27 December 2011

¿Cómo se llama?

¿Cómo se llama? (what´s your name?) is one of the first phrases used by most people learning Spanish (after "two beers please" and "Where are the toilets?").  This innocent enquiry does not, however, prepare you for the complexity of the Spanish system of personal nomenclature.

The Spanish have two family names or surnames, called apellidos.  A married woman does not take her husband's name, so there is no such thing as a maiden name. A child takes the first apellido of each parent, so the offspring of Mr Pérez Romero and Mrs Rodríguez García will become Pérez Rodríguez.  In 1999 a gender equality law allowed the mother's name to appear first if desired, provided all siblings adopt the same order and it is recorded in the Registro Civil.

With so many very common names, or in small communities, the maternal and paternal apellido can occasionally be the same.  This, combined with the custom of naming the first-born son after the father, can result in names like Fernando Fernández Fernández ("ez" on the end of a name is the equivalent to "son", as in Johnson).

The apellido can be composite, i.e. composed of two or more words, and the paternal and maternal apellidos are then joined by the indefinite article "y", for example José María Álvarez del Manzano y López del Hierro.  In the past the use of "y" was an indicator of social status.  Books by the philosopher Ortega y Gasset were, I realised only quite recently, written by just one person.

Spaniards living outside Spain often hyphenate their two apellidos to avoid confusion, especially when filling in forms where there is just one field allowed for the surname.  Conversely this can cause problems for foreigners living in Spain attempting to submit a form online where there are two mandatory apellido fields.

When addressing someone formally it is normal to use just the first apellido, e.g. Señor Pérez rather than Señor Pérez Romero. Many famous people are known only by their first apellido, for example Rafael Nadal or Penelope Cruz.   If the first apellido is common they might use the second, e.g the former President. José Luis Rodrígez Zapatero was known universally as Zapatero, or ZP for short.  )A wider use of this convention could save many tonnes of newsprint. Our local paper, when reporting a council meeting, is often well into the third column before the names of those present have been listed in full ...)

An illegitimate child whose father is unknown or who is not recognised by his father's family takes both his mother´s names.  Foundlings (a rarity these days thank goodness, but common in less enlightened times) were often named after the place where they were discovered; one of Julio Iglesias' ancestors, for example, would have been found in a church.  Blanco (i.e. blank) and Expósito (exposed) were often used for the second apellido.

Given names
The term "Christian name" is particularly appropriate in Spain as until fairly recently parents had to choose their children's names from a list approved by the Catholic Church.  These days the only restriction is on names which insult the dignity of the child, or are sexually ambiguous.

Most given names, or nombres, have two parts, e.g. Juan Carlos.  The second part is not a "middle name" as in the English convention.  The first part must reflect the child's gender, but the second need not: hence you have girls called María José and boys called José María.

María is by far the most common name for girls.  It often carries a suffix honouring the Virgin Mary in one of her incarnations, such as María del Pilar or María del Carmen.  Informally it is common to lose the first part and just call yourself Pilar or Carmen.  A popular alternative is to use a composite version such as Mariluz (María de la Luz) or Marisol (María de la Soledad).

These days a much wider variety of names can be heard in the school playground.  Lucia, Paula, Daniela, Sara, Carla, Claudia, Sofia, Alba and Irene all featured in the 2010 top ten baby names for girls, with just María at No 3 representing the old guard.  For boys we find a mixture of saints and celebrities, with Daniel, Hugo, Alejandro, Iker, Javier and Sergio jostling for position with the more traditional Pablo and Jorge.

Just as English names have diminutive versions - Bob for Robert, Betty for Elizabeth - Spanish names have their standard variations. Given that there are relatively few names to choose from in the first place, this helps distinguish one Francisco from another.  Another custom is to add "ito" or "cito" (for boys, as in Manolito for Manuel) and "ita" or "cita" (for girls, as in Carmencita).  Some of the most common but less obvious variants are:

Alberto - Tico, Tuco
Alfonso - Fonsi, Poncho
Carlos - Chepe
Enrique - Quiqie, Kike
Ernesto - Tito
Francisco - Paco, Curro, Quico, Kiko, Pancho
Gerardo - Yayo, Lalo
Guillermo - Memo
Ignacio - Nacho, Naco
Jesús - Chucho, Chuchi
Jesús María - Chumari
Joaquín - Quincho, Chimo
José - Pepe, Pito
José María - Chema, Chemari
José Manuel - Chema, Memel
Juan Pablo - Juampa
Luciano - Chano
Luis - Lucho, Guicho
Manuel - Manolo, Lolo
Marcelo - Chelo
Ramón - Moncho, Monchi, Pocholo
Rodolfo - Fito
Roberto - Tito
Salvador - Chava, Chavito
Santiago - Diego, Tiago
Sebastiano - Chano
Sergio - Chucho, Checo
Vicente - Chente, Bicho, Sento

The original Mari-Carmen - Nuestra Señora
del Carmen, Cádiz Cathedral
Antonia - Toña, Toñi
Carmen - Menchu
Concepción - Concha
Consuelo - Chelo
Dolores - Lola, Lolita
Eva - Evita
Francisca - Paqui, Panchita
Graciela - Chela
Inmaculada - Inma
Isabel - Beli, Chabelita
Josefa - Pepa, Fina
Lourdes - Lulú
Magdalena - Lena, Leni
Maria del Carmen - Mamen
María del Refugio - Cuca
María Isabel - Maribel
Maria Luisa - Marisa
María Teresa - Maritere, Maite, Mayte
Mercedes - Merche
Montserrat - Montse
Remedios - Reme
Rosalia - Chalia
Rosario - Charo, Chari
Sebastiana - Chana


Finally there are nicknames (sobrenombres or apodos), which originate from the person's profession, appearance, distinguishing characteristics, dwelling place or some other random factor.  They replace both parts of the registered name and were especially common at times when it was prudent to keep one's identity a secret.  Flamenco artists traditionally use apodos because of their gypsy origins, which were once considered disreputable. Spain's most famous flamenco singer was El Camarón, the shrimp.  The guitarist Tomatito was the son of the red-faced Tomate.

Apodos can be quite uncomplimentary.  Xavi Hernández, one of the country´s leading footballers, is apparently known as Pelopo, referring to his body hair, while his Barcelona team mate Lionel Messi is la Pulga (flea) because of his diminutive size.  Former president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is known to all as Bambi.  I can't imagine why ...


Tumbit said...

A good introduction to the whole surnames / nicknames shennanigans that often confuses me. It always seems to me that certain surnames get concentrated in rural areas until it seems that everyone is closely releated (which, in many cases, I'm guessing they are)

Alastair said...

An excellent summary of this confusing topic - at least it often confuses me! It is worth adding that Republican sympathisers at the time of the Civil War who did not want to use religious names used ones, mainly for girls, with classical sounding origins eg Aurora, Minerva etc I have come across several of these. And now of course there are morenames with regional (historical) connections eg Laie, Valenca in Catalonia