Deciphering Spanish Surnames

The construction of a Spanish surname (otherwise known as a last name) is quite different from that of an English surname. Here’s an example to help you understand how Spanish names are constructed:

  • Meet María del Carmen Fernández Bustamante, a single woman with a traditional Spanish name.

    The woman’s name is María del Carmen Fernández Bustamante (mah-reeah dehl kahr-mehn fehr-nahn-dehs bvoos-tah-mahn-teh). You can tell that you may call her señorita (seh-nyoh-ree-tah), or Miss Fernández (fehr-nahn-dehs), because of the three-part structure of her name.

In an English-speaking country, she would rearrange her name to María del Carmen Bustamante Fernández because English speakers put the father’s name at the end and use the person’s last name as a reference.

  • María del Carmen Fernández Bustamante marries and adds on more names.

    When Miss Fernández marries, she adds on more names. Suppose she marries señor (seh-nyohr) (Mr.) Juan José García Díaz (Hooahn Hoh-seh gahr-seeah deeahs). She’s still called Fernández, but after her father’s name she adds de (deh) (of) and her husband’s surname, which is García. Now, she’s señora María del Carmen Fernández de García (mah-reeah dehl kahr-mehn fehr-nahn-dehs deh gahr-seeah). The effect of these conventions is that women keep their family names, which are considered very important and meaningful.

  • Newly married señora María del Carmen Fernández de García gives birth to a daughter.

    When señora María del Carmen Fernández de García gives birth to her baby, the daughter takes both the father’s and mother’s surnames, so her name is Ana García Fernández. This naming convention is the same for both genders. For instance, if señor García has a child, Mario, from a previous marriage to a woman whose surname was Ocampo, Mario’s full name would be Mario García Ocampo. In that case, Ana and Mario are siblings, having the same father and different mothers. The Spanish use of both the father’s and mother’s surnames immediately indicates the relationship between the siblings.

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