To Be Or Not To Be……a Rivera

Published Tuesday, August 30th, 2016
by family historian Norma (Garcia) Pettit

The question came up at the 2016 Rivera family reunion, held in Stinson Beach, California, on June 26th:  If my father was a son of Florencio Rivera, and his brothers all had the last name Rivera, why was his last name García?

This is the way my own father explained it to me many years ago…

Back in the olden days in Puerto Rico, when a baby was born, someone had to go to town to register the baby.  But the recently delivered mother was usually unable to go into town herself, especially if she already had other children to care for.  The baby’s father often could not do it himself, either, if he couldn’t stop his work to make the trip.  Thus, if they heard that a neighbor was going into town, they would say, “Hey, my wife just had another baby…while you are in town, can you register the child for us?”  And the agreeable neighbor would go register the child, and when asked what the baby’s name was, often would give the wrong last name.  No one would even notice the mistake until years later when for some reason or other, a birth certificate had to be produced.

Guar-and-Oscar-with-noteThere is another reason for the García name, though.  In my genealogical research, I have found that up until the early part of the 1900’s, if a baby was born to an unmarried woman, only her last name appeared on the baby’s records.  In fact, no mention of the father or his name would be recorded.  This was my grandparents’ case: they were not leagally married until 1914.  (Dad was born in 1910.)  My father’s name appeared as Oscar Cruz, since his mother was Ana Cruz García.  (If his parents had been married, he would have been registered as Oscar Rivera Cruz, since in Hispanic countries the paternal last name goes first, then the maternal.)  Somewhere along the line, Dad tacked on his mother’s second last name to his, and went by the name of Oscar Cruz Garía.  When he entered the Merchant Marines in 1941, they thought that Cruz was his middle name and García was his last name.  He then became Oscar C. García.

Since his church baptismal record has a marginal note that read, “legitimized by the subsequent marriage of his parents,” and his father’s information had been added over the pre-existing dashes, Oscar could have changed his name to Rivera, but decided it was too much trouble to have all of his legal papers, social security card, passport, deed to the house in San Francisco, etc., changed over to Rivera.  And it just wasn’t that important to him.  He knew he was a Rivera even if his name was García!