The Trouble with My Name

(Originally published in Filipinas in September 1997)

The author enjoys traveling in Latin America, like Colombia above, where his name is not mangled. (Photo courtesy of Rey E. de la Cruz)

The author enjoys traveling in Latin America, like Colombia above, where his name is not mangled. (Photo courtesy of Rey E. de la Cruz)

My full name is Rey Edrozo de la Cruz. Rey means “king” in Spanish. My birthday was close to the feast of the Cristo Rey or Christ the King. As such, the Roman Catholic calendar in the Philippines suggested that Rey be given to a boy born on that day. My mother consulted name books. But having named her first two babies Elmer and Oscar, which are names found in history and the arts, she turned to a Catholic calendar for a change. She didn’t realize she was giving a religious name to a son who would grow up to be irreverent.

Edrozo is my mother’s maiden name. It’s also my middle name. In the Philippines, the mother’s name automatically becomes the child’s middle name, a practice left the Spanish colonizers. I don’t know what Edrozo means, only that it originated in Pallas, Vintar, Ilocos Norte. Having your mother’s name as your middle name makes it easier to trace your roots. Whenever I encounter a person with Edrozo as a middle name or last name, I know right away that we’re related. Also, I suspect that Edrozo, which is a very rare surname in the Philippines, is Portuguese. I met a Portuguese American in Chicago, and his last name is Pedrozo. Maybe Edrozo was originally Pedrozo. Somehow, it got misspelled, and it was never corrected. A linguistic theory that needs further studies!

My last name de la Cruz means “of the Cross” in Spanish, a common Filipino surname whose origin is difficult to trace. It has become the surname of the Filipino everyman, Juan de la Cruz, a national personification of the Philippines. He is usually seen in political cartoons.

The photo was taken when the author was 8 months old. Little did he know that his name would cause him joys and pains someday. (Photo courtesy of Rey E. de la Cruz)

The photo was taken when the author was 8 months old. Little did he know that his name would cause him joys and pains someday. (Photo courtesy of Rey E. de la Cruz)

I have many namesakes back home. Another Rey de la Cruz was an optometrist, who became a manager of movie stars. Many of my high-school classmates thought I rubbed elbows with movie stars. Several years ago, that Rey de la Cruz was murdered. I’m sure my old classmates were amazed that I was alive and kicking when they saw me listed in our class directory.

The old Philippine alphabet system classified de la Cruz as Cruz because de and la are prepositions. I almost didn’t attend the University of the Philippines (UP) because of this. When I didn’t receive my notice of admission, I went to the UP campus and checked my name on the list of admitted students. I couldn’t find my name. I was so disappointed that I almost enrolled at a nearby Jesuit university. All along, de la Cruz was listed under D, the modern alphabetization, which treats de as the first word of my last name. My best friend knew about this. He saw my name on the bulletin board, but he didn’t say a word because he wanted me to enroll at the Jesuit university with him. He’s still my best friend. The mistake was uncovered by another friend, and I managed to attend and graduate from UP.

Coming to America has led to new headaches. Whenever I dictate my name over the phone, my spiel is as follows: “R . . . e . . . y . . . space . . . . capital E . . . period . . . space . . . small d as in David . . . e . . . space . . . capital C as in carrot . . . r . . . u . . . z as in zebra. De la Cruz has three separate words in it.”

I emphasize e in Rey two or three times. But people are usually stubborn. They think I don't spell my first name correctly. They still want to spell it Ray, just like the ray of the sun. I don’t want to be a ray because I’m a king!

I rejoice when the e is in Rey. But not when I’m addressed as Ms. or Mrs. Rey! In the Philippines, Rey is a male. In the U.S., it becomes a gender puzzle.

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One time, I ordered a school catalog. I must have frustrated the girl who took my order with the complex spelling of my full name. When I received the catalog, my name on the label was written—Rey de la Craze!

My friend and I went to a French restaurant in Chicago. I let him add our names to a list of waiting customers. A waiter read the list and shouted, “Rey de la Croix! Your table for two is ready!”--instantly putting me in a French state of mind!

My last name isn’t only frequently misspelled; it’s also often mangled. I’ve received junk mail for Rey D. Cruz. In one instance, De La Cruz became my first, middle, and last name, respectively. I am apprehensive because there seems to be always a room for reinventing my name. To avoid aggravation, I always draw a bracket above my surname and label it last name when I’m filling out any form.

