More on Hispanic Names

My post on Hispanic names was very well received, and I got some nice comments for that. I really appreciate the kind thoughts expressed. I would like now to round off the subject with additional observations I forgot to mention at the time.

1. A mistake to avoid when referring to married women: You might know that a traditional pattern of calling a married woman in English countries is this:

Mrs. Husband’s_name

so that if Jane Wilkins married Peter Smith, she could be referred to as Mrs. Peter Smith. This is especially true when you refer to the whole couple, as in Mr. and Mrs. Peter Smith.

The scoop: there is no exact equivalent to this usage. For our study, let’s say that

Pedro José Giménez Mora


Virginia Ruth Prieto Villalba

are married. (Last names are italicized.) In that case, the following differences to English usage apply:

a) As usual, the lady would call herself Sra. (Mrs.) Virginia Prieto de Giménez.

b) There is no equivalent to the usage of Mrs. Husband’s_name, so an usage of Sra. Pedro Giménez is glaringly incorrect. Avoid it at all costs!

The closest thing to it would be referring to Virginia as “la señora de Pedro Giménez” (Pedro Giménez’s wife); but this should be done in the middle of a sentence and never as a naming scheme.

c) There is an equivalent to the usage of Mr. and Mrs. Husband’s_name: Pedro Giménez y Sra., but it is not too widely used.

2. Widows. Using the same name as in the previous case, we might agree that the lady would be called Sra. Virginia de Giménez. Now, imagine that Mr. Pedro Giménez passes away, and Virginia is now a widow. In that case,

a) She could choose to keep calling herself with her married name; or

b) She could adopt the following scheme:

Mrs. Widow’s_name viuda de Husband’s_last_name
Sra. Widow’s_name Vda. de Husband’s_last_name

Thus, the phrase “viuda de” (“widow of”) or its abbreviation is introduced as a modifier in the married name of the wife to signify its widowing status. Thus, Virginia could call herself something like:

Sra. Virginia Vda. de Giménez
Sra. Virginia Ruth viuda de Giménez
Sra. Virginia Prieto vda. de Giménez

… and so on; you get the idea.

3. A treatment of respect. Sometimes, you will hear someone being called as don/doña. In Spain, this is a treatment used with the nobility and priests, and it’s roughly equivalent to the English usage of “Sir”. However, in most parts of Latin America “don/doña” is just a mark of respect given to highly influential persons, or persons that are old and wise. Here is how you should use it:

a) It should be written in lowercase. For example, “don Pedro Giménez.”. However, this usage varies in the practice.

b)It could be used with the person’s first name, as in “don Pedro.” Contrast this with Italian usage, where the “Don” particle is capitalized and is preferently used with the last name, as in “Don Corleone.” However, this usage varies in the practice, especially because there are so many people of Italian descent here, and they have retained the original usage.


  1. Fascinating. It’s not too compliated really once you know how it works.

    When my wife was a teacher in London, she had a few Spanish students. She said that having grown up in the UK, most of them would write their name with just one surname when they handed work in, but would change which surname they used from day to day depending on which parent they were most upset with at the time! I suppose that’s the sort of thing that happens when you grow up half-way between two cultures.

    The bit about only having one surname if you don’t know who your father is is particularly interesting. Can you add another one if you’re later adopted by a stepfather? Is there a stigma attached to having just one surname? I’m reminded of Jeremiah 31:29-30 🙂

  2. Tom: thanks for the kind words. The subject is fascinating indeed. And the story about your wife and those Spanish kids was great!

    About your question on the “one surname” matter, let me add the following:

    1. In my country, the “one surname” phenomenon usually happens to poor, semi-illiterate families. Cases of illegitimacy among richer or better educated people usually end up with the child having two surnames… exactly the same ones from the mother. In other words, looking at their full names, mother and child could pass at being brothers.

    2. If you are adopted, depending on the type of adoption and the legal system of each country, there is at least one case when you must adopt the surname of your adoptive father.

    3. Indeed, there is a certain stigma to having just one surname, but today that’s almost negligible.

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