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Culture —– Spanish Names – Part II

by Brandi

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November 23rd, 2009

Last time we took a look at first names in Spanish – “nombres de pila”. For this week we’re going to learn about Spanish surnames (last names) – “apellidos”. There’s a verb in Spanish that is used to ask someone’s last name. It’s”apellidarse”. This is a verb that does not exist or translate directly into English language. For example, if I asked “¿Cómo se apellida?” [co-mow say ah-peh-ye-thaw], it would literally translate to “What is he (or she) last named”. If I said, “Me apellido Clark” [may ah-peh-ye-though Clark], it would become “I am last named Clark”.

Unlike English, since last names are a little more complex in Spanish, the King of Spanish (fictitious character) who invented Spanish, produced a whole verb that goes along with last names which is “appellidarse”.

Now I will explain how last names work in Spanish. Everyone in Spanish has two last names: the first one is from their father (paternal), and the second is from their mother (maternal). Let’s say for example I was born into a Latin home and my “nombre de pila” was “Juan”, and my segundo nombre (middle name) was “Gabriel”. So this would make my name “Juan Gabriel…”. Next, if my father’s name was “Felipe Paco Garcia Lopez”, his paternal last name – “Garcia” would be included as my initial or paternal last name. I would now be known as “Juan Gabrial Garcia…”. Finally, if my mother’s name was “María Juana Fernandez Martinez”, I would take on her paternal last name – “Fernandez”, and add it on as my final last name. So finally, my official name would now be, “Juan Gabriel Garcia Fernandez”. Learn Spanish to increase your chances to have a last name like these.

In the above scenario, women generally don’t alter their last names when they get married; however, they sometimes add their husbands paternal last name after the word “de”. Take a look at the graphic (below) for an example of how this all works:

You may be wondering why they have or use two surnames in Spanish. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure; if anyone knows, please enlighten us. However, it sure can make things a lot less confusing for some people. For example, there are three people found in my city named “David Clark”. One of them even has the same middle initial as me. People have confused us before, but if I used my mother’s maiden name after my last name, like they do in Spanish; it would help to eliminate the confusion.

One of the challenges Latin people have, when moving to countries like the United States, is how to address their last names. On most forms and official records, we only allow one surname. As a solution, some Latin families choose the father’s paternal surname as their “U.S.” surname, while others may hyphenate both of their surnames: “Garcia-Davila”.

Now, to wrap up our lessons on names, let’s look at the top 20 Spanish surnames, according to pdom.com/spanish_names.htm:
Rank Name Population
1 Garcia 744,000
2 Fernandez 503,000
3 Lopez 451,000
4 Martinez 433,000
5 Gonzalez 433,000
6 Rodriguez 432,000
7 Sanchez 405,000
8 Perez 404,000
9 Martin 247,000
10 Gomez 232,000
11 Ruiz 186,000
12 Diaz 171,000
13 Hernandez 160,000
14 Alvarez 159,000
15 Jimenez 154,000
16 Moreno 144,000
17 Munoz 123,000
18 Alonso 115,000
19 Romero 97,000
20 Navarro 90,000

Moral of the Story: Although figuring out Spanish surnames can appear to be confusing, once you get the hang of it, it’s not that bad – it’s just different. In some cases, like for me personally in the U.S., the extra last name would help to avoid confusion.

Sneak peek at next week: “The Cold-Fish and Forearm Handshakes”

¡Hasta luego! (“Until later!”)

David S. Clark — President / Director
U.S. Institute of Languages

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One Response

  1. melinda wilger says:

    didn’t exactly know where to comment about the soft handshake.

    Although I am not a Latina, I am a Filipina, we were also very much influenced by the Spanish culture. A soft handshake is an act of purity and modesty. But if you receive strong handshakes from Latinas and Filipinas now, they’ve probably just learned a different way and adjusted to their new culture it is by no means a reflection of their purity or modesty. (smiles)

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