In most Spanish-speaking countries, people have two surnames. The first one is inherited from the father, the other from the mother. One exception of this is Argentina, where the system is more similar to the English one.
Naming system in Spain
In Spain, people always have two surnames and one or two names (two names are also called a composite name). The concept of middle name as known in English-speaking countries doesn't exist in Spain. Thus, for instance, Federico García Lorca was Señor García ("Mr. García" in English), not Señor Lorca, and "García " was not his middle name.
The surnames follow this system: The first one is inherited from the father's first surname, the other from the mother's first surname. This is the habitual and traditional order, but the current law allow to swap them in attitude toward gender equality; the only condition is when a couple choose an order for their first child, the following children must use the same order. Even before these laws, people could change the order in special cases.
The paternal surname is known the apellido paterno and usually is the primer apellido ("first surname") and the apellido materno (maternal surname) is usually the segundo apellido (second surname), but, as indicated above, sometimes the maternal is the first surname and the paternal the second surname.
First names are chosen by the parents and, for those within the Catholic
tradition, are given by a priest in the ceremony of baptism
but all kind of religious ceremonies do not have a legal value, it is only a matter of tradition and/or personal and family beliefs. In Spain the newborn inscription has to be made before administrative authorities at the Registro Civil
or Civil Register. Those who do not baptise their children simply update the latter register, which is the only one binding.
The given name is usually chosen because parents like it. It is also common to choose a name to honour a living or dead relative. Another common source of names are the nomina of Catholic saints.
Francoist Spain legislation used to limit the fancy of parents' choice to Christian and classical names. Nowadays the only limit in Spain is the dignity of the newborn, so one cannot be given a name which is insulting for oneself or for the general public. Similar restrictions applied for "diminutives" or familiar and colloquial variants that have not been recognized in their own right or those that could cause confusion in the identification of the person or its gender".
However, the new Spanish law on gender identity has authorized the registration of diminutives.
Regarding forenames, for religious (Catholicism
) reasons in a custom that is in some decline but by no means a thing of the past, girls were commonly named after Mary, mother of Jesus
(the Virgin Mary), with the addition of the name of one of her shrines, a geographical location where someone had a vision of her, or a religious concept. Sometimes to avoid confusion, a woman omits the "Mary of the..." part of her name and uses only the last, except on official documents and very formal occasions. So, the real names of "Ángeles", "Pilar" and "Luz" (literally "Angels", "Pillar" and "Light") are often "María de los Ángeles", "María del Pilar" and "María de la Luz." Each of these is considered a single (composite) name. A girl might be named simply "María", however.
"María" can be part of a male name if prefixed by a masculine one: for example, José María Aznar. Conversely, a girl could be named "María José" or "Marijosé" ("José" referring to Saint Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary).
In writing, the name "María" is commonly abbreviated "Mª" or "Ma".
Number of names
Spanish official records at the Registro Civil
keep a simple forename or at most two simple forenames (also known as one composite forename
), plus two family names
per person. However, people can be baptized with more than two forenames
(e.g. the son of Infanta Elena
, Felipe Juan Froilán de Todos los Santos
), but this is almost restricted to members of the royalty
and very strange but not impossible for common people, but it only has a religious, traditional or symbolic sense with no legal value.
Maiden name in Spain
In Spain, a woman never changes her official surnames when she marries. Therefore the concept of a 'maiden name' does not exist in Spain.
An example of the uncertainty of this usage is in Don Quixote 2, V where Teresa Panza reminds that she should be properly called by her father's surname.
Transmission of surnames
In Spain people always have two surnames. Traditionally the first surname is the paternal first surname, and the second one is the maternal first surname, but it can be swapped (with the condition that all siblings must have the same order). Women do not change their name after the marriage, therefore the maiden name does not exist in Spain and the trasmission of surnames is equal for women and men. For example: if Ángela López Martínez and Tomás de la Cruz Portillo have a daughter named Laura and a son named Pedro they will be named Laura de la Cruz López and Pedro de la Cruz López (they also can be named (Laura López de la Cruz and Pedro López de la Cruz but always the same order for all children).
If the paternal surname comes first, it means that the surnames of the female branch get lost as generations pass. So to protect equality between genders, current laws in Spain allow that the maternal surname can be the first one.
While Spain has recently introduced legal provisions to allow parents to freely decide the order of surnames, the overwhelming majority of Spaniards continue to follow the traditional pattern of father's first and mother's second. Traditionally, the person is usually commonly known by his/her first name and father's last name only. For example, Real Madrid players Iker Casillas Fernández and Raúl Gonzalez Blanco are more commonly known as just Iker Casillas and Raúl Gonzalez to the football world and colleagues.
