedo de Oliveira (fictitious). Macedo is the middle name, and my mother's middle name. The "de Oliveira" part comes from my father. In Brazil full names are almost always written full, in direct order (like above). Ricardo is the first name. Everyone (even the president) is usually treated by the first name, regardless of formality.

I used to use my first and middle name, whenever I needed more than just the first name. In college (specially my department, that had a somewhat americanized culture) this was changed to Firstname Lastname. Thus, I became Ricardo Oliveira. This is the form that I used ever since, for about anything. Whenever something asked for my last name, I just answered Oliveira.

The "de" particle, unlike in other languages, has no social meaning at all, semantically being just a preposition to a toponymic surname. ("de Oliveira" means "from Oliveira"). Also, no one that I know regards it as part of the last name (like McDonald or O'Malley), it is just an agglutinating particle. Even the "father" of the Portuguese language, Luís de Camões, is just "Camões", not "de Camões". So, I think most people here would consider my first name to be Ricardo, middle name Macedo, last name Oliveira, and full name Ricardo Macedo de Oliveira.

I am moving to the US. My employer always refers to me by "De Oliveira, Ricardo", even if I only communicate by email, and sign all my emails as "Ricardo Oliveira" (which is my preferred form). My H1-B authorization came as "DE OLIVEIRA, Ricardo Macedo". My visa was stamped as "Oliveira, Ricardo Macedo de" (this is how I filled the visa form).

So, is there a fixed rule about this (prepositions in name)? Will everyone in the US see my full name and parse it as De Oliveira, Ricardo, and call me "Mr. de Oliveira", and so? Or do I get to choose my own preferred form? If so, is there a formal path to do it (can I just write it that way in my I-94)? Is there any associated risk if I'm referred to as "de Oliveira" in some documents, and "Oliveira" in others?
posted by qvantamon to Law & Government (20 answers total)
Well, Americans who see your whole name written down in an official capacity will assume that the particle is part of your last name and call you de Olivera. But if you just introduce yourself as Ricardo Olivera in cases where people don't see Official Name, they'll just call you Ricardo Olivera.
posted by dame at 1:07 PM on July 28, 2006

Oh, I forgot: I have a hyphenated last name so many times my name does not match (system can't take hyphens, was lazy and just used one name &c.) and I have never had an issue with my last name varying.
posted by dame at 1:09 PM on July 28, 2006

IANA lawyer, but I have some experience with this, but not as a foreigner.

My last name had a dash, a space and a few capitals in it. At the end of high school, I made it one simple word.

I signed all documents with it. All utility bills, driver's license, etc.

Eventually, even social security started to recognize me by this new version.

In short, my advice is to pick a name that is uncomplicated and stick with it consistently from now on. I'd suggest Ricardo Oliveira, and use "Macedo de" or "Macedo" only when asked for middle name or initial.

I don't think there is a risk of Oliveira or de Oliveira. But if they can't find you in computers you may have to prompt them. But if you are consistent, with "Ricardo Oliveira" it will eventually clear up.
posted by milarepa at 1:11 PM on July 28, 2006

There's a long tradition for people coming to the U.S. of having our Immigration Service "Americanize" their name, but the general rule, under Anglo-Saxon common law, is that you have a right to call yourself anything you like, as long as you are not trying to hide your identity for felonious purposes. Most people strike a balance between the accuracy of their family names as family tradition has presented it to them, and what Americans will commonly use. It's really a question of how much time and effort you want to spend explain the details that have taken you 5+ paragraphs to explain here, to each person you will meet, who should use your name.

