Wednesday 13 April 2011

Ana-gram from Madrid

I have just put the phone down. It was a pleasant conversation arranging a meeting tomorrow, but it started with a small confusion that, it seems to me at any rate, to be typical of my life here in Spain.
After answering with my cheery “Hello”, the person on the other end asked, “Do you know who this is?” I have to admit the voice was not one I immediately recognised and the consequent hesitation in my voice must have given the game away, because my caller identified herself with, “This is Ana”.

It is a pointer to the confusion in my life that this information was not immediately helpful.

You see, I know several Anas. However, usually, after a few seconds I am able to put name together with the voice and work out which Ana it was. Not this time. It may help you to visualise my initial uncertainty that this Ana was introduced to me by me friend, Ana. If it had been that Ana, who I have known for a long time, I would have recognised her voice immediately. Had it been Ana with whom I used to have lunch every Wednesday for more than two years until her company moved her to an office in Pozuelo, an expanding suburb to the west of Madrid and where, she claims, “Jesus lost his sandals”, I would have known at once without her having to tell me. There is my student, Ana, but she has a very distinctive voice, so I knew it wasn’t her, and I knew it couldn't have been the Ana the inebriate, who I see at my local from time to time. I have never had, nor will have, reason to give her my number. But the Ana on the phone is relatively new in my life. In fact I have met her only three or four times and that was late last year. Since then she has travelled to, and around, South America and has only just returned. I should feel flattered that she has called me to meet. She has, she told me, many things to speak about.

This phenomenon is not unknown at the English Villages I attend. (See last post.) Once with a plethora of Anas present the organisers decided to include the first letter of the family name to help differentiate the ladies. This led to one unfortunate wearing a name tag with “AnaL” on it. This was quickly changed to “Anita”. Another time we had five, yes five, ladies named Eva. We just numbered them, except for the last who was bulging in the eighth month of pregnancy. She was named “Eva Mummy”.

Last summer it was neither a sequence of Anas (would this be an “Ana-logue”?) nor a plethora of Evas (an Eva-luation?) that was making my mind reel, but a quickly growing row, or should that be column, of Pilars. In fact in the month of July alone I entered the numbers of four ladies of that name into my telephone. There, they joined five ladies called Eva, three called Julia, two called Marina, two called Mayte and, of course, a long long line of Marias.

In case you are thinking these list of ladies' names are some indication of a more prurient side of my life I might point out that at one time or another my phone has also contained copious Pedros, Davids, Juans and Pablos.

And, as I like to point out to the Christians who berate me for my evangelical atheism, unlike them I also have a Hot Line to Jesus. In fact several of them – of both sexes. Although Jesus Maria outnumbers Maria Jesus three to two. One of the Anas mentioned above is Ana Jesus and one I only know as Jesus.

My list of Marias that I could say “Ave” to would be much longer, but fortunately Maria Eugenia chooses to call herself “Mariu”, ( and thank goodness for that. Four distinctly pronounced vowels in a row, followed by an “h” sound, is not easy for the English tongue: i-a-e-u-hah!) Maria Isabel is Maribel, another similarly named is Marissa and Maria Teresa number one is Mayte, number two is Maite.

It would seem that the naming of children in Spain has, in the past, seemed a little repetitive. But there would seem to be only a limited number of saints and new testament personages and those are the names that are most favoured. That religious side to the Spanish carácter has had great impact on the giving of names. I have been told that at one time the church, or at least individual priests, demanded that every girl child was baptised Maria, whatever name her parents had chosen. There were, and are, whole families where every woman is officially named Maria Something.

I have also met a family where all four offspring bear the name Maria – and one of them is male!

When a male child is born I can almost guarantee that I know the child’s name before I am told. It will be the father’s name. Sometimes, in this freer age, I will be wrong, but Miguels beget other Miguels and Fernandos beget Fernandos, two examples I am familiar with.

However, this will not necessarily cause confusion as a) the children will have a slightly different surname to their parents, and b) nick-names will be used. I know of three generations of Maria Soledads who each answer to a different contraction of that name.

The Spanish seem slow to change in this respect. There are plenty of Albertos running around in school playgrounds here. I doubt there one Albert in any school in the UK.

I am told that there used to be a list of “official” names and any not included were just not allowed. That has changed, but not necessarily for the good. I have heard that the children of immigrants are being given the most outlandish names; usually after well-known personalities and actors. However, my own country seems to be following this trend with a vengeance. I am sure their will be just as many Catherines born this year as there were Dianas in 1981. As a boy in the 1950s I remember sharing classrooms with a plethora of Annes and Elizabeths. No Charles though! I cannot remember one boy called Charles.

And the double Christian names are no longer required, although I know of only one person with just a single first name.

Occasionally though, I find the odd unusual name. Three years ago I met my first Covadonga, named after the 722 battle of Covadonga, a battle which is said to have kindled the reconquista of Spain from the marauding Muslims, or the place where the battle took place. Apparently it is a relatively common name in Asturias. Now I know three, the third only a week ago, in comparison to the many tens of Marias. I know just one Amparo, which I am told is now very old fashioned, although the lady herself is far from fitting that description. I am jealous of my friend Rafael. What I would give for such a dignified and culturally important, name.

But one particular memory has stayed with me since my early days in Spain. Sitting with friends in a bar I suddenly realised that at either end of a short sofa sat a Maria and a José, and sitting between them was a Jesus. I couldn’t resist. I got down on my knees and ……