It should be noted, however, that historically the transmission of paternal name to surnames was not the convention. Prior to the mid-18th century, in many Spanish-speaking countries, children were given the maternal surname and in some occasions even that of a grandparent shared by neither of the child's parents due to prestige or land inheritance. The paternal-maternal combination and name order is a phenomenon that developed only in the last two hundred years.
As is still the case with Catalan names, in Spanish names the option exists to connect the two surnames by means of y ("and"): one well known example of this is José Ortega y Gasset. Thus, Tomás could choose to style himself "Tomás Portillo y Blanco", albeit at the risk, in most of the contemporary world, of appearing affected or self-consciously following a slightly antiquated use.
In Spain, if the father is either unknown or does not want to recognize his child, the newborn will take both surnames of the mother. Thus, if María López Martínez has a child by an unknown father, and she wants to name her son José, he will be called José López Martínez.
Often, one specifies for brevity only one of the two surnames, usually the first is specified.
Occasionally, a person with a common paternal surname and an uncommon maternal surname becomes widely known by the maternal surname, as with the artist Pablo Ruiz Picasso, best known simply as "Picasso", or the poet Federico García Lorca, often known simply as "Lorca", or even the Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, best known as "Zapatero". Conversely, Eduardo Hughes Galeano is known as "Galeano" because his paternal surname "Hughes" is completely foreign in Spanish. In his childhood he occasionally signed as "Eduardo Gius" as an approximate pronunciation of "Hughes".
Not every surname is a single word. A particularly felicitious or renowned combination of paternal and maternal surnames may propagate to the following generation as a double paternal surname, especially when the paternal surname alone would be considered "undistinguished". Another extreme example of this is former madrilenian mayor José María Álvarez del Manzano y López del Hierro, whose name is formed by a composed forename (José María) and two composed surnames (Álvarez del Manzano and López del Hierro). Other double-barreled surnames derive from church names, as "San José". When a person has one of these double surnames, it is more common to use the 'y' between the paternal and maternal component parts.
Castile and Alava regions
It was also common for surnames originating from Castile
to have the form "[patronymic] de
[placename]". Hence for José Ignacio López de Arriortúa
, "López de Arriortúa" is just one surname. This can cause confusion as both "López" and "de Arriortúa" can be found as single surnames. In Spain, unlike in neighboring France
, the prefix "de"
(meaning "of") on a surname does not typically indicate noble origin. It may be introduced just to mark a surname that can be misunderstood as a forename. Thus, Luis de Miguel Pérez
marks that his forename is just Luis
, not Luis Miguel
. In short forms, the de
may be included (Hernando de Soto
is known as "de Soto") or not (Felipe de Borbón
is a "Borbón
", not a "de Borbón").
The particle "y"
Beginning in the 16th century, the Spanish custom of separating the two surnames with the copulative conjunction "y
" (meaning "and") arose. Examples of this custom include names such as Luis de Góngora y Argote
(16th- and 17th-century Andalusian writer), Francisco de Goya y Lucientes
(18th- and 19th-century Aragonese painter) and José Ortega y Gasset
(Madrilenian philosopher and essayist of the 20th century). The convention was used by Latin American clergymen, for example, Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdamez
in El Salvador
. This use gained legal sanction with the Ley de Registro Civil in 1870, which required birth certificates to indicate the two surnames joined with the particle "y
". In this fashion, the birth certificates of Spanish politicians Felipe González Márquez
and José María Aznar López
appeared as “Felipe González y Márquez" and "José María Aznar y López".
However it is less frequent than its Catalan version
The particle "y" is often found useful in avoiding confusion when the first (paternal) surname is of a type that could also be a forename. For example, if the physiologist Santiago Ramón y Cajal had not used it, it might have appeared that he had the double-barreled forename Santiago Ramón and that Cajal was the only surname he used. Other examples of this use include the jurist Francisco Tomás y Valiente and the churchman Vicente Enrique y Tarancón. Examples of confusion when "y" is not used in such a case are the football player Martín Vázquez, whose full name is Rafael Martín Vázquez but who is believed by many fans to have Martín as his forename, and the linguist Fernando Lázaro Carreter, who was sometimes addressed (to his annoyance) as Don Lázaro.
In the case that the second surname starts with I (or vowel Y or Hi), the particle becomes e, following Spanish rules of euphony, as in Eduardo Dato e Iradier.
'Son of' and '-ez'
Although the use of double surnames renders the matter far less common than in the English-speaking world, a man who has the identical name to his father may suffix his name with "(h)" (standing for "hijo", meaning "son"), analogously to the English language "Jr.".
