On Names and Airline Databases

Avery Trinidad
August 11, 2021
A picture of a cow grazing on a hill in Williamstown, MA.

Hi. I’m Avery. I'm gonna be in Berlin for Fall 2021.

My friends over at Williams College, (who I’m glad I was able to visit at the college's New England utopia above before disappearing to Germany for several months), sometimes joke that I live in a YA novel. A lot of my life consists of, usually pleasant, but oftentimes ridiculous things that just sort of happen to me. Of course, I try my hardest to happen back.

Let’s start with a funny story, then.

So, my full name is Avery Gene Trinidad. A fairly archetypal Filipino name for the 21st century—There’s Anglophone given names, (including the middle name, as I’m the second-born), with a Hispaniphone family name tagged on.

Avery comes from Jesuit theologian and fellow New Yorker, Avery Robert Dulles SJ. Gene, a masculinized clipping of my mother’s name, Genelene, ultimately stems from my maternal grandfather’s name, Generoso. Trinidad means “trinity” in Spanish, as in the “Holy Trinity”, meaning that someone up there in the family tree felt particularly Catholic that day when declaring a surname.

In the database of United Airlines, with whom I booked my flight to Berlin, that all gets formatted as TRINIDAD/AVERYGENE. That’s a system of LASTNAME/FIRSTNAMEMIDDLENAME. As my departure flight is a codeshare with Lufthansa, “TRINIDAD/AVERYGENE” is what enters their database.

Except, given that Lufthansa is a German airline, and German names don’t quite have middle names as their own separate legal field— their system opts for LASTNAME/FIRSTNAMETITLE. My middle name, “Gene”, was read by their computers as an abbreviation for a title.

Thus, on my ticket for check-in, I became General Avery Trinidad.

Bad news: I am not in the military. I have no desire to be. I, in actuality, have been an active college student for the past two years. I, most importantly, am only twenty years old.

Good news: When I called Lufthansa about this, they assured me it was fine—I was still “TRINIDAD/AVERYGENE” in their database,  “TRINIDAD, AVERY GENE” on my boarding pass, and my first name and last name matched my passport, which was what really mattered. (Titles, apparently, were irrelevant in the grand scheme of airline check-ins).

Weird news: The members of Lufthansa’s support center were equally befuddled as to how that error even happened, especially when considering how “general” isn’t even a publically available option for a title when purchasing tickets.

The moral of the story?

Well, one could begin by remembering the fact that cultures across the world differ in things that seem as basic as names.

German names do often incorporate what Americans would interpret as a “middle name”—one could be named “Luka Elias Schmitt”, for example. “Luka Elias”, however, would be considered one whole given name, even though the person would most likely go by only “Luka”.

Spanish and Portuguese names sometimes recognize both parents’ surnames. “Maria Santos y Guerra”, for instance, contains both paternal (“Santos”) and maternal (“Guerra”) family names.

East Asian names conventionally place the family name before an individual’s given name—and, particularly in China and Korea, many people have both an eastern (“Longmei”) and western (“Cassandra”) given name.

Several of the customs around Filipino names, historically, resulted from attempts to adapt Spanish names (and familial naming patterns) into the American “first name, middle name, last name” standard during the American colonial period. First-born children, or sometimes even entire families, adopt the mother’s maiden name as a middle name in an attempt to reconcile Spanish naming conventions. (“Mary Santos y Guerra” becoming “Mary Guerra Santos”, for example.) This is without mentioning indigenous groups in the Philippines, several of whom forego surnames altogether.

The world and its peoples are as diverse as can be, and I consider that to be a beautiful, beautiful thing. You have to really learn that when you go abroad.

I’m bent on doing that, more than I already have.

The other moral of this story, equally as important to students trying to study abroad, would be to double, nay, triple check with the airline should anything on your reservation seem the slightest bit strange. Stuff can always happen, and a lot of it can be unfortunate—and when it’s not unfortunate, it’s probably just plain weird.

Checking will save you several large headaches as opposed to inevitable medium-sized ones, and if you’re like me, it’ll also get you a funny anecdote down the road.

Friends, family, and other curious readers, rest assured: not only is life precious, but in my case, it remains frequently and overwhelmingly absurd. While General Avery Trinidad won’t be here to chronicle the rest of my journey in Berlin, Avery Gene Trinidad sure will.

Bis später!

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Avery Trinidad

Hey there! I'm Avery Trinidad, a junior majoring in Sociology and concentrating in Global Studies over at Williams College! I think long walks by the beach are an unironic fun time, have made a hobby of writing songs with ukulele accompaniment, and have an apparent talent for making eggs. I'm a big ol' New York native, with a booming voice and headstrong attitude to boot. Though born and raised in Manhattan, I've had the opportunity to take German as a third language since my freshman year of high school. I'm looking forward to documenting my experiences in Berlin, especially after it emerges from such a tumultuous time in not only its own history, but the world's! Bis bald!

Destination:
Term:
2021 Fall
Home university:
Williams College
Hometown:
New York, NY
Major:
Sociology
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