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Hispanic American naming customs

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Title: Hispanic American naming customs  
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Subject: African-American names, Naming in the United States, Federico Ágreda, Somali name, Igbo name
Collection: Names by Culture, Spanish-Language Surnames, Surnames
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Hispanic American naming customs

Hispanic American naming customs are very similar to the two-surname personal appellation practiced in Spain. This article highlights some of the differences that are found.

Many Hispanic Americans have two given names, plus a paternal surname and a maternal surname.

In the colonial period and nineteenth century, it was common to have between one and three given names followed by a second name with a "de" (from) in front. For example the Saint Teresa de los Andes whose real name is Juana Enriqueta Josefina de los Sagrados Corazones Fernández del Solar. Where "Juana", "Enriqueta" and "Josefina" are her first names, followed by the second name "de los Sagrados Corazones". Her paternal surname is "Fernández" and her maternal surname is "del Solar".

Another form of second name can be preceded by a "de" particle, which can be varied to "del" or "de los". Examples are "José del Pilar", "Rosa del Carmen", "Fidelina de las Mercedes". These second names are only used in formal occasions, and in many cases only registered in the birth, marriage and death certificates.

Children that are not recognized by their father have been legally treated in two ways, changing time to time according the civil registration norms. One way is to be registered with only a first surname that is the mother's surname. The second way is to have the mother's surname as first surname and second surname. These are known as natural children. Another case is to only register the father's surname not giving importance to the mother; this happened in the early 20th century.


  • By country 1
    • Uruguay 1.1
    • Argentina 1.2
    • Chile and Mexico 1.3
    • Philippines 1.4
    • Venezuela 1.5
  • The marital conjunction "de" (of) 2
  • Legal implications 3
  • References 4

By country

Spanish naming customs differ by country.


Legally in Uruguay, the use is of two surnames: first the paternal surname, then the maternal surname. For example, Natalia Marisa Oreiro Iglesias is the daughter of Carlos Florencio Oreiro Poggio and Mabel Cristina Iglesias Bourié. Parents may invert this order by mutual agreement, at the naming of the first child of the couple. Subsequent children must be named following the same order. Homosexual parents may choose the order of both surnames by mutual agreement. In case of disagreement the order of the surnames is determined by draw.[1]


Although two surnames are legally accepted, the common practice in Argentina is to register only the paternal surname in the birth records (or only the maternal if there is no recognized father), so the common usage is to refer to people by a single surname. There are exceptions, however. For example, Gregorio Pérez Companc is the adopted son of Margarita Companc de Pérez, and Carlos Miguens Bemberg is the son of the architect Carlos Miguens and the film director María Luisa Bemberg.

In 2008, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner proposed that the maternal surname would always be included in the registries and that it be placed in the first position, in front of the father's surname.[2]

In Argentina, Eva Perón (Evita) and Isabel Perón (Isabelita), the second and third wives of Juan Perón (an ex-president), are commonly known by the Perón surname. This usage of only the marital surname, without the woman's surname nor the wife-connoting article de, is not an exceptional feature in common speech.

Chile and Mexico

Instead of primer apellido (first surname) and segundo apellido (second surname), common in other countries, legally, the following expressions are used: apellido paterno (paternal surname) and apellido materno (maternal surname).

Although a woman may socially use the marital conjunction de, it is omitted in her legal name. For example, former first lady Marta Larraechea very often is called Marta Larraechea de Frei, but her full legal name remains Marta Larraechea Bolívar. As another example, Soledad Alvear is almost never called Soledad Alvear de Martínez; her full legal name is María Soledad Alvear Valenzuela.


Although not strictly a Hispanic American country but a Malay-Hispanic influenced country, it uses a style similar to the American English system. The convention is that with someone called Alberto Mercado Gómez, Mercado would be his maternal surname and Goméz the paternal. That person would seldom be addressed as Mr Mercado, but would instead be addressed as Mr Gómez. Nevertheless some people still follow the Spanish traditional surname conventions.


In August 2007, a draft law [3] by the Venezuelan National Electoral Council thus sought to change the national Venezuelan naming customs:

'Civil Registry Organic Law Project: Limitation upon the inscription of names Article 106 “...[civil registrars] will not permit... [parents] to place names [upon their children] that expose them to ridicule; that are extravagant or difficult to pronounce in the official language; that contain familiar and colloquial variants that denote a confused identification, or that generate doubts about the determination of the sex. In these cases, the registrar will offer, as reference, a listing of the most common names and surnames... The names of boys, girls, or adolescents of the country's indigenous ethnic groups and the names of foreigners' children are excepted from this disposition. . . .”

Popular complaint against the naming-custom-limiting Article 106 compelled the Venezuelan National Electoral Council to delete it from the Civil Registry Organic Law Project.[4] It could be said that common names like Elvio Lado (which can be pronounced as "el violado", meaning "the raped one") or Mónica Galindo (which can be pronounced as "Moni caga lindo", meaning "Moni shits prettily") would count as an example of violation to this law.

The marital conjunction "de" (of)

In some Latin American nations, a wife could drop her own maternal surname while adding her husband's apellido (his paternal surname) suffixed after her (paternal) first surname with the conjunction de (“of") — thus Ángela López Sáenz, as wife of Tomás Portillo Blanco, would become Ángela López de Portillo. In other nations doing so is frowned upon. The contemporary naming custom now practises the wife retaining her surname. The use of the husband's surname by a wife is typically encountered in social situations where the connection to the husband is being stressed. Her full formal married-name (Ángela López Sáenz de Portillo) is the documentary convention in only some Latin American countries. Where it exists, the custom provides her with ceremonial life and death wife-names, Ángela López, Sra. de Portillo (Ángela López, Wife of Portillo) wherein Sra. (señora, “Mrs”) connotes "wife"; and Ángela López Sáenz, vda. de Portillo (Ángela López Sáenz, Widow of Portillo), wherein vda. (viuda, “widow”) denotes widowhood.

Some names have the de conjunction without association to marriage at all. Instead they may reflect the geographical origin of the individual or that of the individual ancestors. Thus there are men named Juan Ponce de León, José de Guzmán Benítez, and Oscar de la Renta.

Legal implications

The Hispanic preference for using the first surname from the father over the second surname from the mother occasionally results in serious legal problems in English-speaking countries like the United States, whose laws operate on the assumption that each person has a first name, middle name, and last name, where the last name is normally inherited solely from the father and is assumed to be the only surname.

For example, in a 2006 decision from one of the California Courts of Appeal, it was held that a creditor had failed to perfect its security interest in the strawberry crop of a debtor whose full true name was "Armando Muñoz Juárez."[5] In accordance with Mexican naming convention, he frequently went by Armando Muñoz, and signed documents by that name, and the creditor's financing statement therefore referred to him as "Armando Muñoz."[5] The court ruled: "Debtor's last name did not change when he crossed the border into the United States. The 'naming convention' is legally irrelevant[.]"[5] In other words, under the California implementation of the Uniform Commercial Code, the debtor's "true last name" was Juárez (his maternal surname).[5]


  1. ^ "IMPO: Ley 19.075". 9 May 2013. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  2. ^ Cristina impulsa ley para que el apellido materno vaya primero (Spanish)
  3. ^ "Proyecto de Ley Orgánica del Registro Civil" ( 
  4. ^ No se incluirá en anteproyecto de ley de registro civil artículo relacionado con los nombres, National Electoral Council, 13 September 2007
  5. ^ a b c d Corona Fruits and Veggies, Inc. v. Frozsun Foods, Inc., 143 Cal. App. 4th 319, 48 Cal. Rptr. 3d 868 (2006).
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