Naming customs of Hispanic America

The naming customs of Hispanic America are similar to the Spanish naming customs practiced in Spain, with some modifications to the surname rules. Many Hispanophones in the countries of Hispanic America have two given names, plus a paternal surname (primer apellido or apellido paterno) and a maternal surname (segundo apellido or apellido materno).

Colonial Hispanic America

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.

Modern day

Since the late 20th century, owing to US influence, many Hispanic Americans have been baptized with English rather than Spanish given names.

Children that are not recognized by their father have been legally treated in two ways, changing from time to time according to 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.

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.

Cuba, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo and Nicaragua

In Cuba, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo and Nicaragua , both men and women carry their two family names (first their father's, and second their mother's). Both are equally important and are mandatory for any official document. Married women never change their original family names for their husband's. Even when they migrate to other countries where this is a common practice, many prefer to adhere to their heritage and keep their maiden name. They also use "de", as explained below.


In Ecuador, a couple can choose the order of their children's surnames. Most choose the traditional order (e.g., Guerrero García in the example above), but some invert the order, putting the mother's paternal surname first and the father's paternal surname last (e.g., García Guerrero from the example above). Such inversion, if chosen, must be consistent for all children of the marriage.


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.

Since 2013, 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. If there's no agreement on the order, in the case of heterosexual couples, the father's surname will be placed first and the mother's second.

Same-sex 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]

Once the order of the surnames has been established, it can not be changed.


In August 2007, a draft law [2] 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.[3] 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.


In some instances, such as high society meetings, and with no legal value (except in Argentina), the husband’s surname can be added after the woman’s surnames using the conjunction de ("of"). Thus Leocadia Blanco Álvarez, married to a Pedro Pérez Montilla, may be addressed as Leocadia Blanco de Pérez or as Leocadia Blanco Álvarez de Pérez. This format is not used in everyday settings and has no legal value.[4]

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 such as 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]


According to the Chicago Manual of Style, Spanish and Hispanophone names are indexed by the family name. In case there are two family names, the indexing is done under the father's family name; this would be the first element of the surname if the father's and mother's or husband's family names are joined by a y. Depending upon the person involved, the particle de may be treated as a part of a family name or it may be separated from a family name. The indexing of Hispanophone names differs from that of Portuguese of Lusophone names, where the indexing occurs from the final element of the name.[6]


  1. "IMPO: Ley 19.075". 9 May 2013. Retrieved 31 October 2014.
  2. "Proyecto de Ley Orgánica del Registro Civil" (PDF). National Electoral Council of Venezuela. Limitación a la inscripción de nombres Artículo 106 ... no permitirán que ... les coloquen nombres que los expongan al ridículo; sean extravagantes o de difícil pronunciación en el idioma oficial; contengan variantes familiares y coloquiales que denoten una identificación confusa o que generen dudas sobre la determinación del sexo. En estos casos, el registrador ofrecerá como referencia, un listado de los nombres y apellidos más comunes....Quedan exceptuados de esta disposición los nombres de los niños, niñas o adolescentes de las etnias indígenas del país, así como los nombres de los hijos de los extranjeros....
  3. No se incluirá en anteproyecto de ley de registro civil artículo relacionado con los nombres, National Electoral Council, 13 September 2007
  5. 1 2 3 4 Corona Fruits and Veggies, Inc. v. Frozsun Foods, Inc., 143 Cal. App. 4th 319, 48 Cal. Rptr. 3d 868 (2006).
  6. "Indexes: A Chapter from The Chicago Manual of Style" (Archive). Chicago Manual of Style. Retrieved on December 23, 2014. p. 27 (PDF document p. 29/56).
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