Spanish Culture

Naming

  • Spaniards have a personal name(s) followed by two surnames – the father’s paternal family name and then the mother’s paternal family name. For example: Hector Marίa GONZALEZ LÓPEZ. 
  • People may have two personal names (e.g. Hector Marίa). The second personal name does not always reflect the gender of the person. In this case, the first of the two may be used on its own, but the second should not be. 
  • Traditionally, the first of the surnames is the father’s family name and the second is the mother’s. However, one may now put their mother’s family name first if they wish. 
  • The father’s family name is more commonly used to address people. For example, Hector Marίa GONZALEZ LÓPEZ would be appropriately abbreviated as Hector GONZALEZ.
  • Among friends and family, Spaniards will often use nicknames to refer to one another. Commonly, Spaniards will create nicknames based on an easily noticeable personal characteristic or as a shorter form of one’s first name. For example, one’s nickname might be ‘el gordito’ (‘the fat one’) or ‘Pato’ (a shorter form of ‘Patricio’). 
  • Most name ending in ‘o’ are male, while many name ending in ‘a’ are female. For example, ‘Patricio’ is the male form, while ‘Patricia’ is the female form. Some Spanish women may take offence if their given name is spelt incorrectly with an -o at the end.
  • It is not customary for Spanish women to adopt their husband’s surnames at marriage.
  • People often know four of their family names as each Spanish parent has two surnames. It was once a historical point of honour to be able to trace back multiple generations of names to prove one’s ethnic purity.


Name Days (Santos)

Many Spaniards are named after a saint or religious figure, e.g. Jose (St. Joseph), Maria (Virgin Mary), Antonio (St. Anthony). In these cases, people have a ‘santo’ (name day), which is the day of the saint that they were named after. People can celebrate their name days as if they are birthdays. However, as there are so many santos in the calendar (between one and seven names every day of the year), they are only generally celebrated if they correspond with a popular or local patron saint. For example, someone named ‘Juan’ could celebrate his birthday and the popular St. John’s Day on July 24th.

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