According to Spanish customs, a person’s name can be quite long. When a child is born, they receive two surnames: the first from the first surname of the father and the second from the first surname of the mother.
This naming tradition makes it possible for the mother to never lose her maiden surname and therefore her name is carried on to the next generation.
After marriage, Spanish surnames do not change. Both the bride and groom keep their birth names. It is socially acceptable, however, to refer to the wife as ‘Senora de’ (meaning ‘wife of’) and the husband’s last name.
The tradition in Spain is for a child to take on the surname of their father and mother, hence why most Spanish people always have two surnames.
Unlike in the English tradition where a double-barrelled name might be a sign of social status and be related to questions of inheritance, the Spanish tradition has no such significance.
Where things can be confusing for those who are not used to this system is in the case of weddings and births, in other words, in cases where two double-barrelled surnames need to be merged to produce just one double-barrelled surname.
Obviously, some of the surnames will need to be left out (or Spanish names would be pages long by now) and the way this is done has been dictated by social convention for centuries.
Traditionally, and unsurprisingly perhaps given Europe’s patriarchal history, the surnames which survive the transformation process and get the first position have been the ones inherited from male relations (fathers, husbands, etc.).
And the ordering of these names is not something that has been left to the parents to decide. Until 1999 the law stated that it was the father’s name which would come first in the ordering of the child’s surnames. Let’s imagine that Anna Martínez García and her partner Luis Sanchez Pérez have a daughter called Alexia.
According to tradition, her full name would be Alexia Sanchez Martínez. However, since 1999, a new law was introduced which states that the order of the child’s surnames can now be decided by the parents, although social convention means that many continue to list the father’s name first.
And since 2011, an additional law states that each child can choose the order of their names upon turning 18 years old. Where Spain perhaps breaks with the tradition is in terms of the convention surrounding name changes in the cases of marriage.
In many European countries, the convention is for women to take on their husband’s name when they marry, but this has never traditionally been the case in Spain.
On the occasion that it has happened, the name change usually involves the woman adding her spouse’s name to the end of her own, usually preceded by the prefix ‘de‘.
More often than not this arises in cases where the inclusion of the man’s name indicates a certain social status or nobility, similar in this instance to the custom in English-speaking countries.