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Understanding customs used in surnames and given names can help you identify your ancestors in records. Learn to recognize name variations and see clues in names.

Online Tools[edit | edit source]

Surnames[edit | edit source]

Historical Development of Surnames[edit | edit source]

See, Surnames Historical Development in Spain Personal Names. In Spain, the name system was well established by the 1100s, and the naming customs of Spain became the basis for other Spanish-speaking countries. The historical development of these practices, described in this article, all took place in Spain before they began colonizing Mexico. Hereditary surnames were well-established when Spaniards brought them to Mexico.

Surname Customs[edit | edit source]

  • The typical Spanish name has four parts: first given name, second given name, father's surname, and mother's surname.
  • When a woman marries a man, she keeps her maiden surname. In the Catholic records, public records, legal records and especially the civil records, the maiden name of a woman is always used.
  • Often, the practice is to use one given name and the first surname most of the time (e.g. "Miguel de Unamuno" for Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo); the complete name is typically reserved for legal, formal, and documentary matters. [1]

"de (of)", "y (and)", and "e (and)"[edit | edit source]

  • In Spanish, the preposition particle "de" ("of") is used as a conjunction in two-surname spelling styles, and to disambiguate a surname, e.g. Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, Pedro López de Ayala, and Vasco Núñez de Balboa, as in many conquistador names.
  • In the sixteenth century, the Spanish adopted the conjunction "y" ("and") to distinguish a person's surnames, e.g. Luis de Góngora y Argote or Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes. The conjunction '"y" avoids confusion when the paternal surname might appear to be a given name. Without it, the Santiago Ramón y Cajal might appear to be named Santiago Ramón and surnamed Cajal, when actually his given name is Santiago and Ramón y Cajal is his surname.
  • When the maternal surname begins with an "i" vowel sound (written with I, Y, Hi + consonant), Spanish substitutes "e in place of y", e.g. Eduardo Dato e Iradier.[2]

Native Indian Surnames[edit | edit source]

Spanish priests would often assign Indian family names as surnames. In Mexico, many surnames of Spanish origin were given to the native Indian children when the priests baptized them. Others were simply baptized Juan, José, María, and so on, and later descendants obtained a surname.

Given Names[edit | edit source]

  • In Mexico, many given names are usually derived from biblical names, such as José (Joseph, husband of Mary) or from the names of a saint, such as Bartolomé (Bartholomew). Some Spanish people used compound given names (nombres compuestos) such as María del Socorro.
  • When baptized, children were usually given one or more given names. One of these might be the name of the Saint Day from the day of baptism. The first name, or baptismal name (nombre de pila), may not have been used in the child’s life. In Mexico, the child was usually called by the second or third name given at baptism; this is especially true if the first name was María or José.

Name Endings[edit | edit source]

Spanish names also may be gendered by way of spelling. In general, only male names end with "o": e.g., Francisco. Only female names end with "a": e.g., Francisca.

Use of María, José (Joseph), and Jesús[edit | edit source]

  • Girls are often named María, honouring the Virgin Mary, by appending either a shrine, place, or religious-concept suffix-name to María.
  • In daily life, such women omit the "Mary of the ..." nominal prefix, and use the suffix portion of their composite names as their public, rather than legal, identity. Hence, women with Marian names such as María de los Ángeles (Mary of the Angels), María del Pilar (Mary of the Pillar), and María de la Luz (Mary of the Light), are normally addressed as Ángeles (Angels), Pilar (Pillar), and Luz (Light); however, each might be addressed as María.
  • Nicknames such as Maricarmen for María del Carmen, Marisol for "María (de la) Soledad" ("Our Lady of Solitude", the Virgin Mary), Dolores or Lola for María de los Dolores ("Our Lady of Sorrows"), Mercedes or Merche for María de las Mercedes ("Our Lady of Mercy"), etc. are often used.
  • Also, parents can simply name a girl María, or Mari without a suffix portion.
  • It is not unusual for a boy's formal name to include María, preceded by a masculine name, e.g. José María Aznar (Joseph Mary Aznar) or Juan María Vicencio de Ripperdá (John Mary Vicencio de Ripperdá). Equivalently, a girl can be formally named María José (Mary Joseph), e.g. skier María José Rienda, and informally named Marijose, Mariajo, Majo, Ajo, Marisé or even José in honor of St. Joseph.
  • María as a masculine name is often abbreviated in writing as M. (José M. Aznar), Ma. (José Ma. Aznar), or M.ª (José M.ª Morelos).
  • It is unusual for any names other than the religiously significant María and José to be used in this way except for the name Jesús that is also very common and can be used as "Jesús" or "Jesús María" for a boy and "María Jesús" for a girl, and can be abbreviated as "Sus", "Chus" and other nicknames.[3]

For Further Reading[edit | edit source]

  • Gorden, Raymond L. Spanish Personal Names. Yellow Springs, Ohio: Antioch College, 1968. (FHL book 980 D4g; film 0924066.)At various libraries (WorldCat)
  • Gosnell, Charles F. Spanish Personal Names, Principles Governing Their Formation and Use. New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1938 (reprinted by Blaine Ethridge Books, Detroit, 1971). (FHL book 980 D4go.)At various libraries (WorldCat)
  • Gran Diccionario de los nombres de persona, origen, significado y onomástica de más de 5.500 nombres (Great Dictionary of Personal Names, Origin, Significance and Onomastics of the Major 5,500 Names). Barcelona: Editorial de Vecchi, S.A., 1998. (FHL book 946 D46g.)

FamilySearch Library[edit | edit source]

Additional books are listed under:

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Spanish naming customs", in Wikipedia,, accessed 19 February 2021.
  2. "Spanish naming customs", in Wikipedia,, accessed 19 February 2021.
  3. "Spanish naming customs", in Wikipedia,, accessed 19 February 2021.