For people who want to learn more about their family history, their surname is always a great place to start. Surnames can provide many clues about a family’s origins, traditions, and culture. In fact, each culture has its own naming conventions – for those with Spanish surnames, your Spanish surname may indicate an ancestor’s occupation or hometown.
However, knowing the origin of your Hispanic surname is just the beginning. You’ll need to find out what naming pattern your ancestors followed, and if they kept that surname unchanged over the centuries. Meanwhile, other people have Hispanic surnames, but do not have any Spanish blood. Their ancestors came from countries colonized by Spain, and these ancestors changed their names for government records under colonial rule.
What are the most common Spanish surnames, and what are their meanings? Read on to learn more about the roots of surnames in Spain, and how surname patterns have evolved over the centuries.
Hispanic Naming Patterns Have Changed Over Time
Known as “apellido” in Spanish, nowadays people who live in countries with Hispanic surnames will have two surnames. This is a last name convention that dates its existence to Spain’s Castilian aristocracy during the 16th century.
A census of a Hispanic country will reveal that people take the first of their father’s two surnames and the first of their mother’s two surnames as a last name. For example, let’s say a father named Diego Nunez Recio who is married to Juana Garcia Pelaez has a son named Fernando. That son’s name would be “Fernando Nunez Garcia”.
As a result of these naming conventions, women would add the surnames of their husbands to the end of their surnames. They would also simply append their husbands’ last names using “de” between these two names. This explains why spouses would have separate sets of double surnames from their son.
Many centuries ago, Hispanic naming patterns varied greatly. Daughters would take a mother’s surname, while a son would take their father’s last name. However, this Castilian double last name convention did not exist in Hispanic nations until the 16th century and was not in consistent use in Hispanic populations until the early 19th century. Keep this in mind when looking up the names of ancestors before the 19th century!
The Four Types Of Hispanic Surnames
Spanish surnames can be divided into four basic naming patterns, each explaining their origin and how they have changed over generations.
Patronymic and Matronymic Last Names
Using these two surnames began as a way to distinguish between two men who had the same name, by using the first name of the father (patronym) and the first name of the mother (matronym). Sometimes, a parent’s name would be used as is – hence, Hispanic people with the surnames “Alonso” and “Vincente”.
However, over time these names had suffixes added to them like “ez”, “is” and “oz”. These suffixes meant “son of”, and would be added to the end of a Spanish surname. Portuguese last names, on the other hand, would have the suffixes “es”, “as”, “is”, or “os”. Examples of common surnames that follow this naming pattern are “Gonzales” (meaning son of Gonzalo), or “Suarez” (used by sons of “Suero”).
At first, these surname variations were not passed down. For instance, in a generation, a son may be called Velasco Perez (Velasco, son of Perez). His son would then be named Ruy Velasquez (Ruy, son of Velasco). As time passed, these patronymic surnames were fixed and passed down to children, eventually becoming the common surnames we know today.
A person’s job would often be added to their given name, eventually becoming their surname. Juan Barbero, for example, would be Juan “the barber”. Here are some examples of occupation Spanish surnames.
- Alcaldo: From “alcalde” meaning “mayor” in Spanish
- Barbero: Meaning “the barber”
- Cavallero: A surname meaning “horseman” or “knight”, with variations spelled as “Caballero” or “Caballa”
- Herrera: A variation on this surname would be “Herrero”, meaning “ironworker” or “smith”.
- Marin: A last name that originated from the Latin word “marinus” meaning “sailor”
- Marques: A last name associated with the nobility of Spain, as it means “marquis”
- Molinera: A last name meaning “miller”
- Romero: A common surname in Spain meaning “pilgrim”
These are some of the most common surnames in Spain that also tell you more about the site of the hometown of its first bearer. For example, a person with the surname “Navarro” was likely to be someone “from Navarre”.
These common geographic surnames did not have to mention specific towns – they were often descriptive of land that a person lived in. A person who had the surname “Morales” can have that name traced back to an ancestor who lived near blackberry groves, while people who lived near eagles’ nests would have the surname “Aguilar”. Residents who lived around a cold mountain could have the surname “Mendoza” passed down to their son.
Even buildings in a hometown could eventually become the source of a geographic surname. “Iglesias” is a common surname that had its roots in an ancestor living near churches. If you’re uncertain about the origins of your last name, find out if it translates into a description of a place in Spain. It may give you more information about the country and the main town your ancestors lived in.
Descriptive Last Names
These surnames were commonly derived from a physical feature of the people who would first bear them. Here are some examples of descriptive Spanish surnames.
- Bravo: Taken from the Spanish word meaning “brave”
- Cortes: A common name in Spain which meant “courteous”
- Delgado: A last name in Spain meaning “thin”
- Garza: A name that literally translates into “heron”, it is a last name with the meaning “long-legged”.
- Grand: A last name that means “large”
- Moreno: A name that means “brown-haired” or “tan”
- Rubio: A last name passed down from Spanish families that means “blonde”
The Most Common Spanish Surnames
As of 2013, these are the most common surnames in Spain. These are also some of the most common surnames in Spanish-speaking countries like Mexico and Cuba. Scroll down to see if your name is listed here – you may be surprised!
- Garcia: A pre-Roman name common in the Basque region
- Fernandez: A name with Germanic roots, meaning “children of Fernando”
- Gonzalez: A common surname in Hispanic countries with Germanic roots
- Rodriguez: A patronymic last name with Germanic roots that meant “son of Rodrigo”
- Lopez: A Latin last name that means “wolf”
- Martinez: A last name with Latin roots that means “of Mars”
- Sanchez: A Hispanic last name with Latin roots
- Perez: Common amongst Hispanic-speaking countries, this Latin name means “son of Peter”.
- Martin: A Latin name that is derived from the Roman god Mars, and research shows he is the traditional protective god of many Latin families.
- Gomez: A Germanic-rooted name that means “son of Gome”
- Ruiz: A last name meaning “son of Ruy”, this last name is also a variation or nickname for “Rodrigo”.
- Hernandez: This last name means “son of Hernando”. It is also a spelling variation of the last name” Fernando”.
- Jimenez: A last name in any Hispanic country that means “son of Jimeno or Xemeno”
- Diaz: A last name that translates into “son of Diego”
- Alvarez: A last name with Germanic roots that is passed on from a father to the “son of Alvaro”
- Moreno: A common surname in any Hispanic population that means “tan” or “brown-haired”
- Munoz: A pre-Roman last name that means “son of Munio”
- Alonso: A last name that is a variation of Alfonso and Germanic in origin
- Gutierrez: A Germanic last name that means “son of Guiter/Guitierre”
- Romero: A Spanish last name that means “pilgrim”
- Navarro: A geographic last name that means “from Navarre”
- Torres: A geographic last name in Spain that means “from the towers”.
- Dominguez: A last name that means “son of Domingo”, derived from the Latin “domenicus” or “dominus” meaning “master”.
- Gil: A Spanish patronymic last name
- Vazquez: A last name meaning “son of Vasco or Velasco”
Learn More About Your Family History
Your last name holds a wealth of information about your family tree and origin. Your last name could reveal your ancestors’ hometown, or what trade they practiced many centuries ago.
If your last name is one of the Spanish surnames we’ve listed here, you may want to research your roots. One good place to start is your old family photo albums!
Get your vintage photographs restored at a professional studio like Image Restoration Center. Once restored and colorized, you can show them to your relatives and ask them for more information about your family. Who knows what incredible, inspiring stories you might find out about your ancestors?