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Uncovering Your Spanish Heritage

perez_tnWith roots in the middle ages, Spanish surnames have been around since the 12th century. Hispanic surnames can be especially important to genealogists because children are commonly given two surnames, one from each parent. The middle name (1st surname) traditionally comes from the father’s name (apellido paterno), and the last name (2nd surname) is the mother’s maiden name (apellido materno). Sometimes, these two surnames may be found separated by y (meaning “and”), although this is no longer as common as it once was.

Recent changes to laws in Spain mean that you may also find the two surnames reversed – first the mother’s surname, and then the father’s surname. The pattern of mother’s surname followed by father’s surname is also common usage for Portuguese surnames. In the United States, where the use of two surnames is less common, some families give children the paternal surname, or perhaps hyphenate the two surnames. These naming patterns are, however, only the most common; variations exist.

Origins of Hispanic Last Names

Spanish surnames developed from four major sources:

Patronymic & Matronymic Surnames – Based on a parent’s first name, this category of surnames includes some of the most common Hispanic surnames. These Hispanic surnames originated as a way to distinguish between men bearing the same given name by specifying the name of their father or mother. Grammatically, Spanish surnames may sometimes be an unchanged form of the father’s given name, with the difference in pronunciation. However, Spanish patronymic surnames were most often formed by adding suffixes meaning “son of, such as -es, -as, -is, or -os (common to Portuguese surnames) or an -ez, -az, -is, or -oz (common to Castilian or Spanish surnames) to the end of the father’s name. (Leon Alvarez – Leon son of Alvaro).

Geographical Surnames – Another common type of Hispanic last name, Spanish geographical surnames are often derived from the location of the homestead from which the first bearer and his family came from or resided in (Ricardo de Lugo – Ricardo from the town of Lugo). Medina and Ortega are common geographical Hispanic surnames, as there are quite a few towns in the Spanish speaking world bearing these names. Some Spanish geographic surnames refer to landscape features, such as Vega, meaning “meadow,” and Mendoza, meaning “cold mountain,” from mendi (mountain) and (h)otz (cold) + a. Some Spanish geographic surnames also feature the suffix de, meaning “from” or “of” (Desoto – of soto, of “the grove”).

Occupational Surnames – these Hispanic last names are based on the person’s job or trade (Roderick Guerrero – Roderick the warrior or soldier).

Descriptive Surnames – Based on a unique quality or physical feature of the individual, these surnames often developed from nicknames or pet names (Juan Delgado – John the thin).

1. GARCIA 14. DIAZ 27. ALVAREZ 40. MUNOZ
2. MARTINEZ 15. GOMEZ 28. ROMERO 41. SANTIAGO
3. RODRIGUEZ 16. ORTIZ 29. FERNANDEZ 42. PENA
4. LOPEZ 17. CRUZ 30. MEDINA 43. GUZMAN
5. HERNANDEZ 18. MORALES 31. MORENO 44. SALAZAR
6. GONZALES 19. REYES 32. MENDOZA 45. AGUILAR
7. PEREZ 20. RAMOS 33. HERRERA 46. DELGADO
8. SANCHEZ 21. RUIZ 34. SOTO 47. VALDEZ
9. RIVERA 22. CHAVEZ 35. JIMENEZ 48. RIOS
10. RAMIREZ 23. VASQUEZ 36. VARGAS 49. VEGA
11. TORRES 24. GUTIERREZ 37. CASTRO 50. ORTEGA
12. GONZALES 25. CASTILLO 38. RODRIQUEZ
13. FLORES 26. GARZA 39. MENDEZ