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Four New Names to Know

September 14, 2011

Johan Esteban Chaves (Colombia es Pasion website)

A New Name

Johan Esteban Chaves Rubio. Remember this name. Yes, he’s Colombian, born in Bogota in 1990. The elevation of Bogota is 8,612 feet (2,625 meters). You get the idea. Johan Esteban Chaves just won the 2011 edition of the Tour de l’Avenir — tour of the riders of the future, as it is an under-23 event for riders ages 19 – 22.

The Tour de l’Avenir fields riders by country, not by team. France won the team classification this year, with Colombia a close second. Earlier in the race, which consists of a prologue plus seven stages, Johan Esteban wore the polka dot jersey in stages one and three. Garikoitz Bravo of Spain won the final mountains classification; Johan Esteban took second.

Chavez rode in the Team Colombia es Pasion colors, which I like because of the word “passion” in the name — and the jersey sports a heart motif. The team’s mission, found on its website, inspires: “Through our cycling team and their performance in competitions outside of Colombia, we intend to improve the country’s image, to rescue its credibility, trust, products and people.” (using Google translate from the original Spanish)

Colombian Department of Cundinamarca

Bogota is in the department of  Cundinamarca. The department of Antioquia, which sponsors the GOB team cycling fans discovered this past August when team members like Henao and Acevedo flew past the peloton with attacks and stage wins, lies just to the west. Bogota and the department of Cundinamarca lie along the spine of a range of the Andes mountains in the middle of the country. Sounds like it provides fine training territory for aspiring pro-cyclists.

What’s in a Name

Most Colombians, as well as people in all Hispanic countries, have both a maternal and paternal surname and will use both. The origin of the use of both surnames seems to have come about from Arabic influence on Spain (and hence to Colombia when Spain colonized the country). It took me, I kid you not, hours to find this explanation of “why two names.” Plenty of websites explained where each of the two surnames come from in the families, but not the root “why,” which felt imperative for me to know and share. Apparently Arabic naming traditions reflected the names of the child’s ancestors, and this is why the hispanic naming tradition preserves both paternal and maternal lineage. The practice of carrying two surnames also permits a woman to continue to carry the father’s family name down to her children, and thus the father’s family name will not end if he is blessed with just daughters and no sons. It feels very patriarchical, but I kind of like that names don’t disappear, but continue; it provides a more complete picture of family history and ancestry.

The father’s surname is first of the two surnames and is the one used in conversation. This is why I called Johan Esteban “Chaves” and not “Rubio.” This becomes very important in calling bike races. During one of the stages in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, the official Twitter account mentioned “Suarez” as a member of the break. The person manning the account had selected the second surname to identify the rider. Calling the rider Suarez led me to conclude the rider in question was Juan Pablo Suarez Suarez, while in fact the rider in the break was Eduard Alexander Beltran Suarez. I replied to one of the account’s Tweets, and henceforth the correct name of Beltran was used.

Here is a fine explanation of the derivation of a person’s two surnames, from an American woman who married a Colombian.

“The word used in Spanish in order to ask for what we call a LAST NAME is APELLIDO, which is more closely translated as SURNAME. In Colombia, as well as all Hispanic countries, most people will have 2 APELLIDOS — called the FIRST and SECOND APELLIDOS. The person’s first surname (apellido) is their father’s first surname and the second surname (apellido) is the mother’s first surname, what we call ‘the mother’s maiden name’ in the U.S.

Here’s an example:

Father’s Apellidos: García Gómez

Mother’s Apellidos: Osorio Pérez

Child’s Apellidos: García Osorio”

Why do we often see two names before the two surnames? Spanish does not use a “middle name” per se, but rather a second first name (“segundo nombre”). According to, two nombres instead of one occur for a variety of reasons. Traditionally, many Hispanic children take a saint’s name, especially the patron saint of their birthday. A second name can be added “in honor of other saints (and therefore increase divine protection) or to honor other relatives. Many traditional names (like ‘Ana’) are so popular that a second (or third) name is included to avoid any confusion (e.g. ‘Ana María,’ ‘Ana Lucía’).” A person will decide if he prefers to use just one or both nombres.

So now we understand why, to remember the name of the winner of this year’s Tour de l’Avenir, we must recall four names: Johan Esteban Chaves Rubio.

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