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Latin American Surnames

By Don Moore

A slightly edited version of this article was originally published in the November, 1991 issue of The Journal of the North American Shortwave Association in the Latin Destinations column.


Hola amigos! Welcome to the November Latin Destinations. The DX season is here and I've been very pleased with some of the Latin loggings I've made so far. From what I see in log columns and hear on DX programs, a lot of you must be pleased, too!

A Look At Names

One of the most confusing things in Spanish-American culture is personal names. Names simply aren't as straight forward as up here in gringo-land. Understanding how Spanish names work is very important for DXers when it comes to writing reception reports to veri-signers. If you get somebody's name wrong, they might choose not to answer your report! So, this month we're going to take an in-depth look at personal names in Spanish. For examples, I have taken veri-signers names from recent QSL columns in the Journal.

Traditionally, Spanish names consist of a first name followed by the father's surname and then the mother's surname - in that order. There lies the key difficulty in Spanish names; the last name isn't the last name (i.e. main surname). Examples of this are Carlos Toledo Verdugo of Radio Nacional de Chile and Norberto Plaza Vargas of Colombia's Ondas del Orteguaza. Carlos' father was a Toledo and his mother was a Verdugo. Carlos could be addressed as either Señor Toledo or as Señor Toledo Verdugo, but never as Señor Verdugo. The latter is just plain wrong.

Of course, traditions change and many Spanish-Americans consider two surnames to be a bit long for everyday use. Some people shorten their names by reducing the maternal surname to an initial, such as Ecuadorians Luis A. Gamboa T. of Radio Centro and Holgar Velastegui R. of Radio Zaracay. Others totally drop the maternal surname, such as Guillermo Pulido of Colombian La Voz de Rio Arauca and Ramiro Cubrero of Ecuadorian La Voz del Napo. Although many people initialize or delete their maternal surname in everyday life, it remains part of their legal name at all times. In the QSL reports, don't be surprised if you see different versions of the same name for different QSLs. Not everyone is consistent; some will use the maternal surname one time, reduce it to an initial the next, and then drop it altogether another time.

In the above example, note that Luis Gamboa uses his middle initial of A. Spanish Americans also have middle names but, like us, rarely use either the names or initials. When they use their middle names, it can cause a bit of confusion. For example, there's Juan Fidel Leppe, the veri-signer at La Voz de Nahuala in Guatemala. Because we know that Fidel is a Spanish Christian name, not a surname, we can surmise that Leppe is his paternal surname and that he doesn't use his maternal one. But, there are occasional exceptions. The president of Venezuela is Carlos Andres Perez. Andres is the Spanish version of Andrew, however in CAP's case Andres is his paternal surname, the Spanish version of Andrews.

Women's names are, of course, a bit different. Single women's names follow the same pattern as mens - first name and then the two surnames, with the maternal one often being reduced or eliminated. At marraige, however, a woman will add "de" (of) and her husband's paternal surname to her own name, for example Yolanda Plazas de Lozada of Ondas del Meta in Colombia. Yolanda's paternal surname is Plazas and her husband's paternal surname is Lozada. Like Yolanda, most women drop their own maternal surname at marriage if they haven't already done so. This is occasionally confused by certain last names that include "de" in them already, similar to the German "von". An example here is Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gotari; de Gotari is his maternal surname & obviously not his husband's name! Occasionally married women's names will include the abbreviation Vda., as in Matilde Castro Vda. de Cevallos of Emisoras Gran Colombia in Ecuador. Vda. is the abbreviation for viuda, or widow. Matilde's late husband was a Cevallos.

More on Names

This dual surname custom may seem a bit crazy to many gringos, but it does have its advantages. In my view, the greatest advantage is a modern one - telephone books. Have you ever looked up a name in a telephone book, only to find there are twenty-seven James Mills listed? There's no problem if you're looking up Juan Garcia Moreno in Cuenca, Ecuador. There may be fifty Juan Garcias listed, but there probably isn't another Juan Garcia Moreno. And, let's not forget feminism. Latin America may be "behind the times" in many ways from a feminist viewpoint, but what feminist could argue with giving legal status to both a child's paternal and maternal surnames?

Finally, I have been very careful to refer to Spanish-American names, not Latin American names. In Portuguese-speaking Brazil, the pattern is reversed - first name plus maternal surname plus paternal surname. So, in Brazil, the last name is the last name!


This article is copyright 1991 by Don Moore. It may not be printed in any publication without written permission. Permission is granted for all interested readers to share and pass on the ASCII text file of this article or to print it out for personal use. In This website is maintained by Don Moore,
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