Saturday, April 28, 2012

Spanish naming system

Whenever Barclaycard or RACE telephone me to tell me about some unmissable offer they seem determined to call me Sr. John. That's because on their records they have my name as Christopher and my surnames as John and Thompson. You must have had something similar. Have you ever wondered how the Spanish naming system works? No?, oh well no need to read the rest then!

When a child is born, he/she receives the first surname from the father and the second surname from the mother. That means that when baby Sara is born to Juan Martínez Escudero and Marta Villanueva Cortés she becomes Sara Martínez Villanueva. This way when a woman marries a man, she doesn't lose her maiden name, and her family name is carried by her own children.

Sometimes people don't want to lose their name after just one generation, or they want to sound posh so they merge their family names to create the equivalent of an English double barrelled surname. For instance Francisco García Carrión wants to marry Ana Martínez Botella; and, because he is proud of his mother's family name, he changes his first family name to García-Carrión so that his son can be called Pedro García-Carrión Martínez. Ez by the way is “son of” so Fernández was, at some time in the past Fernando's boy. Just like son in English.

Another way to get a double barrelled surname is to use short linking words like and or from especially if the surname means something geographical like the name Ford in English. This time then Bosque (forest) becomes del Bosque, Peña (rock) is de la Peña and Viña (vine) is de la Viña.

Now to first names; Spaniards like to give their children several first (Christian) names so that they are protected by more Saints. Traditionally one of the names had to be the Saint related to the birthday. If you were born on St Stephens day you would be called Esteban for instance. This was especially true for women. It was also very common for women to be called María followed by a name to describe their particular “Mary” - something like Esperanza (hope), Concepción (conception), Dolores (pain) or Encarnación (incarnation), In that case they usually call themselves by the second part or a name derived from it. So María Inmaculada would be Inmaculada or Inma to her friends.

It gets worse. In order to maximize this divine protection some people have both a male and a female name. The first name will tell you the sex of the person. So if you were writing to José María you'll need Dear Sir but María José will be a woman.

Just to round off we have the equivalent of Bill to William and Liz to Elizabeth. Pepe is from José, Manolo from Manuel, Paco from Francisco and Chema from José María whilst Concha is María Concepción, Maribel is María Isabel, Marisa from María Luisa, Encarna from María Encarnación and Lola from María de los Dolores.

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