In Spanish, most surnames ending in "-ez" originated as patronymics. Thus "López" originally meant "son of Lope", "Fernández" meant "son of Fernando", "Ramírez" meant "son of Ramiro", "González" meant "son of Gonzalo","Núñez" meant "son of Nuño", etc. Other common examples of this are "Hernández" (from Hernando, a variant of "Ferdinand" / "Fernando"), "Rodríguez" (from "Rodrigo"), "Sánchez" (from "Sancho"), "Martínez" (from "Martín"), and "Álvarez" (from "Álvaro"). Not all last names in -ez have this origin, however. Because the Spanish letter "z" is pronounced identically to the letter "s" in parts of Andalusia and in all of Spanish America (or about 90% of the Spanish-speaking world), one finds in Spanish America spellings such as "Chávez" (e.g. Hugo Chávez), and "Cortez" (e.g. Alberto Cortez), which are not patronymics and which traditionally were (and in Spain still are) always spelled "Chaves" (e.g. Manuel Chaves), and "Cortés" (e.g. "Hernán Cortés"). The new spellings were no doubt created by analogy with the large number of last names in -ez.
presented a problem to registrars. Often they were named after the saint of the day they were found, the patron saint of the town or even the name of the town itself. For surnames, they received Expósito
("Foundling"), which marked them and their descendants as people without pedigree, or the more compassionate usage of choosing one among those most common among the population. In 1921, Spanish law allowed that the paperwork for changing the surname Expósito
Also, it was very common for foundlings to be named Iglesia(s) ("Church(es)") or Cruz (Cross) due to fact that most of them were raised in orphanages run by the Catholic Church. Blanco (White, or blank) was quite usual as well, as they had unknown parents.
Many Spanish names can be shortened into hypocoristic
forms using a diminutive
suffix, especially -(c)ito/a
Names can be somewhat more arbitrary. The use of each of these forms varies a lot between countries and regions, to the point that some of them are very common in some countries and unheard of in some other countries. A list of common (and not so common) names and their shortened forms:
- Alberto = Alber, Albertito, Tico, Tuco
- Alejandro = Ale, Alex,Jandro, Jano, Sandro
- Alejandra = Sandra, Ale, Alex, Jandra, Jana
- Alfonso = Alfon, Fon, Fonso, Fonsi, Poncho
- Alicia = Licha
- Anacleto = Cleto
- Antonio = Antón, Tonio, Toni, Tono, Toño, Antoñito
- Antonia = Toña, Tona, Toñi, Tonia, Tania
- Beatriz = Bea, Betty
- Cándido = Candi
- Cándida = Candi
- Carla = Carlita
- Carlos = Car, Carlito, Carlitos, Carlo, Cali, Litos
- Carmen = Mamen, Carmenchu, Carmencha, Carmencita, Carmelita, Carmela
- Carolina = Caro, Carol, Carito
- Ciro = Cirino
- Concepción = Conchi, Conchita, Concha, Conce
- Consuelo = Consu, Chelo, Coni
- Covadonga = Cova
- Cristian = Cris
- Cristina = Cris, Cristi, Tina
- Cristoforo = Cuco, Quico, Chosto
- Cruz = Crucita, Chuz
- Dalila = Lila
- Dalia = Dali
- Daniel = Dani
- David = Davo
- Dolores = Lola, Loli, Lolita
- Eduardo = Edu, Lalo, Eduardito, Guayo
- Enrique = Quique, Kike
- Ernesto = Neto, Netico
- Eva = Evita
- Federico = Quico, Fede
- Fernanda = Fer, Nanda
- Fernando = Fer, Nando, Nano, Ferny, Feña
- Francisco = Fran, Paco, Sisco, Cisco, Curro, Quico, Kiko, Frasco, Frascuelo, Pancho, Panchito
- Francisca = Fran, Sisca, Cisca, Pancha, Curra, Paca, Quica, Panchita, Panchi
- Gabriel = Gabi, Gabo
- Gabriela = Gabi, Gaby
- Graciela = Chela
- Gregorio = Goyo
- Gricelda = Gris, Celda
- Guadalupe = Lupe (female & male), Guada, Pupe, Lupita, Lupilla (female) & Lupito, Lupillo (male), Pita (female)
