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Encyclopedia > Spanish name

In Spanish-, Portuguese-, and Catalan-speaking regions of the world, people have two surnames. One is inherited from the father, the other from the mother. Parents pass on to their children the name they inherited from their father.

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Spanish names

In Spanish-speaking countries, the name of the father is put before the name of the mother; these are then known as the apellido paterno ("paternal surname") and the apellido materno or segundo apellido (maternal or second surname).


When a woman marries, she may choose to drop her own maternal surname and adopts 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 ("Sra." is an abbreviation for "señora" ("Mrs.", "wife")).


If, as is very common in Spanish-speaking families, they choose to perpetuate their forenames into the next generation, their children would be Tomás Portillo López and Ángela Portillo López.


The order rule means that the surnames of the female branch get lost as generations pass. If the female surname is especially prestigious or the combination is improper, the order may be altered. 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. A case of improper combination would be the folk case of Mr. Laca marrying Miss Gamos. Laca Gamos sounds like la cagamos, "we shat on it", a very offensive phrase. They would name their children as Gamos Laca.


As is still the case with Catalan names (see below), 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.


The prevalence of this custom of using two surnames varies. For example, Argentina is a Spanish-speaking country, but most Argentinians use only their paternal surname. Thus, one would almost never hear Jorge Luis Borges referred to as "Borges Acevedo", although a native Spanish speaker would certainly understand that usage.


Often, one specifies for brevity only one of the two surnames, usually the one inherited from one's father. Thus, if one were to shorten the name of Gabriel García Márquez, it should be "García", not "Márquez" (although in his case it is more likely to be his nickname "Gabo"). 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".


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-barrelled paternal surname, especially when the paternal surname alone would be considered "undistinguished". This was the case with former Mexican President José López Portillo, whose mother was a "Pacheco" and whose full style was "José López Portillo y Pacheco". Other double-barreled surnames derive from church names, as "San José".


It was also common for surnames originating from Castile and Álava 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").


In Spanish, most surnames ending in "-ez" originated as patronymics. Thus "López" originally meant "son of Lope", "Fernández" meant "son of Fernando", 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"). "Cortez" (e.g. Alberto Cortez), however, is a variant of "Cortés" (e.g. "Hernán Cortés").


After the recognition of co-official languages in Spain, the law allowed the translation or respelling of names to the official languages.


In 1849, the Spanish admnistration of the Philippines commanded every Filipino to take a Spanish surname from an approved list. Because of this, a Spanish surname does not necessarily imply any Spanish ancestry among Filipinos.


Number of names

The official records keep at most two forenames and two surnames per person. However, people can be baptized with more than two forenames, which is a frequent practice among the royalty.


People can also keep track of more than two surnames. This is more frequent in the Basque Country. For example, the founder of Basque nationalism, Sabino Arana, demanded several Basque surnames from his followers to certify that there was no admixture of "foreigners" in their ancestry.


Portuguese names

In countries where Portuguese is spoken, the pattern is similar to the Spanish one, except that the maternal surname is placed before the paternal surname. In some cases, people may have up to four different surnames. A women may adopt her husband's surname (or surnames), but she still keeps her maiden names. For example, if Maria Melo Santos marries José Pereira Abreu, her name may become Maria Melo Santos Abreu. This used to be obligatory, but nowdays, very few women use their husbands' names. A child receives his or her maternal and paternal names, for example, Joana Santos Abreu, but many children receive two first names and several surnames, e.g. Joana Filipa Santos Abreu, Joana Filipa Santos Pereira Abreu or Joana Filipa Melo Santos Pereira Abreu. In every case, the maternal surnames are placed before the paternal surnames. This person will probably became known by her final (paternal) surname, Joana Abreu.


Catalan names

Catalan has very similar conventions to Spanish, except that: (1) a woman's name does not change after marriage and (2) a person's two surnames are separated by "i" ("and"). A real-world example would be the current (as of 2004) president of the Generalitat de Catalunya, Pasqual Maragall i Mira. Others are more commonly known only by a single last name; his predecessor is generally referred to simply as "Jordi Pujol", but is more properly "Jordi Pujol i Soley".


See also:

External links

  • Hispanic Heraldry (in Spanish) (http://www.heraldaria.com) – Information about Hispanic surnames.
  • Catalan Society of Heraldry (in Catalan) (http://www.scgenealogia.org/) – Information about Catalan surnames.

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