Jill Leovy has an excellent piece in today’s L.A. Times titled Their true names die with them. It’s about the apparent inability of LAPD to understand the conventions of Spanish (and Korean, and other foreign) names, and record them properly.
The LAPD’s most basic arrest form — the “5.10” — is designed according to English name conventions. It provides spaces for “last name, first name, middle name,” a format that all but guarantees a Spanish name will be botched, because it won’t fit into the spaces.
Why is that? Leovy explains:
Latin American name conventions differ from those of the United States. Drawn from many countries, with varied and irregular spellings, U.S. surnames form a diverse pool. A Bill Bratton or a Wolfgang Puck or a Tom Cruise is recognizable even without a middle name.
But in Spanish-speaking countries, there are relatively few surnames to choose from and spellings don’t vary much. Names like Rodriguez, Garcia, Hernandez, Perez, Sanchez, Aguilar, Diaz, Gonzalez, Martinez, Morales, etc., are so common that used alone, they do little to pinpoint any one individual. A Jose Rodriguez vanishes amid throngs of Jose Rodriguezes.
This problem is solved by the use of two legal last names in most Spanish-speaking countries—a father’s last name as a primary surname, followed by a mother’s maiden name. Many people also have middle names that help make their first names more distinct; thus, a Maria is Maria Elena.
. . . .
These conventions are consistent and well-established abroad. But in English-speaking America, they go haywire.
So what is the LAPD doing about it? Not much:
The department says it trains around this issue. But not surprisingly, officers queried in the field described making it up as they go along. Some said they hyphenate Spanish-speakers’ names. Some said they use one or the other last name. Some said they put one of the last names in the “middle name” slot.
Here’s an idea: stop “training around it” and change the form.
Oh, I’m sorry — did I just propose a change in how things are done in a huge bureaucracy?
Sorry. That makes me look really, really stupid — no matter how good the suggestion is.
I’ll shut up now.