- Guillermo = Memo, Guille, Guiller
- Héctor = Tito, Torin
- Ignacio = Nacho, Nachito, Naco
- Inocencio = Chencho
- Isabel = Chabela, Chavela, Chavelita, Chabelita, Isa
- Javier = Javi, Jabo, Javito
- Jorge = Jorgecito, Jorgis, Jorgito, Gorge, Jecito
- Jesús = Jesu, Chus, Chucho, Chuy, Suso, Chuyito
- Jesús Alberto= Jesusbeto, Chuybeto
- Jesús Manuel = Jesusma
- Jesús Ramón = Jesusra, Jera, Chuymoncho, Chuymonchi
- Jesusa = Susi, Sus, Chucha, Chuy, Chuyita
- José = Pepe, Chepe, Pepito, Chepito, Pito
- José Carlos = Joseca
- José Miguel = Josemi, Jomi
- Josefina = Jose, Fina, Chepina
- José María = Chema, Jose Mari
- José Ramón = Jesusra, peperamon
- Juan = Juanito, Juancho
- Juan Carlos = Juanca, Juancar, Juanqui
- Juan Fernando = Juanfer
- Juan Manuel = Juanma
- Juan Miguel = Juangui, Juanmi
- Juan Pablo = Juanpi
- Juan Ramón = Juanra
- Julio = Julín, Julito
- Laura = Lalita, Lala, Lauri, Lauris, Lau
- Leticia = Lety
- Luciano = Chano
- Luis = Lucho,Luisito, Güicho, Luisín
- Magdalena = Malena
- Manuel = Manu, Manolo, Lolo, Manolito, Meño, Manuelito
- Marcelo = Chelo,Marce
- Margarita = Magui
- María Auxiliadora = Chilo, Mauxi(mausi)
- Maria de Lourdes = Malula
- María del Carmen = Maricarmen, Mai, Maica, Mayca, Mayka, Mamen, Mari
- María del Rosario= Charo, Charito
- María del Sol = Marisol, Sol, Sole
- María de las Nieves = Marinieves
- María Eugenia= Maru, Yeni
- María Isabel= Maribel, Mabel
- María José = Mariajo, Majo, Mai, Josefa, Marijó, Pepa, Pepi, Pepita, Maripepi
- María Laura = Malala
- María Luisa = Marisa
- María Teresa = Tere, Maritere, Maite, Mayte, Teté, Mari
- Mario = Mayito
- Mauricio = Mau, Mauro, Mauri
- Máximo = Maxi, Max
- Mayola = May
- Mercedes = Merce, Merche, Meche, Meches
- Micaela = Mica
- Minerva = Mine, Miner
- Montserrat = Montse
- Myriam = Myri, Miriam, Miry
- Nicolás = Nico
- Pablo = Pablito, Pablete
- Paloma = Palo
- Paula = Pau
- Paulina = Pau, Pauli
- Paola = Pao
- Patricia = Patri, Tricia, Pato
- Patricio = Pato
- Pedro = Pedrito
- Pilar = Pili, Pilarín, Piluca
- Rafael = Rafa, Rafi
- Ramón = Moncho, Monchi, Ramoncito
- Raúl = Rauli, Raulito, Rul, Rulo, Rule, Ral, Rali
- Refugio = Cuca, Cuquita
- Remedios = Reme
- Rodrigo = Rodri, Ruy, Roy, Ro
- Roberto = Robe, Rober, Berto, Robertito, Tito, Beto
- Rosalía = Chalia
- Rosalva = Chava
- Rosario = Charo, Chayo, Chayito
- Rocío = Roci, Chio, Ro
- Salvador = Salva, Chava, Chavito
- Santiago = Santi, Yago, Diejo
- Sergio = Chucho, Checo, Chejo, Checho, Sergi
- Soledad = Sol, Sole, Chole, Chol
- Susana = Susi, Sus, Su
- Teresa = Tere, Teresita
- Timoteo = Timo
- Tomás = Tomasito, Tomasín
- Vicente = Chente, Vicen
- Victor = Vic, Vis, Vico
- Victoria = Vico, Viqui, Viky, Vicky
- Verónica = Vero, Verito
Other languages in Spain
After the recognition of co-official languages in Spain, the law allowed the translation or respelling of names to the official languages. Speakers of other languages in Spain
whose names had been rendered as Spanish equivalents and who now wish to return to their vernacular name, enjoy a simplified name-change procedure in their respective autonomous community.
In the Catalan-Valencian language territories they have the same conventions as in Spanish territories, except that a person's two surnames are usually (but not always) separated by "i"
("and"). A real-world example would be the ex-presidents of the Generalitat de Catalunya Pasqual Maragall i Mira
and of the Generalitat Valenciana Joan Lerma i Blasco
As the map above shows, Mohamed
is a very frequent surname in Ceuta
(10,410 out of the people born in Ceuta) and Melilla
(7,982), the Spanish enclaves in North Africa.
