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peña

This being a story about my family, it’s possible, even likely, that I’ve written it all before. But something new showed up today, so I’ll repeat myself to give context.

My sister was browsing through ancestry.com, and found a draft registration card for my Spanish grandfather. This was 1917 or 1918, and he was in America, so I’m not sure why he had to register, but that just shows my ignorance. I can’t reproduce the document here … well, I’m not going to try, anyway, I didn’t pay the website so hands off it is. But I can describe what it says.

Outside of the signature, I think someone else filled out the form … and perhaps there was a translator, as well, I don’t know if my grandfather spoke much English in 1917.

At the top is his name, listed as Miguel Rubio Pena (no tilde, which is one reason I think someone other than my grandfather was writing). He already lived in Antioch. He was 35 years old, white (there were five choices, including Negro, Oriental, and two Indians that I can’t quite make out). He was an alien … it’s interesting, his country is listed as Espana (no tilde again), not Spain. He was a laborer in a factory (can’t read the name), and was married to Francisca EsPinosa (first name misspelled, “Es” added after the fact, one more piece in the he-didn’t-fill-it-out puzzle). At the bottom is his signature, and the handwriting matches another document I have with his signature, so it’s him this time. And his name is spelled with a tilde at last, Miguel Rubio Peña. (He was listed on the ship’s manifest for their voyage to California as “M.R. Peña.”)

That last word is interesting, because in the other signature I’ve seen, he signed his name simply Miguel Rubio. His tombstone reads “Rubio” as well (and the year of birth on the tombstone is 1884, while it’s 1882 on the draft card).

OK, that’s the new-to-us stuff … thanks to my sister for digging it up. Now comes the part where I tell an old story about my name.

Here’s how legend has it. My older brother’s middle name came from my mother’s side of the family, so when I was born, it was my dad’s turn. The story I was told, which is probably apocryphal, is that my mom called her mother-in-law on the phone and asked for her maiden name. My grandmother never lost her thick accent when speaking English, and whatever she said, my mom didn’t understand her but was embarrassed to ask her to repeat herself. So she guessed, and that’s why my middle name is Penner, a name that no one else in the family has ever had, far as I know.

The story never made a lot of sense … for one thing, my grandmother’s maiden name was Espinosa, and I don’t know how you get from that to Penner, no matter how hard it was to understand Grandma. But this Peña thing makes sense. My wife was the first one to figure this out, some years ago, and more and more I think she was right. My middle name is a jumbled English version of Peña.

Robin thinks I should have my name legally changed to Steven Peña Rubio, but that seems like a lot of trouble, just as it seemed like a lot of trouble when I thought perhaps I could apply for dual American/Spanish citizenship. So I’ll probably die with the middle name Penner. But I’ve always hated that name ... maybe someday.

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