Why do Spaniards have two surnames?


  • The double surname appeared in the Middle Ages among the Castilian upper classes and spread from the north of Castile to the Basque estates


  • Over time, surnames that alluded to family origin, physical appearance, place of origin, occupations, names or names of plants or animals proliferated (Pino, Vaca)


  • Since 2017, the Civil Code in its Article 109 recognizes the right of parents by mutual consent to determine the order of surnames before their registration in the civil register

Contrary to what happens in many countries in Europe and North America, we Spaniards have Two families which identify the paternal and maternal family. Spain is also one of the few countries in which a woman does not lose her last name when he got married.

Generally speaking, the Spanish citizen’s first surname is the father’s first and the mother’s second. However, it is possible to change the order. Since 2017, the Civil Code in its Article 109 recognizes the right of parents to mutual agreement determines the order of surnames before registration in the civil registry.

Change of surnames upon reaching the age of majority

On the other hand, when children reach coming of agethey can request this change the order of their surnames, an option usually made to avoid losing certain surnames if the offspring were female.

The decision is not difficult to implement, but it has consequences for the rest of the family: if the couple reverses the order of surnames at their first birth, this the change will be applied automatically of the other descendants of the same couple.

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Since when are both surnames used?

The double surname arose in the Middle Ages between Castilian upper classes and spread from the north of Castile to the Basque estates. It was not extended to the rest of the territory’s population to the eighteenth century, but that this tradition reached its fullness as a generalized usage can only be affirmed to have been reached since 1850.

Recognizing both surnames meant that one was not born out of wedlock and consequently, you were not an illegitimate child. In the case of high net worth, the two last names also mean that the maternal lineage was not denied. In this case, the preservation of both surnames was important to survival of a certain nobility.

Why are they used?

The custom also spreads among the humblest population from practical reasons. Using two surnames made it easier distinguish workers. Sometimes it was not so easy to know the last name of the parents. For this reason, the surnames they did a hint of one’s own family background (Hernandez, son of Hernan; Gonzalez, son of Gonzalo), c physically (Rubio, Moreno), cplace of origin (of Toledo, de la Vera), c Professions (Blacksmith, Cockroach), do demon names (German, Catalan) or to names of plants or animals (pine, cow). In turn, the re-settlement of re-conquered territories and the conversion of Muslims and Jews during the Middle Ages also influenced the etymology of surnames.

The first record of the application of both surnames is 1857 Census. However, the Civil Registry of 1871 recommended the use of both surnames. Thus it was registered for the first time by the state. Its implementation by law came with The Civil Code of 1889when the right of children to bear the surname of the father and mother is recognized.

Countries that also use the double surname

The need to distinguish each citizen is common to all countries and each country organizes it in its own way. in USA, for example, only the father’s surname is used, but have two namesmaking it easy to identify any North American.

In the rest of the world, it is not very common for citizens to use both of their parents’ surnames, as is the case in Spain. in Italy it is a tradition to use it only the father’s surname, but since 2016 the law allows the use of both surnames. Something similar happened in France, although a change in legislation in 2005 allowed the use of both surnames or that the first was that of the mother. in portugal, the first (and only) surname is that of the mother. in Sweden The two surnames can be used in any order, but if there is no agreement in the pair, it is used only the mother.

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