"Mohamed" is one of the Spanish spellings used by Spanish-speaking Muslims for the name of prophet Muhammad
As such, it is frequent as part of a male Arabic name
Hence, many Muslim Ceutans and Melillans share surnames while not having a common ancestry.
To further confuse the issue, Mohamed is the most popular first name for newborn males, so it is not unusual to have a Mohamed Mohamed Mohamed: the first "Mohamed" being the child's name forename, the second is the father's first surname, and the third is the mother's first surname.
Naming system in Latin America
Colombia and Caribbean
The people of Colombia
--as well as Venezuela
, Puerto Rico
, the Dominican Republic
and other Latin-American
countries with proximity to the Caribbean
--have taken the custom of fancy names from foreign languages, such as "Yesaidú" ("Yes, I do") or "Hitler Adonis
," or composites
such as "Yolimar" (from the combination of the names of each of the parents: "Yolanda
" and "Mario
"), or "Glorimar" (the combination of maternal family such as mother and grandmother "Gloria
" and "Maria
"), or "Luyen" (from the combination of "Lucía
" and "Enrique
In August 2007, the law draft for the National Electoral Council of Venezuela disallowed names that "ridicule", are "extravagant", "difficult to pronounce" or inductive to gender confusion.
After protests, the limiting article was removed from the draft.
is a Spanish-speaking country, but most Argentinians' identity is recorded at birth with only their paternal surname. Thus, one would only occasionally hear Jorge Luis Borges
referred to as "Jorge Luis Borges Acevedo", although a native Spanish speaker would certainly understand that usage. On the other hand, in some countries, such as Honduras
, two surnames are required to be recorded on the birth certificate. This can cause difficulties in cases where the father's identity is unknown, or for immigrants who only have one surname.
The particle "de"
In some, but not all, Latin American
countries, when a woman marries, she may choose to drop her own maternal surname
and adopt her husband's paternal surname
, with "de"
("of") inserted between. Thus if Ángela López Sáenz
marries Tomás Portillo Blanco
, she may style herself Ángela López de Portillo
. This convention, however, is more a social styling than an official renaming such as takes place in English
-speaking countries: on official documents, she will still be identified by her two maiden surnames
. In many areas, however, this tradition is now seen as an antiquated form of discrimination against women (the de
can be read as implying ownership
) and is consequently on the decline. A more formal version is Ángela López, Sra. de Portillo
is an abbreviation for señora
", "wife"). Another traditional usage is when a husband dies, the widowed wife is now known as Ángela López Sáenz, vda. de Portillo
(widow of - vda is the abbreviation for widow [viuda])
In some Latin American countries, it is also common for the newborn to use only his mother's paternal surname both as his paternal and maternal surnames, in which case he will be named José López López.
Spanish surnames among Filipinos
On November 21 1849
the Spanish administration of the Philippines
, under the authority of Governor General Narciso Clavería
, decreed a systematic distribution of family names and the implementation of the Spanish naming system for the use of the natives.
With the Clavería decree the Catálogo Alfabético de Apellidos ("Alphabetical Catalogue of Surnames") was produced. It was a collection of surnames mostly from Spain, though many were also native Filipino words of flora and fauna, and Hispanicized Chinese numerals; which is why so many Spanish-sounding surnames found among Filipinos cannot be found among the peoples of the Hispanic world, as many are merely Hispanic in sound. Many Spanish-sounding Filipino surnames also appeared in Spain and Hispanic America by Filipino immigration.
Surnames of Spanish nobility, as well as surnames belonging to the Spanish colonial administrators in the Philippines (which had acquired connotation of prestige in the archipelago) were explicitly prohibited.
The colonial authorities implemented this decree mainly because too many early Christianized Filipinos named themselves after religious instruments and saints. Apparently, Christianization had worked much too well in that there were soon too many people surnamed "de los Santos", "de la Cruz", "del Rosario", "Bautista", etc. This caused consternation among the Spanish authorities, as it added difficulty to administration efforts.
Another custom deemed unacceptable by the Spanish, was that Filipino siblings took different last names, as they always had done before the Spaniards. All these "problems" resulted in a less efficient system of collecting taxes.
Because of the mass implementation of Spanish surnames and the Iberian naming system in the Philippines, among Filipinos a Spanish surname does not necessarily indicate Spanish ancestry. Filipinos with non-Spanish white American or non-Spanish European blood may have Spanish surnames and may mistakenly thought of with Spanish descent. Of the Philippine population, only around 3.6% is composed of Spanish-mestizos (those of mixed Filipino and Spanish ancestry).
Notes and references