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History and Origin of Spanish Surnames
The Spanish language and naming systems date back to Ancient Rome. Up until the 5th century, Spain was part of the Roman Empire. In the 6th century, a group of early Germanic people known as the Visigoths went to war with Rome, eventually conquering Spain and much of the Iberian Peninsula. Due to living under the Visigoth rule for much of the Middle Ages, today some of the most common Spanish last names are influenced by German first names and German name origins. For example, the surname "Valdez" is derived from the Old German word for bald.
Today, many Spanish surnames incorporate multicultural elements. In Hispanic speaking countries like Argentina and Mexico that use double-barreled last names combine elements of Spanish last names with other cultures such as Italian or French surnames. Similarly, in places like Puerto Rico, many people have surnames of non-Spanish origins. For example, one of the most common Puerto Rican last names, Damiani, comes from Italian and Greek origins.
Spanish Naming Customs
Like many cultures, last names of Spanish origin are derived from family names (patronymic/matronymic), place names, descriptive names, or names of occupations. Spanish names, however, don't always follow a linear path. A person, for example, may have two last names, one from their mother and one from their father. A Hispanic or Spanish-speaking person will typically have their mother's surname first, followed by their father's surname.
Let's look at an example of a patronymic name. If Diego Lopez Reyes marries María Hernandez Diaz, both will keep their last names. Then if they have a baby boy named Leonardo, his full name will be Leonardo Hernandez Lopez.
The use of two surnames was originally introduced in the Middle Ages by Madrid's Castillian kings. For thousands of years, those with two surnames were only royalty and the upper class. However, this naming practice started to become universally common in the 19th century.
Many Spanish surnames indicate familial ties and descendants by ending in the suffixes "-az, -ez, -iz, or -oz." Each of these means "son of." Therefore someone named Hernando Suarez is the son of Suero.
Unique Spanish Names with English Meanings
Some of the most beautiful Spanish surnames are descriptive names inspired by the names of places, animals, or physical traits. Here are a few of the most interesting Spanish surnames.
- Rivera - The Spanish word for "riverbank".
- Iglesias - Plural of the Spanish word for church.
- Serrano - A topographic name for someone who lived by the mountains. This name is commonly used in both Portugal and Brazil.
- Morales - A topographic name that translates to "mulberry tree" in English.
- Cabrera - A place name meaning "place of goats"
- Delgado - A descriptive surname derived from the Latin word for "dainty. Delgado also translates to thin/slender in Spanish or Portuguese.
- De La Vega - A topographic name meaning "fertile" or "water meadow."
- Velasco - a name from Basque origins that translates to "raven" or "little crow."
Most Common Spanish Last Names and Meanings
Presently, the most popular Spanish surnames are some of the most-used names in the world. Spanish names can be found throughout Europe, Latin America, and the United States. Here are 10 of the most common Spanish last names today.
- Garcia - Son of Garcia.
- Rodriguez - Son of Rodrigo or son of Roderick.
- Gonzalez - Son of Gonzalo.
- Fernandez - Son of Fernando.
- Lopez - Son of Lope.
- Martinez - Son of Martin.
- Sanchez - Son of Sancho. The Spanish personal name Sancho translates to "sanctified."
- Perez - Son of Pedro, the Portuguese and Spanish equivalent of the name Peter.
- Gómez - Son of Gome.
- Moreno - A descriptive name for someone with dark hair or a darker complexion.
Use the list below to find your last name and learn about its meaning and origins. (It may also be helpful to check out the Ultimate Guide to Mexican Names.)
Most Popular Spanish Surnames on FamilyEducation: Aguilar, Alvarez, Juarez, Ortiz, Ramirez, Rubio