For most of my life, I went by the last name Patino. I remember knowing pretty early on that my last name was supposed to be Patiño but honestly– I felt silly using it. I went through phases of writing “Patiño” on my papers in school but I typically was only brave enough to actually use my name in Spanish class. And I certainly was never going to correct someone on the pronunciation. What’s the big deal anyway?
Patiño was the last name that was passed down to me by my 4x great-grandmother. That’s right. My grandmother–not grandfather. A woman gave me my last name. More here about that. However, sometime in between the World Wars, the ñ was used less and less according to my great-grandpa Chico. A lot of my family lived on the border of Texas and Mexico and frequently lived between both worlds. Patiño is a Mexican name. But Patino? You just might be Italian. My family started dropping the ñ out of a need to assimilate and to be deemed more acceptable. My family didn’t want people to immediately look down on them and judge them because of a name. It was easier. It was safer.
If my family before me didn’t care to use Patiño why should I? That’s what I thought for a while at least. But that’s when I realized that it’s not that they didn’t care. They weren’t allowed to care. Technically, they chose to drop the ñ, but I’d say the choice was made for them. Realizing this made me angry. I was and am angry at the society that created the space that made my family feel like a ñ was too difficult. Too much of an inconvenience.
So, I decided that I was going to be an inconvenience. There’s no way this was my idea though. I believe that my ancestors prompt me and help guide me. I felt that they were prompting me to take back what is rightfully ours. Our name. It’s not the journey for everyone but I’m lucky enough to be able to assert myself relatively safely now. I get the choice that my family was falsely given. I chose Patiño.
And it’s okay if you don’t know how to pronounce Patiño–I’ll teach you. Pa-teen-yo. That’s my name. “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say…” Patiño.
(adapted quote from Uzoamaka Aduba)
My family is Mexican-American on my Dad’s side. Some immigrated more recently from Mexico, some have been in the Texas region since before AfroEurAsia even knew they existed. My great-grandmother’s name was Andrea (On-dre-a). In some ways, you could say she inspired this personal project of mine since her name is my middle name. Her name carries meaning. It carries stories. I have a lot of grandmothers and a lot grandfathers and they all have names that carry meaning. I find a lot of meaning in those names. Sometimes, the best history starts with a name.
This blog will serve as a holding spot. It’s a holding spot for stories about the names of my ancestors. Of course, it may not literally be an explanation behind the meaning of their name. But the more you read these stories you’ll see that it’s always been about so much more than a name. The name is just where it begins.