Should Julieta Venegas’ daughter carry her father’s name?

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Glancing through the news a few days ago, one particular noticia caught my eye. Julieta Venegas, the renowned Mexican-American singer has been raising her daughter Simona as a single mom for three years now. But recently, Rodrigo Garcia Prieto, Simona’s biological father, is seeking legal action to gain custody of his daughter. DNA tests have proven him to be her biological father, and the Mexican court is now granting him joint custody, requiring that Venegas “acknowledge him as the father, and that the child carry his name.”

This could be a good thing. Non-abusive, loving fathers should have just as much right to be in the lives of their children as mothers. What made me blink was the news that Simona will now have to take on the Garcia Prieto name.

Here’s the thing: in Mexico, as in most of Latin America, and Spain, where the tradition originates, most children are given two last names, that of their mother and their father. When girls marry, however, they most often drop their mother’s name and take on their husband’s last name (which was carried down from his father). So Simona Garcia Prieto Venegas (if that is indeed the combination she will have) becomes Simona Garcia Prieto [husband's father's surname]. And if and when she chooses to marry a man and abide by traditional naming norms, she would drop her mother’s last name, and keep father’s last name and add her husband’s father’s last name.

So, by granting Garcia Prieto joint custody and requiring that his daughter carry his name, the Mexican court is essentially requiring that his name be passed on instead of Venegas’, that Simona’s father automatically be considered more important to her identity than her mother. This of course happens within all families in Mexico where there is a mother and a father. In most cases, there is an implied consensus between two participating parents who choose to name their child based on old patriarchal naming standards. In this case however, it is the government that is enforcing patriarchal laws onto Venegas and her daughter. Almost as if Mexico was still a feudal state where property bares the name or mark of its male owner. Oh wait, that’s where this whole naming practice came from, isn’t it?

Let me be clear: this practice is in no way unique to Mexico. In Brazil, surnames are passed down patrilineally in such a systematic manner you would think it is law. The same is true throughout most of Latin America, and we in the U.S. have our own version to negotiate.

So maybe this is not just about one family’s disputes over naming. Venegas’ case is a great example of just how outdated this naming system really is. We need a system that represents the various types of families that exist in today’s society, and provides mothers an equal importance within their child’s identity as fathers.

What do you think? Is this a fair and square decision based on equal parenting rights, or does it smack of patriarchy to you? Tell me (@JulianaBrittoS) what you think over on Twitter.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted October 9, 2013 at 4:39 am | Permalink

    Do we know if Venegas is disputing the name change? That’s not to say she wouldn’t receive some pressure to acquiescence, but even if she opposed paternity or custody, that doesn’t necessitate that she opposes tradition. As for naming, the way I look at it is simple. If the mother can choose the first and middle names, the father should be able to choose the last.

    • Posted October 9, 2013 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know whether she is disputing the name change separately from the custody change or not. That’s up to her, my point is more about the state’s requirement, not her own opinions about it. In regards to your last sentence, I don’t agree. The last name is the name that is passed on through generations, so it really holds more weight than the middle and first. Also, she chose Simona’s first and middle because she was the only person raising her at the time.

      • Posted October 9, 2013 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

        ” The last name is the name that is passed on through generations”

        That may be true in Mexico. I’m not familiar with the traditions, but that’s not completely true in the U. S. I would suspect in any case that at some point Venegas would be replaced by another name in at least part of the family tree.

        When people get married in the U.S. especially girls they often take their husband’s last name. I’ve even seen husbands and wives adopt a hyphenated mix of last names. On very rare occasions, I’ve seen a husband adopt his wife’s last name. People have also changed names when converting to another religion. Sometimes a last name doesn’t even last one generation. I do think that there is a special significance to a last name. It signals family. That’s why many women chose to change it.

        It’s probably worth discussing, but even if you go the hyphenated route, the names will eventually get too unwieldy and someone is going to get dropped. I still think the parent that doesn’t have their last name used whether father or mother should be able to decide on the child’s first and middle names. You won’t get a fair system so you aim for what is closest to fair.

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