miércoles, 15 de agosto de 2007

All those surnames for only one person...

The Spanish system of last names, that is meant to come from the time when the Arabs were in the peninsula and spread to the Americas during the Spanish conquest, looks quite confusing but the basic rule is quite simple.

Spaniards have two surnames: the first one is the first surname from the father and the second one is the first mother’s last name. For example, my surname might be “DOMÍNGUEZ HERRERO ”, my parents are called “Javier DOMÍNGUEZ SAURA” and “Lucía HERRERO CANALES”. Nowadays, the Law allows us to change their order in common agreement of the parents or when the person reaches 18 years old.

These are the legal surnames but, in fact, most Spanish families like to trace their genealogy by building up a long chain of last names to show that they know all their ancestors : starting by the first surnames of the parents, then the second ones... For instance, I would say that my surname is “DOMINGUEZ HERRERO SAURA CANALES DEL OLMO BANDERA ...” up to the names I would know.

The origins of Spanish surnames

There are several different origins. Amongst the most common Spanish surnames you will find names in –ez, such as “GONZALEZ” or “FERNÁNDEZ”. This termination comes from the Visigoths’ time in Spain and means “son of”. So one of my father’s ancestors must have been “the son of Domingo”. Other common last names are just names of cities or towns. These are claimed to come from the time when the Jews were forced to adopt Christianity and thus abandon their real surnames.

The “de”

This is probably the trickiest part in Spanish surnames, since it can have completely different origins, such as :

The married woman : in Spanish speaking countries, women are not forced to abandon their surnames when they get married. But it is common, for social reasons, to add their husband’s surname at the end, to show their marital status. For example, in a formal diner, my mother would be called “Lucía HERRERO CANALES, (señora) DE DOMÍNGUEZ”.

The double surname : sometimes, a person with a very common “first surname”, such as GONZÁLEZ, that was born , let’s say, in Madrid and then moved to a new city would be known as “Juan GÓNZÁLEZ DE MADRID”, to differentiate him from others. This double surname would them be kept and survive untill nowadays.

The “nobles” : when a family owned a castle or an important piece of land in a particular town or place, it was common for them to adopt the name of that place.This could take the form of a single or double surname. For example, "Cayetana (Duquesa) DE ALBA" is the duchesse of Alba.

When it doesn’t fit...

The main problem when living abroad or using the Internet is for the Spaniards the lengh of their surnames. Most of the times, they won’t fit into the space allowed or they will cause confusion : is the first surname a middle name? Or how come husband and wife don’t wear the same surname? Spanish people leaving abroad are quite used to dealing with these problems and often choose to use only one surname.

1 comentario:

Greis dijo...


he leido tu info de la familia, esta super interesante, intente enviarte un correo pero parece que no lo recibiste, hem andare por aqui para cualquier cosa, espero comentarios tuyos.