A Primer on Hispanic Names

This is a short post aimed at helping my English-speaking readers on how to correctly parse and distinguish Hispanic names. Given the facts of an increasingly globalized culture where many naming schemes are employed, it is convenient to avoid any embarrassment due to misunderstanding in the naming schemes used.

1. For starters, I assume that the English name is structured in the following way:

First Middle Second, where the bold ones are mandatory and the middle name is optional. Thus, a name such as John Fitzgerald Kennedy could be rendered in these ways:

John Kenneddy
John Fitzgerald Kenneddy
John F. Kenneddy.

2. Now, Hispanic names are completely different. Let’s assume we have a complete Hispanic name below, as in a passport or application requiring the full name of the person:

Pedro Javier Martínez Ramos

So, the proper way to render it in two words would be Pedro Ramos, right? Wrong!. The proper scheme for a Hispanic name is:

Name_1 | Name_2 … Name_N Last1 Last2

That’s it. Thus:

3. Hispanics have one or more first names, and they can use any of them; for public usage, they pick the one it suits them best. In our example, the Hispanic fellow has two first names: Pedro and Javier. He could use Pedro, or Javier, depending on his liking or other practical reasons.

4. Hispanics do not have middle names. Funny, isn’t it? For most of us, middle names are like temperatures in Farenheit and fluid ounces: weird things Americans insist on using ;-).

5. There should be at least one last name, and at the best, two. In the case of our example, there are two last names: Martínez and Ramos.The first one (Martínez) is the paternal last name, the name of the family. It is inherited by the father, and it is written in first among last names.

6. The second last name (Ramos) is the mother’s maiden last name. It does not inherit, and when it is written, is written last.

So, in our example, we could say that Mr. Martínez married Miss Ramos, and the child they had was given the first names of Pedro and Javier. The offspring of Mr. Pedro Javier Martínez Ramos would carry the last name Martínez, along with the maiden name of Mr. Martinez Ramos’s wife.

7. Therefore, Mr. Pedro Javier Martínez Ramos could use these names:

Pedro Martínez
Pedro Javier Martínez
Pedro J. Martínez
Javier Martínez
P. Javier Martínez
Pedro Martínez R.
Pedro Javier Martínez Ramos

… well, you get the idea.

8. Women’s married names are a special case. Let’s assume that a lady that goes by the name:

Laura Concepción Espinosa Rodríguez

… gets married to Pedro Martínez. In that case, the laddy appends “de [husband ‘s last name]” (English: “of [husband ‘s last name]”), in this way:

Laura Concepción Espinosa Rodríguez de Martínez

… and her last name would be, not Espinosa nor Rodríguez, but Martínez, and she could be called as:

Mrs. (Señora/Sra.) de Martínez
Laura de Martínez
Laura Espinosa de Martínez

… etc. However, this usage tends to disappear slowly because laws no longer require it, and women are reluctant to change their names just to indicate that they are someone’s possesion (as indicated by the “de” particle).

9. Then, let’s say that Laura and Pedro have a kid named Juan Carlos. The complete name for him would be:

Juan Carlos Martínez Espinosa

10. The presence of two last names might be seen as cumbersome; but it is important. Having two last names shows that both of your parents recognized you as a child. This would be business as usual in a normal marriage, but when pregnancies out of wedlock are rampant (as is the case with Paraguay, my country), the father usually is absent to the point that he does not recognize the child. Such children have only one last name: their mother’s.

Well, I hope that this could be of help at the time of sorting out those weird looking Hispanic names 🙂


  1. Thanks Eduardo, that’s complicated, but pretty nifty. I suppose, for the most part, our middle names are roughly equivalent to a second first name (sort of a second chance, too, if the first one isn’t so great ;)). Most are usable as such, although some sound more like surnames to me.

    At any rate, thanks for explaining that. I think you’ve explained it to me in an e-mail at some point, but its good to go over it again.

  2. Yes, and then there are those Americans who buck the system and use their second name, keeping the first one hidden — as I do. Officially I am James E. Hurst, but no one outside the military and a few federal offices call me “James.” I’ve always gone by my second name because my parents used it most. I got used to it, then realized it was a way to silently rebel.

  3. I use my middle name when I want to go incognito. Generally, though, I never was as fond of it as Tim, so I don’t use it all that often.

    You know, Ed, it seems to me there are a lot of people with Ed as their middle name that like to use it. My old next door neighbor did the same thing, as did his son. 🙂

  4. Thank you, Eduardo, for this valuable explanation.
    I’m in the process of doing the final research on my
    first novel and have just corrected several BIG name
    errors, thanks to your information.

  5. Leslie: you’re welcome :). Thanks for stopping by.

    I plan to offer a second blog posting explaining two minor points that were left away in this explanation.

  6. I am writing a paper for a graduate level history class. I mention the first elected governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Munoz Marin. When I refer to subsequently, do I write “Munoz” or “Munoz Marin,” or “Marin?”

    Thank you for any help you can provide.

    Roland Camp

  7. Roland: Thanks for your comment. I would advise you to use “Muñoz Marín” as this person’s last name, but “Muñoz” would suffice. Never, never, use “Marín”.

    If possible, try also to employ the tilde (~) over the “n”, since for Spanish “n” and “ñ” are wholly different letters of the alphabet.

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