I know there are some people out there on my Facebook wondering why I haven’t changed my last name on there. I got married, right?


Well, let me tell you that it is not due to some random feminist streak I had. There is no reason for me to keep my last name. (Even if I am the last “Downs” of my line, I like the idea of taking my husband’s last name.)

First, location is a huge issue. In order to change your name on anything, you have to go in person to do so. I am in Chile, which hinders my ability to walk into the millions of different places that I am required to change my name in.

The main reason, however, is a difference of culture. In Chile, no one changes their name when they get married. It surprised me, especially since in Spanish 101, we had an entire section devoted to exactly how the women change their last names. Just because you learn it in college doesn’t make it true, I am afraid.

In Chile, for naming purposes, it is different. Each person has a first, middle, and two last names. There was even a law here for a long time (until 2008 — see here) that dictated which names to pass down from parents to their children. It stated that children had to have the first last name of each of the parents passed down (which is the father’s last name of each parent, the mother’s last name is the second last name). So, if two people with the first last name got together, their child would have the name double. No matter what.

Ex. María Gonzalez Lopez marries José Castillo Rivera — Each of their children would have the last names Castillo Gonzalez, in that order.

They ended up having to change the law because another part of it stated that kids that were born out of wedlock and had the dad skip out were required to put the mother’s first last name twice. Well, it made it really easy for all the bullies to figure out which kids didn’t have dads. It pretty much made it hell for the poor things. So, nowadays you can name your kid what you want, but they still have to have two last names.

Also, in order to change your name in Chile, you have to go to court. It is a judicial matter. There are only four cases under which one is allowed to change their name: If it is ridiculous or emotionally damaging, if you have been known for 5 years under another name, for kids that have only one last name or both last names the same, or if you want to make your name sound more Spanish and change the pronunciation. Getting married does not qualify you for such a change.

Due to those reasons, it is unheard of here for the woman to change her name. If I changed my name when I was in the States and came back, I would get a lot of questions, people thinking we were related, or that it was some strange coincidence that we had the same last name. When I mentioned changing my last name to Felipe before we were married, he asked me, “Why would you do that?” After I explained my reasoning, he was flattered, but told me it was my decision.

Then, he told me the cutest story in the world:

“One day, I was writing my name on a school paper when I was little, and my mom came in. She saw that I was writing my full name, Felipe Román Peña. Here, most people only use both last names on official documents, and use only their first last name for everything else. So, she asked me why I was using both of my last names. I didn’t have to write both of them. I told her it was because I am a Peña too, not just a Román. Her eyes got all teary and she didn’t ask any more. Since then, I have always used both.”

I am pretty sure my love grew for him a lot with just that anecdote. I always think about it every time that someone asks me why I haven’t changed my last name. If we were to have our kids down here, they would have two last names. I like the idea of them having my last name as well. Especially since we are from two different cultures, languages and countries…I like to think that their names will reflect that. They will be Chilean-American; a Román and a Downs, and it will be a part of them for as long as they live. I really like the significance and symbolism that it represents.

In other words, we have pretty much decided that I will not change my name. Not for lack of respect, not for feminism, but for a difference in culture, and for my future children to never forget that they are of two cultures, and two families that love them dearly.

Therefore, I am and will always be Caitlin Downs.