Why Do Hispanics Sometimes Have Two Last Names?

By: Angela Camacho, Collection Floor Manager, Senior Collector

One of the most misunderstood characteristics of Hispanic culture is the use of last names. As someone who married into the culture, I asked many of the same questions in the beginning. Now it is my turn to answer these questions for others. I am often asked, “Why do some Hispanic people use two last names?” Well, in Spanish a last name is not called a last name (ultimo nombre would be the literal translation and it is meaningless in Spanish). In Spanish, the last name is called an apellido. When you talk about someone’s last name, you talk about their apellidos since there are two of them. The two apellidos are referred to as the first apellido and the second apellido. Why are there two? Well, my husband’s first apellido is Rodriguez, which is the first apellido (last name) of his father. His second apellido (last name) is Pizano, which is the first apellido of his mom (this one is usually called the mother’s maiden name in the US). His full name is Francisco Rodriguez Pizano. Below is his the example:

• His dad’s apellidos were: Rodriguez Abundis
• His mom’s apellidos were: Pizano Lopez
• My husband’s full name is: Francisco Rodriguez Pizano

So, what happens when you get married? Nothing changes on the husband, and the wife usually changes her name as follows. Her first apellido remains the same (her father’s first), but her second apellido often changes to that of her husband. Sometimes the word “de” is added between the two apellidos to indicate that the second apellido is her husband’s.

• Example of my mother-in-law after marriage: Lolita Pizano de Rodriguez

In today’s world, many women do not change their name for professional or personal reasons. It is interesting to note that either way, the woman in the marriage never changes her first apellido. There is one more aspect to the apellido, namely what happens when children are born into the family. The whole circle of life begins again (literally). For example, our children’s apellidos are Rodriguez Lopez, and, as you can tell, we are back to the beginning of the explanation. Another interesting aspect of the two apellidos is that in Hispanic cultures you do not see the “I” (first), “II” (second), etc. that you see appending to a child’s name. The child is automatically differentiated from the parent by the combination of father-mother apellidos. Therefore, even if my son were named Francisco he would not have the same full name as my husband because it will include my apellido. You might have noticed that in many cases, a hyphen is added to separate the two apellidos. This is added to avoid confusion. If your data system does not allow two apellidos you would want to drop the 2nd apellido. In my husband’s case, it would be Francisco Rodriguez instead of Francisco Rodriguez Pizano. I hope you found this article helpful! I believe it is safe to say that the Hispanic influence in the U.S. is here to stay, so understanding is the key!

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