Crossing Cultures: Identification

We are used to being identified by a few key pieces of information, typically including full name, possibly maiden name, Social Security number, driver’s license number, and birthdate. Some of that information is widely known, while some is protected in order to protect our identity, our uniqueness and access to personal things. 

Not surprising, Peru has a different system that has continued to confuse me. On the one hand, it is simpler and gives more background information right off the bat. On the other hand, the rules as to how to change one’s identification in order to communicate certain changes or facts are a little complex. Here is the idea, as clearly as I have understood it up to this point. 

First, Peruvians have four names - first name, middle name, first last name (paternal), and second last name (maternal), as shown. 

First Name Middle Name Paternal Surname Maternal Surname 

Whether they use their first or middle name as what they prefer to be called varies widely. The first surname is their father’s paternal surname. The second is their mother’s paternal surname. Thus, the child of Joe Bob Brown and Sarah Ann Jones would be called Tommy David Brown Smith Parker Jones, carrying on the paternal surname of each parent in their respective positions. (Confused yet?) Thus, upon meeting a child, one who is familiar with the common family names of the community would likely recognize whose child it is. However, this is not the case when the father either is unidentified or declines to recognize the existence of the child. Then, the child carries the paternal surname of the mother as both of his surnames. In this instance, the child of Sarah Ann Jones Parker would be called Tommy David Jones Jones. On an interesting side note, it now makes sense why we have received odd looks when giving Cora’s name as Cora Elise Smith Smith (which is her Peruvian name), since both of our last names are Smith. To them, it would appear that her father is not recognizing her existence, even though Kyle is standing there with me. No wonder they are confused. 

Speaking of having the same last name as the husband, how do the names change upon marriage? There are options. One is that nothing changes. This is the most common, especially in cases where someone has established their career or received degrees or recognition under their given name. However, if the woman chooses to take her husband’s name, she keeps her paternal surname and replaces the maternal with her husband’s paternal last name, adding “de” in between them. So, Sarah Ann Jones Parker who marries Joe Bob Brown Smith could choose to become Sarah Ann Jones de Brown. This is why we only refer to Peruvian families as “Alfredo and Judith” unlike saying “The McKinzies”. It doesn’t work when no on in the family actually has the same last names. 

Wondering how they avoid confusion in official capacities? They have a DNI. It’s a national identification card that can be obtained for anyone born in Peru soon after birth. It kind of combines a driver’s license and Social Security number. They must have their DNI to enroll in school, make transactions at a bank, vote, sign documents, open or handle accounts, etc. Their number is unique and never changes, like a Social Security number, but is used freely, much like a driver’s license number. This prevents them relying on their names alone, just in case there is someone else with their exact name combination.