The Way Last Names Are Used In Spain

Every country, every culture have their own customs and traditions. And what some people find logical and normal, is not the same for other ones. That’s the case of the use of two family names. Although I am from Spain and I’m explaining how this works in my own country, you can apply this to people from other Spanish speaking countries –as far as I know!-.

So, in case you still don’t know about it, here in Spain we use last names in a different way. When I say “different”, well, in depends on the country you are from. So I should say, the way we use them is different from the way used in countries like United States or Great Britain.

As far as I know, there are two “big” differences:

Difference No.1

We have two last (family) names.

The first one is our father’s first family name. And the second one, our mother’s first family name.

I will give an example: Imagine my father’s complete name (Name + his father’s first family name + his mother’s first family name) is: Luis García Ruiz.

And my mother’s complete name (Name + her father’s first family name + her mother’s first family name): María Gil López.

My name would be Angeles García Gil. (Garcia – from my father and Gil from my mother.)


Difference No.2

When we –women- get married, we don’t take our husband’s name. We keep our family names. Imagine I’m married to “Juan Gil Gómez”. I would not take his family name (Gil), I’d keep mine (both according to the example given above, García Gil).

Here in Spain there are two official ID documents, and both include, apart from our name, our two family names. Those documents are “el carnet de identidad” (Identity card) and “el carnet de conducir” (driving licence).

A final note: Maybe you have already noticed there are quite a lot of Spanish family names ending in –ez. (For example, my own last name, “Fernández”.

The suffix –ez means “son of”, and it was used to indicate that that person was the son of John, Peter, etc… In my case, “Fernández” would be “son of Fernando (Ferdinand). Other similar names are: “Martínez”, son of Martín, or “González”, son of “Gonzalo”.

What do you think about this? Is it similar in your country?
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© 2016 Angeles Fernández – All rights reserved

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  1. Pat Z Anthony

    In the USA people do what they choose. Some men add the wife’s name to theirs and some women add the husbands. More often it seems women drop their name and take the husband’s last name.

  2. Fifi Leigh

    this is confusing. but i now know why Latino people have such long names. when they say their whole name, they say like ten names.

    i read an article where Warren Beatty’s gay daughter wants to have kids, and give them Onesies names, whatever that is, but i think it is like Cher, Madonna, etc. without any last name.

  3. Rex Trulove

    My son in law, who is Guatemalan, is Carlos Reyes-Mota…as you said, a double last name. When our daughter married him, she took the name of Trulove-Reyes. Interestingly, when Carlos conducts informal business, it is as Carlos Reyes. He has been ‘Americanized’ to that point. However, if it is official business, such as on the title of a vehicle, income taxes or the like, he does use Reyes-Mota.

    Can you imagine what would happen if people tried to use the system used in Israel at the time of Jesus? They used a first name and where they were from, most often, or the first name and something notable about them. Thus, Simon Peter was simply known as Peter and there was no surname. Of course there were far fewer people in the world now, but imagine the confusion that would cause if Israel went back to that method today, with about 8 million people.

  4. Angeles Fernandez Post author

    I can imagine that, @rextrulove! And what you say about how people were named, according to details in their lifes, I also read something similar was happening here, in the Middle Ages or around that times… People used to be called according to the place they were from, or their works, etc… It’s very interesting! Finally, although we have 2 last names, at school, or at college or even at work, we commonly use just our first last name. Hey, look at my name! 🙂 Here at Bligbourne, I’m “just” Angeles Fernández!

    1. Rex Trulove

      I can believe it. I think that the biggest confusion would come from a person with a very common first name. If someone was Antonio of Madrid, I can just expect that people would be asking, “¿cuál?”

  5. Angeles Fernandez Post author

    Exactly! And, by the way, I was thinking now about something I was told several years ago. Someone told me that the last name “Santamaría” ( Saint Mary) was given to the children at the orphanage,concretely to those who didn’t have any family. I haven’t looked for any information, that’s simply something everybody thinks it’s true!

    1. Rex Trulove

      I haven’t heard that, but there is a ring of truth to it, so it could very well be a fact. I’m guessing that it isn’t a very common last name, which would also support the story. I know that the older orphanages in the 1800’s and earlier, including that one and some in the US, quite often got children without ever knowing who either of the parents were and they didn’t really try to find out. Sometimes it happens even today, but today they at least really try to find out who the parents were.

  6. Angeles Fernandez Post author

    You know? Someone at work told me this morning, a friend of her wanted to name her 5 days old son… Goku! She finally accepted to give her son 2 middle names: Rodrigo Goku! 🙂 -Do you know who’s Goku? 😀

  7. Fifi Leigh

    i think eventually someone will name their kid Pokemon, and you will be meeting people in your workplace named Pokemon Johnson and Yuki Smith

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