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July 05, 2017

Learning the conventions behind names can help any traveler uncover deep layers of culture, history, and family. This is especially true with names in Spanish, the second most spoken language in the world.

The global prevalence of Spanish names is a testament to Spain’s colonial history, with ubiquity in North and South America (who do you think named Los Angeles, or Florida for that matter?), Asia (the Philippines), and Africa (Spanish Guinea, Spanish Morocco, and the Canary Islands).

Of course, there is Spain itself, which is home to one of the most multicultural societies in history. Jewish, African, and Arabic Spain left marks on the language, too: sábato (Saturday, originally from Hebrew), merino (a type of sheep or wool, originally from Berber), ajedrez (chess, originally from Arabic).

Where there is Spanish, there are also Spanish naming conventions. A person may have one or two given names, as well as two surnames: the first, their father’s primary surname; second, their mother’s primary surname. Women do not usually change their names when they marry. For instance, if Mario Marquez Gonzales marries Pilar Cruz Chávez, neither changes their name. Any future children they have, however, will have the new surname combination of Marquez Cruz. Sometimes surnames are separated by an “y,” which means “and.”

Popular Spanish Names

Both Spanish girl names and Spanish boy names reflect Spain’s vast cultural diversity, with common given names coming from Roman (Celia), Catholic (Araceli), Basque (Amets), Catalan (Montserrat), Galacian (Bieito), Hebrew (Adán), and Arabic (Almudena) traditions, as well as the dominate Castilian Spanish (Mercedes).

Many Spanish girl names reference the Virgin Mary, from the direct Maria to the metonymic Concepción (an allusion to the belief that Mary was born without original sin). Consuelo, Asunción, Nieves, and Luz also fit this allusive pattern.

Religion can often be detected in popular Spanish boy names as well. Cruz — a particularly trendy name — means cross, while Santos translates directly to saints. 

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