The space in my three-word last name is hardly honored nowadays. Computers usually don’t have space in cyberspace. In my magazine subscriptions and most of the junk mail, de la Cruz becomes DELACRUZ, which I consider to be an abomination. So is another variation: DELA CRUZ. Doesn’t anybody know the importance of the spaces in my last name? As in a poem, a space conveys emptiness, if not a feeling of emptiness. When words in my last name aren’t given space appropriately, I feel I’m packed like sardines.

I was fortunate to receive a scholarship from a Polish American foundation to study at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, Poland, for one summer. Almost all the students in the program had Polish ancestry. An out-of-state Polish travel agency handled the travel arrangements. When I called to make reservations, a Polish lady answered the phone. She asked me to spell my full name as written on my U.S. passport. After I complied, she wondered, “What kind of a Polish name is this?” My friends said I should have made my last name de la Cruziski to avoid disorienting the lady.

My last name isn’t only frequently misspelled; it’s also often mangled.

In the grade school where I teach, complications emerged when the new science teacher and assistant principal, Ms. Cruz, entered the scene. She is of Puerto Rican ancestry. Cruz and de la Cruz apparently looked the same, especially on a paycheck. Our school clerk mistakenly gave me Ms. Cruz’s paycheck twice. I related the anecdote to Ms. Cruz. After learning about my degrees and years of service, she said she didn’t mind receiving my paycheck because she assumed it was bigger than hers.

I worked briefly in an office at night. I once had a co-worker who admired my last name. He thought it sounded divine. He compared it to the last name de Laurentiis, referring to the famous Italian producer, Dino de Laurentiis.

A few years later, I earned a title—a doctorate in special education. I had a friend from Thailand, who I met at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois, who had difficulty saying my name. So he just called me Dr. Rey. One early morning, the school phone rang and my principal answered it. He called out to me, “Dr. Rey, you have a phone call!” I knew right away it was my Thai friend.

It wasn’t always that convenient. From out of the blue, my HMO rechristened me: Rey E. de. I kept notifying my HMO about the mistake. A new identification card would be reissued with my correct name, they promised. A few weeks later, my name was wrong again. Their clerks always spent about 15 minutes locating my name in the computer. Scheduling doctor’s appointments became a problem. I wrote a letter to the customer-service director: “How do I expect you to save my life? You can’t even save the dignity of my name!” I received written and oral apologies from my HMO. My name was corrected. Then, it was debased again. Another cycle started. I gave up. Either an evil spirit possessed their computer system, or there was an HMO employee who got cheap thrills from torturing my name.

Once, I preregistered for an out-of-state convention. On the day of the convention, I was refused admittance to the convention because the registration clerks couldn’t find my name in the computer. I had to walk seven blocks to my hotel room just to get my registration confirmation. When I returned, the director of meetings, ready to do damage control, explained that the clerks typed De La Cruz, which was incompatible with the way it was saved: de la Cruz. The organization’s computer system was finicky about the difference between upper and lower cases. I didn't take the incident sitting down. I wrote to complain about the treatment I received. While I understand that mistakes happen, no other ways were explored before I was refused admittance. Why didn’t the clerks call their supervisor or call their accounting office? Why didn’t they call the credit-card company to verify my payment? Instead, I was subjected to embarrassment, time loss, and stress. I would’ve been treated better if my name was Jones or Smith. I pointed out to the organization that their personnel need training in dealing with diverse names and exceptional ones like mine.

Yes, my name has caused me joys and pains. Although sometimes I don’t get respect, I notice that I develop commitment from others. Because of the effort exerted in writing, spelling, or pronouncing my full name, people remember me more. When I presented identification card to an HMO clerk, she recognized it as the name that she had corrected a few months earlier. She said, “See, I told you that we would have your name fixed.” I didn’t reply. I had purposely left my newest identification card at home. My name on that card: Rey de. Go figure!

Rey E. de la Cruz

Rey E. de la Cruz

Rey E. de la Cruz, Ed.D., Positively Filipino correspondent, writes from Chicagoland when he is not loving the arts and traveling. He is the author of the children’s book, Ballesteros on My Mind: My Hometown in the Philippines, which also has Ilocano, Spanish, and Tagalog versions.

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