Hispanic Culture: Composition of Hispanic Names

Hispanic Culture: Composition of Hispanic Names via The LEAF Project

Hispanic Culture: Composition of Hispanic Names via The LEAF Project

Hispanic Culture: Composition of Hispanic Names

Traditional Hispanic names consists of three parts:

given name(s) + father’s surname + mother’s surname (or initial)

The idea of having a “middle name” is more a part of the Anglo-American culture.  In Spanish, there are names that appear to be made up of a first and a middle name, but more often than not these are compound names; that is, you must use both names together, not one or the other separately (e.g., this is much the same as the English “Billy Joe”, “Norma Jean”). These are examples of compound Spanish given names:

María Luisa
Marco Antonio
José Luis
José de Jesús
Miguel Angel (compare “Michelangelo”)

Since a majority of names, especially male ones, contain only one given name, it is easy for an American to think that the second part is also a given or middle name when, in face, it is the father’s surname. Here are some examples of Spanish names:

Pabo Cuéllar Calderón
Miguel Olarte Molano
Jorge Valencia Solana
José Luis Gutiérrez Posada
María Clara Bravo Bernal

When addressed, the above would be señor (Sr.) Cuéllar, Sr. Olarte, Sr. Valencia, Sr. Gutiérrez, Señorita (Srta.) Bravo. If you wish, you may use both surnames: Srta. Bravo Bernal, Sr. Gutiérrez Posada, etc. It is not always easy to identify which is the paternal surname when you are looking at a name in print, since some of the names may be strange to you and, therefore, difficult to identify as a given or a surname. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask someone.

When a woman marries, she will normally replace her mother’s surname with her husband’s surname, but she will NOT drop her own family name.

Thus, if:
María Clara Bravo Bernal marries Jorge Valencia Solana “de” will be placed in front of Valencia, and her legal name will be: María Clara Bravo de Valencia.

You may address her any of the following ways:

Señora (Sra.) María Clara Bravo de Valencia, or
Sra. María Clara de Valencia, or
Sra. Bravo de Valencia, or
Sra. de Valencia or, in some areas,
Sra. Valencia

Depending on the amount of pride and recognition invested in a person’s family ties with the past, María Clara can choose to retain her mother’s name and be Sra. María Clara Bravo Bernal de Valencia or, if the pride rests in the husban’d maternal name, Sra. Maria Clara Bravo de Valencia Solana. It is not inconceivable that all four family identities may wish to be preserved, which is where we sometimes get such long names in Spanish. (For example, María Clara would be Sra. María Clara Bravo Bernal de Valencia Solana.) Except in usual circumstances, this may be considered a little pretentious today, where at one time in history it was almost the rule, especially among the nobility in Spain and their relatives in Hispanic America.

Professional Names:

It is not unusual to address professionals, such as lawyers, architects, and engineers, by using their title just as Americans do with doctors and university professors. Don’t be surprised if you see or hear the following:

(Lic.) Licenciado (usually with attorneys) Roberto F. Carvjal
(Ing.) Ingeniero (entineer) Jorge Valencia Solana
(Arq.) Arquitecto (architect) Miguel Olarte Molano
(Prof.) Profesor (any teacher, not just univeristy) Agustín Nieto Caballero

Names in a Social Context:

Following all of this extensive information about names and how to address people, we must confess that in normal average conversation contacts with people, names are not used as often as in English. For example, in English you may briefly turn away from Mrs. Jones to say to a third person who just joined you, “Mrs. Jones was just telling me about her trip to Paraguay last summer…” More than likely, a Spanish-speaking person would say “La señora was just telling me…” Similarly, if you were to call Mrs. Jones on the phone and the maid answered, you would ask “Is la señora in?” rather than “Is la señora Jones in?”

And (you are going to like this!) if you are introducing people, say at a party, you don’t have to worry if you can’t remember the names of people involved. You can simply introduce others by saying something like Joe, I wand you to meet my friend here.” The two people then shake hands and exchange their names in a quick, polite littler ceremony. The fact that more often than not neither party understood the name of the other is inconsequential. This information can always be found out later from someone else!


el nombre : name (given name)

el apellido : last name (surname)

la familia : family

el esposo : husband

la esposa : wife


Following is a list to familiarize you with some different variations of Spanish names:

1. Manuel Antonio Salcedo
2. Jorge Valencia Solana
3. Licenciado Roberto F. Carvajal
4. Profesor Agustín Nieto Caballero
5. María Clara Bravo de Valencia
6. Doctor José Luis Gutiérrez Posada
7. Inspector Felipe Alva
8. Arquitecto Miguel Olarte Molano
9. Carlos González
10. Tomás Trujillo Zambrano
11. Profesora Marta García Peña
12. María Luisa Rodríguez
13. Licenciado Andrés Lanza Obregón
14. Blanca García
15. Carmen Ortega Alvarez
16. Elsa Carrión
17. Guillermo Pérez
18. Ignacio López Montoya
19. Raúl Sáenz Castro
20. Blanca Salazar del Castillo
21. Carmen del Valle
22. José Luis Medina
23. Daniel Hidalgo
24. Julio Ortega Manzanares
25. Héctor Ayala Pérez
26. Nora Sánchez de Cubillos
27. Marta Padilla de Gómez
28. Carlos Rivero Alvarez
29. Inés Padilla Soto
30. Josefina Miller Trujillo
31. Isabel Centeno Cantillo
32. Lucía Peña Osorio
33. Eduardo Martínez Gómez
34. Hugo Fuentes Pineda
35. Agustín Vilches
36. Manuel Barrero Medína
37. José Molina
38. Ricardo Medina Castellanos
39. Jesús Medesma Ochoa
40. Alfonso Gutiérrez Laso

A. Practice reading some of the above names (at least 20) out loud in a recognizable pronunciation.

B. How many married females can you identify in the list?

C. How many single females can you identify?

D. How many professionals can you identify?

E. You teacher will read names out loud and you must try and find them. (This will be done for about 10-12 names.)

F. Read aloud the names that go with numbers 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, and 40 using the appropriate choice for señor, señora, or señorita.

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