What is in a name?

Most Australians believe that my full name is Malba Barahona, little they know that my full name is actually quite different.

It seems that “We know what we know and we assume that our way of doing things is the best. Don’t we?



But what does my name have to do with research or the PhD thesis? Well, as I submitted the hard copy of my PhD thesis, cultural differences became apparent once more, but this time, it was because of my name. My full name is comprised of a first name, a middle name, my father’s surname and my mother’s surname. According to the university guidelines, the bound copy should be lettered on the spine in gold leaf with the title being followed by the student’s initials and surname and year. As I took the copy to the printing office I did not think that there could be any sort of conflict related to these matters. How naive I was to think that they could understand and acknowledge that I have two surnames. What did they do? They followed the Australian way. They used initials for my first, middle name and my my father’s surname and just left my mother’s. I didn’t realise of this until I took the copy to the examination office where I was told that my name was not clear enough on the copy and demanded a new version with the right name on it as it is in their files: M. Barahona. This little incident brought to surface my “foreignness” and “inappropriateness” because of my long full name. I am an alien in Canberra. I will always be a foreigner in Australia. I will always live on the borders.

What is behind my name? Maria Alba (Malba) Barahona Duran

The story goes as follows.

As it is customary in Chile, as the first girl in the family, I was given my mother’s name, Maria, followed by my grandmother’s name, Alba. As a child at home, my mother used to call me Mary, a cute and shorten version of Maria. My sister’s first name is also Maria, but since she was little, she fought to be different, and she has used a shortened version of her middle name. At school I was called Maria or Maria Alba. I never felt very comfortable with that because Maria is mother, but I didn’t do much to be called differently. However, things changed as I entered university. At the beginning of my undergraduate studies in Chile someone accidentally read M. Alba (Maria Alba) on a tag as a single name, Malba. I liked it and started using it all the time. More and more people started calling me that way, and today I feel absolutely identified with this short and cool version of my mother and grandmother’s names. This was also reinforced as I migrated to Oz. I made things much easier to Australians having a short name similar to Melba, as few people accidentally call me.

Here it is important to note that in Chile every document contains your full name written down and changing your name is a big thing. I would need to make a legal case about the reasons to change my name, pay lawyers and follow a long bureaucrat process.

Regarding surnames, as the Chilean tradition states, children are given the father’s and the mother’s surname. This is why I have two surnames. Barahona is my father’s surname and Duran is my mother’s surname. It is not something I have chosen, but a cultural tradition, a different way of seeing  the family. We, my brother and sister are Barahona Duran. My surname has not changed as I married an Australian. My decision of not taking my husband’s surname comes from my identity as a chilean woman, rather than by my feminist view of marriage. Thus, I will always be Maria Alba Barahona Duran, the daughter of Juan Nicolas Barahona Martinez and Maria Cristina Duran Orellana.

So what is behind a name? A lot! After this incident with the printing office,I have to make sure that in the graduation ceremony my full name is properly acknowledged.


About Malba Barahona

Educational researcher, language educator. PhD from Australian National University. Passionate bushwalker and mountain lover. I procrastinate reading fiction, hiking, doing yoga, riding, having a beer and more recently decolonizing my existence. I write in English and Spanish in different blogs especially with the purpose of encouraging my students to write.


  1. Congratulations on the PhD thesis!!

    I wondered where the name Malba came from. An interesting story.

    My name is also complicated, and culturally influenced. I was named Mary Waln Graham Park after a maiden great aunt (Mary Waln Graham) who was named after her grandmother (Mary Waln). In some parts of the US, surnames are given as middle names for both boys and girls, and it is common to be named for somebody. From birth, however, I was called Polly as a nickname, so I started out life juggling 5 names. When I married, I got another name, Keightley. In my part of the US, it is customary to keep your maiden name as your middle name, which made me Mary Park Keightley, but what about Polly? Something had to go in this digital age that doesn’t accommodate lots of names. I began calling myself Polly Park Keightley, put it on my driver’s licence, and from there, converted my passport name.

    Needless to say, I have left a trail of documents in various names throughout my life, which is very confusing for people and makes me feel like an outlaw with a number of aliases.

    I very deliberately gave my children three names, and called them by the first.

  2. Great post, thanks for sharing!

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