It Was My Grandmother’s

It Was My Grandmother’s

Last names often are passed down patrilineally–through the father. My last name is Patiño because it’s my Dad’s last name. My Dad has his last name through my grandfather Manuel. My grandfather has his last name through my great grandfather Chico. My great grandfather has his last name through my great great grandfather Manuel Sr.. My great great grandfather has his last name through my great great great grandfather Louis. And my great great great grandfather has his last name through my great great great great grandmother. His mother. Not his father.

Not entirely patrilineal.

This is the story about how I have my last name because of my 4x great grandmother. We’ll call her Abuela Patiño. This story was originally told to my Dad through Grandpa Chico. Abuela Patiño was Grandpa Chico’s great grandmother. She would have been alive sometime around the 1850s. She was an Indigenous woman to the Northern Mexico & Southern Texas region. Before Texas was America’s and before it was Mexico’s, and before it was Spain’s… it was my grandmother’s.

She was a servant on a ranch for the Shepherds, a German family. We’re unsure of the actual spelling of the last name and it could have originally been Schaefer too, but it was some variation of Shepherd. I almost knew the spelling–because Shepherd was almost my last name.

As a servant, my Abuela Patiño became pregnant by the owner of the ranch–Mr. Shepherd. The situation of how consensual this was is unclear and even if was “consensual” I’m not sure how consensual it could have been when Abuela Patiño was a young Indigenous woman working for a wealthy German family in the Desert Southwest. But nevertheless, she was pregnant.

Of course, having a baby with your servant is already scandalous enough, but Mr. Shepherd was also married… and not to Abuela Patiño. Needless to say, Mrs. Shepherd was more than unhappy when she found out about the father of my Abuela Patiño’s baby.

Louis. Half Indigenous. Half German. My 3x great grandfather.

Mrs. Shepherd made sure that Louis would never be able to claim a single penny from the Shepherds. How? You don’t allow him to have the Shepherd last name. Even though Louis was a bastard child, he could still have possibly claimed some inheritance after Mr. Shepherd died if Louis held the Shepherd last name. Mr. & Mrs. Shepherd also had children together so if Louis had received any inheritance, it would have meant less for Mrs. Shepherd’s children. I’m sure Mrs. Shepherd has a lot to do with Louis not being named Louis Shepherd, but I also have to believe that my Abuela Patiño used the little agency she did have to choose differently. Choose a different name. Our name.

I don’t know how long my Abuela Patiño worked for the Shepherds after having Louis, but I do know at least one tie was broken. Louis, and the rest of my family, would be not be tied to the Shepherds in name. If I’m being honest, I’m grateful for that. Louis was named Louis Patiño. Patiño is my grandmother’s last name. My grandmother’s name.

It’s impressive enough that I know my 3x great grandfather’s name was Louis Patiño considering he was born sometime in the mid-1800s, was a bastard child, wasn’t rich, and wasn’t white. It can be difficult to trace non-white, not rich, not legally married, families that far back. But we can. I feel incredibly grateful. And I still want more. Just one step more. 

I call her Abuela Patiño because I don’t know her name. She’s the reason I have the last name I do and I don’t even know her name. I want to. I want to look through all the records and archives and find her name somehow. I hope to one day be able to afford the time and money to do all of that research. I could do all that and still not find her name. It simply may not be in the records.

But that’s part of why I’m doing all this–writing down my family’s stories. A lot of it won’t be found in records. We’re just average people with family stories. Most of us are. I hope to find my Abuela Patiño’s name. And if I don’t, these stories are her name too.



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)