If you get tired of that, you might come to see the sense in being Mr. Richard Olive. But it's entirely up to you.
posted by paulsc at 1:18 PM on July 28, 2006

I've had misspellings of my name pop up as "aliases" or "other names used" in my credit report, despite my attempts to correct people. It's never been a _problem_, just a silly thing that happens. You might see stuff like that, and you might occasionally have to prompt people, as milarepa notes, but I can't imagine it really being an issue. I expect people will call you Mr. de Oliveira unless you tell them different, but if you do, they'll accomodate.
posted by nickmark at 1:20 PM on July 28, 2006

Just out of curiosity, any reason why you wouldn't concatenate to DeOliveira or deOliveira?
posted by Kickstart70 at 1:22 PM on July 28, 2006

I sympathize. No matter what you decide on, expect a lot of confusion. My surname is "Den Beste"; my middle name is "Charles". But I have variously seen my surname as "Den", "Beste", "Denbeste", a lot of misspellings of all of those.

A lot of computerized systems are extremely confused by the presence of a space in a surname; it's given me no end of grief. My advice to you is to go with "Oliveira" as your surname on every form you fill out; in the long run it's going to save you a lot of grief. Treat "Macedo de" as your middle name, even though it's wrong.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:56 PM on July 28, 2006

My son's situation (name thread) might help, albeit in a Canadian context.
posted by acoutu at 2:00 PM on July 28, 2006

Funny, I live in NA and have a "de" particle in my name, and I rarely have issues with the space in my last name. While I often get "De Name" or sometimes "Dename" (hardly ever), I've never had to worry about the "de" particle being dropped. I say, spell it correctly and let whomever worry about how their system should handle it.
posted by RibaldOne at 2:11 PM on July 28, 2006

I vote for De Oliviera as your last name. It's no different that Alphonse D'Amato (former NY Senator), Sharon DeHaven (a childhood friend), Ani DiFranco (the little folksinger) and such. But if you choose something else, just be consistent. You don't want to screw up any taxes and other official stuff.
posted by bim at 2:29 PM on July 28, 2006

Response by poster: My last name has two alternate spellings, and mine is the less usual one, so I am quite used to aliases (even my old passport had the wrong spelling).

But then, around here we have national identification numbers, and the CPF (another national number, this one for financial stuff). So, a mispelling is not a big deal, computerized stuff just use the CPF for everything.

I was worried because the US has no such numbers (the nearest thing is the SSN, but from what I learned, the SSN is not nearly as ubiquitious as the CPF here... at least I think the pizza delivery or video rental won't ask for your SSN there), and, so, names become more important as a "primary key".

As for concatenating, if I'm changing it (from the "official" "de Oliveira"), I'll just drop the preposition, to my preferred form. And, also, I'm not a fan of rollercoaster capitalization.

On the other hand, arbitrarily capitalizing Macedo (latin origin) as MacEdo would surely confuse people about my origins...
posted by qvantamon at 2:30 PM on July 28, 2006

Your full last name in the US would be "Macedo de Oliveira". I had the opposite problem in Spain with only one last name. There it is the norm to have a family name of both your mother and your father. So everyone has a name like "Rodriquez Romero" (father's last name, mother's last name). So I typically used my middle name and last name which are both spanish.

But if you've already filled out the forms for INS in a particular way, then you may want to follow that way in any future forms. Always be consistent or the bureaucracy will be confused.
posted by JJ86 at 2:35 PM on July 28, 2006

CPF vs SSN: The video rental place may ask for your social security number, but you have every right to tell them no (CO attorney general guidelines).

I like MacEdo.
posted by whatzit at 2:37 PM on July 28, 2006

Your full last name in the US would be "Macedo de Oliveira"

This is not true. You're thinking of Spanish names, which work completely differently. Read the question again. Macedo is his middle name.

I'd go with Ricardo Oliveira, myself, just for simplicity's sake, but there are enough Spanish-speakers in the country that if you wanted to go with "de Oliveira" it wouldn't look weird. People would, however, assume you were Spanish-speaking.
posted by languagehat at 3:16 PM on July 28, 2006

Response by poster: JJ86:

Not really, that's a point where Brazil, Portugal, and Spain/Hispanic America all differ. Spain has it like you said, Portugal reverses the order (like in my name), but Brazil has no fixed rule. My middle name is like that (my mother's middle name) because my parents chose so. It's a custom among Brazilians (I think it has Portuguese origin), but it's not a rule, and has exceptions. Italian descendants often don't use a middle name at all. Japanese descendants use (like Ricardo Shinji Toyota).

