Sunday, December 7, 2014

Searching for that Polar Name

I’m still sorting books. The process began around June 1, as soon as we had purchased our new house, but the action is still going on. The move, therefore, is still not finished. By my last count, eighteen big book boxes still need to be handled. There isn’t room for all of them, so I’m engaged in preparing some for donation either to the Vietnam Veterans Association or—if the books are relatively new and free of endless annotations—to our rather needy local library.

One of these came into my hand. It is by Hernando de Soto and titled The Mystery of Capitalism: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else. The book is a genuine winner in pointing out that economic development depends crucially on advanced legal systems able efficiently to handle property rights, of which the most important aspect is the documentation of ownership. In the absence of such documentation, which makes property rights enforceable, two economic systems tend to exist side by side, a legal and an extra-legal. People cannot easily and transparently sell assets, such as land or capital goods. The circulation of wealth, therefore, is seriously impeded.

Back in 2010 I posted a brief note on the book on the first (and no longer available) LaMarotte. At that time I’d called the author Hernando de Soto Polar—because Wikipedia had listed it as that. No amount of effort on my part at that time revealed the reason for that “Polar,” omitted in most other references to this person. Today it all came back to me—and I set myself the task to discover the meaning of that—finally.

Everyone has this experience, I think. One can waste a substantial amount of time searching the web on an idle errand like that. I had almost entirely given up, for the second time, when it occurred to me that I should do my searching in Spanish. And that, finally, did the trick. I found that name, Polar, immediately—and associated with my Hernando. It was in the Spanish-language version of Wikipedia’s article on him. Hernando’s mother, it turns out, was one Rosa Polar Ugarteche; the English version does not mention his parents’ names—or this problem would never have arisen.

The moment I saw this, I also suddenly remembered that in the Spanish language naming conventions are different than in most other European countries or their overseas children. Therefore that Polar, attached to the de Soto, is de Soto’s mother’s last name. Based on that convention, I would be named Arsen Darnay Gyulafia. Now as for Rosa, the mother, Polar was her last name; and Ugarteche was her mother’s last name. Complicated. Complicated. But here I am, now, feeling that quite irrational satisfaction that comes from discovering a perfectly useless fact. It has taken a nice big slice of time from my book-sorting. And the decision of whether to keep the book—or giving it to Commerce Township Library—is still lies ahead.

A couple more notes while still on this subject. One is that, these days, what with indexes being created on everything for accessibility, names like de Soto Polar are inverted—so that the legal last name comes last: Polar de Soto. Another Spanish convention is to insert an “and,” as in de Soto y Polar. As for changing American customs, many women these days retain their maiden name as a middle name, hyphenate their last and married names—or, for that matter, retain their given names even after they marry. Which is handy if divorce happens.

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