Mexican Last Names: Frequently Asked Questions

August 1, 2019  - by 
A smiling family of four sit on a bench together.

There is one thing that is easy to see when researching Mexican last names—everyone seems to have more than one. Understanding the reason for multiple Mexican last names (apellidos) and other naming conventions will help you do your Mexican family history.

What Does a Typical Mexican Name Look Like?

When looking at Mexican names, you will often see at least two given names (for example, Maria Angelica) and two surnames (for example, Rodriguez Lopez). All put together, a full Mexican name could look like this:

Maria Angelica Rodriguez Lopez

Why Do Mexicans Have Two Last Names?

Mexicans are given two first names for a variety of reasons that range from religious to cultural and family reasons. However, when it comes to the last names, there is a traditional system for passing down a surname, or “apellido.”

In the example above, “Rodriguez Lopez” are both surnames. According to Mexican naming conventions, a person’s first surname (Rodriguez, in this case) is the father’s first surname, and the second surname (Lopez, in this case) is the mother’s first surname. This graphic illustrates how parents pass on their first surnames to their children:

Mexican last names, Mexican Naming Conventions
Mexican last names, Mexican Naming Conventions

Does a Woman Take Her Husband’s Last Name?

Traditionally, Mexican women don’t lose their maiden names when they marry. However, some women add their married name to the end of their other names, often separated by the word de. A married woman’s name might look like the following, with “Vasquez” being her husband’s first surname:

Maria Angelica Rodriguez Lopez de Vasquez

Why Is There a Dash (—) in Some Last Names?

Some families create compound surnames. This compounding is done if a surname was considered too common, if the family belonged to (or wanted to belong to) an aristocracy, or if the family doesn’t want to lose the family name of the mother in the next generation. A compound surname could look like this:

Maria Rodriguez-Lopez Vasquez-Garcia

Mexican immigrants might also hyphenate their names so that others who don’t understand Hispanic naming conventions don’t think the first surname is a middle name. For example, you might see this sort of name:

Maria Rodriguez-Lopez

Why Is There a De, Del, or De La in the Name?

De, del, and de la are sometimes used in Mexican last names if the name comes from a certain place or recalls a common item. For example, if someone’s surname included the word Bosque, which translates as “Forest,” a name could look like this:

Maria Angelica Rodriguez del Bosque

As mentioned previously, the prepositions could also be used to add a married name.

A bride and groom smile off-camera.

Mexican surnames might also appear differently on records, dropping the de (meaning “of”) or de la or even del (meaning “the”) from the name.

Why Did My Ancestors Change Their Name in the United States?

It was common for people to switch their surnames when immigrating to the United States because of the way surnames work in the United States culture. So, when researching family history, watch for immigration records and the surname switching, and search under both surnames.

What Is an Apellido?

A husband holds his son and smiles at his wife.

When looking at records, it is important to remember that Mexicans don’t refer to Mexican last names as “last names.” They refer to them as “apellidos.” This word may help in your research because the translation of “last name” in Spanish does not have the same meaning.

Being armed with the two-surname knowledge can help you trace your family history, especially when you are searching through records. Now that you understand Mexican last names better, check the FamilySearch wiki, and spend some time recording your own family names on the FamilySearch Family Tree.


Discover Your Mexican Heritage

A Mexican family smiles and looks at each other while eating at the table

Rachel Trotter

Rachel J. Trotter is a senior writer and editor at Evalogue.Life. She tells people’s stories and shares hers to encourage others. She loves family storytelling. A graduate of Weber State University, she has had articles featured on LDSLiving.com, FamilySearch.org, and Mormon.org. She and her husband Mat have six children and live on the East Bench in Ogden, Utah.

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Comments

  1. I enjoyed this article very much. It was so helpful. Is there anyway to have those naming diagrams in a PDF download so we can use them at the Family History Center‘s to teach others about Mexican apellidos?
    Thank you
    Jenny

  2. This is such a great article!! Thank you for taking something unfamiliar to many and breaking it down. I have Mexican heritage. And I remember when I found my first few families, I had a headache and had to take a break for a few hours. I just kept asking, why do they have six names?

  3. Is it ever appropriate to address someone by one of their two surnames? For example, instead of “Mr. Rodriguez Lopez”, just “Mr. Rodriguez” or “Mr. Lopez”?

  4. This is not entirely true. In my family, My aunts and uncles on my father’s side of the family used mothers maiden names as middle names. No second first names were given. They were not used on official documents during their lives (for the women), but when everyone died, the mothers maiden name came out as the middle name. In Spain and Peru the mother’s surname followed the fathers. I have seen how FamilySearch gives order to the names when two surnames are given and it is never consistent.

  5. I would like to know, if you have a name such as Maria Del Carmen Hernandez, what is the middle name? Del Carmen or just Carmen?

  6. I heard the name Apoca has an ancient Mexican/Indian origin that is the name for and ancient game that is played like chess. Do you know if that is true.