Peruvian names

Did you hear Ringo Star is getting married in Peru?  No, not that Ringo Starr, just someone who shares his name.  It’s not uncommon in Peru for people to have famous names.  There are probably a hundred Michael Jacksons and John Lennons in Peru, a famous person’s name used as a baby’s given names. I’m told there are even kids with names like Exmen (X-men), just for something famous.

The thing about it is, perhaps the parents just liked the name or maybe they thought a famous name would help their child in life.  Peruvians place a lot of value on names. There are many ethnic influences in Peru and people tend to think they know a person by their name.  Huaman, Quispe?  That person must be Quechua (native Indian).  De La Vega?  Surely s/he’s a descendant of the Spanish Conquistadores.  Then you have European names, Asian immigrants and so on.  In Peru babies take both parents last names, so if someone’s last name is Perez Wicht they must be half Dutch and half Spanish right?

Of course if you know your family history it may be correct to make those conclusions but Peruvians take the last name identity much further.  A politician runs an ad, many people right away draw a conclusion about who that person is and what they will stand for in politics based on the person’s last names.  The university here publishes a list of kids who are accepted every year and it’s a local sport in Cusco to start rambling about which ethnic groups are the most favored or intelligent based on the names of the kids who got into the university.  Same for names of business owners, crime reports in the newspaper, etc etc.  Peruvians often think they know the “type of person” by the last names.

But it’s all bogus.

I flew down to Peru a while back with an ex FAP pilot.  He was a real war hero but doesn’t act like one. He said: “I know my names but that doesn’t mean anything.  There are so many influences in Peru, we’re all a big mix.”

Certainly for most people in the big cities that sentiment is true. Here’s why last names don’t mean as much as many Peruvians would like to think: babies take the first of both parents last names.

  • If “Carlos Kennedy Mamani” marries “Raquel Vanderbilt Condori” their kids will be “Robert Kennedy Vanderbilt” or “Mary Kennedy Vanderbilt” and make no mistake about it, many people will think kids with those last names must be really really special.
  • But if “Carlos Mamani Kennedy” marries “Raquel Condori Vanderbilt” their kids will be “Robert Mamani Condori” or “Mary Mamani Condori” and sadly be judged as just another Quechua kid.

Same ancestry with the names in a different order and the kids last names are entirely different. What’s in a name? Not as much as some Peruvians would like to believe.

* * *

As for the “real” Ringo Starr, back in the day some people said he wasn’t all that good of a drummer, compared to the likes of Keith Moon or John Bonham. He once responded to that saying something along the lines of “look at the guys I was playing with, it wasn’t about me or big impressive solos”.

While we’re on the drums, so you don’t have to sit by the radio all month waiting for it😉

2 thoughts on “Peruvian names

  1. I was in a TV advert with a few friends of mine for a local business here in Tarapoto. The cameraman — a really nice guy — told us his name was Hitler. Fair enough, we thought. He gave us his business card after the shoot, and it turned out that his given names were Adolfo Hitler. I guess if you choose a famous name from history, you should at least do a little research before the christening….

  2. Thanks for the comment Tony. I had heard that as well, that people use the name “Hitler”, just never known anybody who actually met or knew someone by that name. It’s really sad because the parents likely had no idea of that person’s place in history.

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