x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

'Angeles, like the city' - is that really too complicated?

It's not easy having four names, as a Spanish journalist in the UAE has discovered.

Don't misunderstand me. Maria is a beautiful first name. But it just isn't my real given name.

So why do people so often call me Maria? The reason is that I, like a substantial number of Spanish women, have a compound name, Maria Angeles. And when I started travelling outside my home country, as a student, I found out that the two-word name seems to be too long for the majority of my foreign interlocutors.

This problem became serious for me when I became a journalist and started to publish by-lined articles.

The limited space in the newspaper's format posed quite a challenge. The full Maria Angeles Espinosa didn't always fit. On different days, copy editors would come out with variations: M Angeles Espinosa or Maria A Espinosa.

That was not helping me to establish a recognisable journalistic presence. Finally I settled for Angeles Espinosa, because Maria precedes almost a third of Spanish women's names, according to official statistics. I thought it would be better to be distinct.

Shortly after, I was posted to Beirut where the charming director of the Press Center decided that Maria was easier for him. This angered me, and it didn't help that a colleague from another media outlet, who had chosen to be known as Maria to shorten her long name, had just left town, leaving behind a degree of notoriety with which I didn't want to be associated.

That's when I found my line: "Angeles, like the American city Los Angeles - same name because the city was founded by Spaniards."

It worked, and I had the name of my choice - until September 11, 2001. In the security paranoia that followed, all of a sudden plane tickets had to be issued with exactly the same name as in the passport.

I started to have problems claiming my frequent-flyer miles: my cards read Angeles Espinosa and my passport … well, you know.

In addition, we Spaniards have more than one surname; we each keep both our father's surname and our mother's. Boarding passes don't have enough room for it all. Both family names appear and in my case the space runs out after "Maria". Since there is no way an airport gate attendant, or anybody else, can read an eight-syllable surname, they address me as … "Ms Maria". Back to square one.

Although I travel a lot, I tried to overlook this. But then, two years ago, I moved to Dubai. that's when the issue really got out of hand.

Faced with the four names in my passport, different organisations I deal with all got different ideas. So I became Maria Espinosa for the cable television service; Maria Angeles plus my mother's surname for the utilities company; Maria Espinosa plus my mother's surname for another company, and MariaAngelesEspinosa (with no spaces) for my mobile-telephone provider. The bank changed the order of the surnames. What the insurance company did I don't even want to know.

Whatever combination they each use, Maria is always there. Any yet I still don't recognise myself in that name. Everybody in my private and professional life has been referring to me as Angeles for over 20 years. When Dubai companies call and ask for Ms Maria, my automatic response is "sorry, wrong number".

I understand the need to record the complete legal name of travellers, or customers. But computer technology should be able to help avoid this kind of identity mess, that I'm sure affects many other people too. It shouldn't be difficult to add to the registration forms a line where customers could write the names they commonly use. Elsewhere on the forms, full official passport details can still be entered for formal identification purposes.

In the meantime, if you want to sell me a new data plan for my phone, a gym membership or anything else, please don't call me Maria.


Angeles Espinosa is the Dubai Correspondent of the Spanish newspaper El Pais

On Twitter: @AngelesELPAIS