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What’s Behind Hispanic Last Names?

By Anthony / September 15, 2016

Spanish surnames sound so beautiful and romantic when they are said out loud. The names seem to just flow into a beautiful song that makes the person seem mysterious or even mythical.

Believe it or not, the Spanish surnames are not just nice to hear, they also have meaning behind them. Latinos take pride in their family heritage and express this through the formation of their last names.

Sometimes we have a hard time understanding how the last names are constructed because it is different than our own English last names. Understanding the formation of a Spanish last name is an important cultural component in your language learning.

English Last Names


In English, our last names consist of a first, middle and last name. The last name is usually the father’s surname, or family name. A typical English name may look like this:

Jennifer Marie Raymond

Jennifer being the first name, Marie the middle, and Raymond being the father’s last name. If this person were to get married to a man named William Carl Katz, her name would then look like this:

Jennifer Marie Katz

She would take on the last name of her husband and drop her maiden (or family) name.

The Spanish Last Name

In a Spanish name there are two parts; the 1st name (nombre cristiano) and 2 last names (apellidos). Here is a typical Spanish name:

Roberto García Perez

Roberto is the first name, García is the father’s last name, and Perez is the mother’s last name.

García is the family name because it is the surname of the father. This is different than in English because we only use the father’s surname and never our mother’s maiden name.

It can be confusing to some because the family name is in the middle, what we would consider a middle name. Many English speakers may make the mistake and address Roberto as Roberto Perez. This is NOT his name! He can only be addressed as the following:

  • Roberto García Perez
  • Roberto García
  • Señor García

But Wait! What if a Girl Gets Married?

If a girl gets married she still maintains her (father’s) family name, which is most important, and takes on her husband's name as well. Let’s say Susana Rodríguez Sánchez gets married to Roberto García Perez. That is a lot of last names! What would Susana’s name look like? Here are the ways you could address Susana:

  • Susana Rodríguez Sánchez de García
  • Susana Rodríguez de García
  • Susana Rodríguez Sánchez García
  • Susana Rodríguez García

Even though Susana is married, her primary name is still Rodríguez (her family name). This name can never be dropped, even though she wed.

Now, what if Susana and Roberto had a son? Their son, Cristiano, would take on both the father’s surname as well as the mother’s. His name would look like this:

Cristiano   García     Rodríguez

                          (father’s)    (mother’s)

So what would your Spanish name look like? Give it a try!

First Name

Father's Last Name

Mother's Last Name

Husband's Last Name

                                         

 

Spanish surnames may appear complicated at first, but I love how they incorporate all of the families in one last name. It gives a sense of importance to who a person is and where they came from. I think there is so much beauty in a Spanish name, not only in the way it sounds, but what it represents as well.

About the author

Anthony

Coffee drinker, Spanish speaker, habitual traveler, taking life one beautiful day at a time.

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