Also, I don't know if the Portuguese consider the mother's part like a last name (I mean, we don't really use the term last name, it's either first name or full name, but, at least in portuguese novels where people are referred as "Mr. something", it's either the first name or the last name (father's part only)).

posted by qvantamon at 3:21 PM on July 28, 2006

Response by poster: Reminder - don't use less than / greater than in text.

I meant "Japanese descendants use brazilianfirstname japanesefirstname lastname(like Ricardo Shinji Toyota)".
posted by qvantamon at 3:41 PM on July 28, 2006

I think your name is perfect is it's original given format. But altering it is your choice. I have what could be considered a "hillbilly" name and my last name is actually a girls first name like; Tommy Roy Sally Jr. It really bothered me when I was a kid but I've learned to love it just the way it is.

I understand the need/want to simplify (people always turn my "Tommy" into "Thomas") and Americanize, but my opinion is that your name is as unique as you are and worth keeping.
posted by snsranch at 5:12 PM on July 28, 2006

I don't know if it's a Southron thing or what, but I've been noticing lot of people, especially males, have names like Bart Groening Simpson where the middle name is the mother's "maiden" name. My name is weird in that it has four parts -- e.g. Bart Matt Groening Simpson -- with the second name being my father's father's first name. (I joke that they named me all that so they could borrow from both sides.) First I used it as two middle names (or two middle initials), then couple decades back I tried hypenating the last two but, besides America's built-in ineptness in handling names that're non-standard for any reason, American society was just starting to get used to married women hypenating their husbands' name onto their own -- so people would elide over the masculine first name and start looking for a woman. Now I just drop my mother's family's name ('cuz frankly I don't like those people) and go by David Middlename Lastname like a good Yankee.

Anyhow, I suggest using Oliviera as the last name unless you want to make up one and change it officially. (Maybe Olivier, like the dead actor, except many Americans would mispronounce it "oh-LIV-ee-ur.") I'd change my name but it cost a couple hundred bucks and I can't really think of one I like any better. (It just hit me that "Oliviera" sounds pretty except with my stammer I'd never get it out without sliding the first name into it so it'd come out "David Doliviera" -- which also sounds pretty but means nothing.)
posted by davy at 8:18 PM on July 28, 2006

As said above, just introduce yourself as Ricardo Oliveira. You can try to correct your boss but also bear in mind that as a foreigner in the US, people will naturally create many forms of your name. You'll hear all kinds of pronunciations that you never dreamed possible. I have a last name that isn't pronounces like it is spelled. Most of the time, I just let butcherings go. People will know who you are, especially because you're a Brazilian. You'll more than likely be referred to as "that Brazilian" or "Ricardo the Brazilian guy". I know that's how many people distinguish me where I live (North American in Brazil).

Just to back up what qvantamon said, in Brazil the "de" is totally optional, as are the other names. I know a group of unmarried siblings, all of whom present their last name differently. Wonderfully confusing.
posted by wallaby at 8:54 AM on July 29, 2006

I'd stick with Firstname Lastname, and lose the "de", and the sooner the better. That's just so you fit into the computers, and so they can find you. You might as well start training them right away so that everything matches, including your medical records, which could matter a lot sometime.
If you have to sign anything legal, you can just add "AKA Firstname Middlename de Lastname". The AKA includes all the possible options that anyone could make out of it, or find in it, and that will cover everything, in case anyone was wondering if it was the same person.
The one thing you have to do is file your tax returns as the same name you work and pay taxes under, or it will cause problems.
You do whatever you like, of course, it just depends on how much time you really want to spend explaining this to people. (Proud owner of a very common, but nearly always mispronounced name. It's not that you spend your whole life correcting it, it's that they insist on looking at you and then pronouncing it wrong again, as though they were teaching you to pronounce your own name.)
posted by unrepentanthippie at 11:04 AM on July 29, 2006

« Older What's the name for emphasizing the medium?   |   Casual Interview? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.