…whose name I do not wish to recall…
Malaga. It is eleven o’clock in the evening of 25 October 1881. Doña María gives birth to a boy. Dead, they believe, because she neither moves nor breathes. The uncle of the creature, present there, of medical profession and prophetic name Salvador, expels a puff of smoke from his cigar over the mouth of the newborn and the child breaks to cry. Named after Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad. Some authors add to the string Martyr Patricio Clito, if they were not enough. They didn’t care, nobody remembers him for any of them. Not even by the surname of his father, Ruiz. History knows him by the name of his mother, Doña María, that his ancestors brought from Italy: Picasso.
It is evident that the famous painter from Malaga is the undisputed winner of a competition with honoured finalists, such as Diego Rivera (Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao) or Dalí (Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto). But what about painters and eternal names? Is there any correlation between the number of names and pictorial quality? Everything could point to yes, because the full name of Antonio López is: Antonio. But is this really so? And, more importantly, is a sparkling name necessary to succeed?
When you intend to leave your name written in history, it is important to know if you want to be called by name, surname, middle name, initials, pseudonym, nickname… There are those who doubt: “My name is Bond, James Bond”. Who doubts much: Prince, the artist formerly known as Prince, His Purple Majesty… Who doubts badly: Tamara, Amber, Yurena. But in the end, who else, who less, everyone has an afternoon to think if they want to be Homer Simpson, or Max Power. Because if you get careless, history chooses for you.
It may happen that you have a choice of several (too many) first names. Some people get their first name, like Camille Anastacia Kendall Maria Nicola Claudel, or some people get their last name, like Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo Calderón.
Or you may not have a choice, as society decided that women like Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin or Agatha Marie Clarisa Miller would go down in history with the surnames of their husbands, Shelley and Christie, respectively.
Tell me where you’re from and I’ll tell you what I call you
There are those who slightly vary its name to adapt it to a new country, as did Andrej Warhola or Marcus Rothkowitz. As long as the adoptive country is not Spain, because here, anything can happen to you. From the moment your surname is Spanish, and you stop being Hyeronymus Bosch to become El Bosco, to your nationality, which is what happened to Domenikos Theotokópoulos, El Greco.
And it is not only something exclusive to artists: in 1808 José Napoleón Bonaparte, then king of Spain, was baptised with the castizo name Pepe Botella. There has never been a worse nickname for an abstemious. But humour always could. If not, ask the good Leopoldo Estéfano Carlos Antonio Gustavo Eduardo Tásilo of Hohenzollem-Sigmaringen, one of the three or four serious candidates for the throne of Spain after Isabel II, who ended up occupying Amadeo de Saboya. And it is that before the impossibility that the Spaniards pronounce the surname of Hohenzollem-Sigmaringen (try it), they ended up calling him “Olé olé si me eligen”.
Better known as…
There are those who have the option of choosing the name with which to go down in history, such as Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov or Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, whom we know by their war names, Lenin (in honor of the river Lena) and Stalin (who added to the word “steel” in Russian the suffix of his predecessor, Lenin).
Those who choose their own name do so for a multitude of reasons. Gustavo Adolfo Claudio Domínguez Bastida decides, like his father and several members of his family, to adopt the flamenco surname of his ancestors, Bécquer. Charles Edouard Jeanneret also wanted to honour his grandmother’s surname, modifying it slightly to sound like a “crow” in French, so Lecorbésier became Le Corbusier.
Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto did not want his father, a railwayman, to be ashamed of having a poet son, so he began to sign his texts as Pablo Neruda. Something similar happened to Eric Arthur Blair, who, in order for his parents not to associate him with some of his publications, joined the name of the patron saint of England with that of an emblematic English river and became known as George Orwell.
Writer Samuel Langhorne Clemens adopted as a pseudonym an expression from his previous work as a riverboat pilot that meant something like “mark two,” which is why some of the best literary adventures are signed by Mark Twain.
However, if your name is José Victoriano González Pérez and you want to be a painter, we will all agree that Juan Gris is a great pseudonym.
It can also happen that you insist on choosing a name to pass on to posterity, like Richard Bachman, and everyone ends up knowing you (thank God) for the name your parents gave you, Stephen King.
What would your name be without you?
The only conclusion we can reach is that there are great names, original, hooked, marvelous, that never went down in history, for those who possessed them did nothing for it; and great men and women worthy of a page in the tale of humanity, and proudly bearing the name which your next door neighbor might bear. For, in the words of the poet Ángel Gonzalez (a name as valid as any for a great poet), “What would your name be without you? Just like the word rose without the rose: an incomprehensible, clumsy, hollow noise”.
La única conclusión a la que podemos llegar es que hay grandes nombres, originales, con gancho, maravillosos, que nunca pasaron a la historia, pues quienes los poseían no hicieron nada para ello; y grandes hombres y mujeres dignos merecedores de una página en el relato de la humanidad, y que llevan con orgullo el nombre que podría llevar tu vecino del quinto. Porque, en palabras del poeta Ángel González (un nombre tan válido como cualquiera para ser un gran poeta), “¿Qué sería tu nombre sin ti? Igual que la palabra rosa sin la rosa: un ruido incomprensible, torpe, hueco”.
So now you know, keep your name, modify it, change it, invent one… do what you want, but call yourselves what you will, do what you can to get into history.
And if you haven’t liked these lines, or are admirers of Antonio López, remember that my name is Editor nº 3 of Patio de Sombras.