Oct 14, 2021
2 mins read
Originally Published May 5th, 2021
On my first trip traveling within Spain, I needed to book a bus reservation for a quick day trip. ALSA is the Greyhound of Spain so I jumped on their site and started poking around, testing my Spanish ability along the way.
Origin, destination, date, time, class, food options: so far so good. On to the traveler information step. I see “first name” and “Apellidos.” What is Apellidos? My dictionary says “last names.” I type in “Michael” along with my one-and-only last name and the page quickly comes back with an error, requesting my second last name. Time to throw in the towel and switch the page to English.
The familiar First, Middle, and Last Name fields appear. I fill them in and off we go. Mission Accomplished, I have a ticket. But now I also have a nagging question. What did they want me to write there? Who has two last names?
Everyone in Spain has two last names! This is also true for many other Spanish- speaking countries. When you are born, your parents give you a name and this becomes your first name. This part should be familiar. Your first last name is your father’s first last name. Your second last name is your mother’s first last name. Confused yet? Let’s do a quick example.
Let’s say in an alternate universe Arlo Guthrie and Janis Joplin had a kid together. They’re going to name her Apple (because, well, they’re hippies). Following the Spanish system, their child’s full name would be Apple Guthrie Joplin.
This ignores a piece of the puzzle though. Arlo and Janis only have one last name each. Their full names would be Arlo Guthrie Greenblatt and Janis Joplin East. Greenblatt is Arlo’s mother’s maiden name. East is Janis’ mother’s maiden name. I had to look those up but the double last name system is kind of nice that way. You can easily track someone’s lineage and the maiden names are retained.
On the topic of maiden names, when you are married in Spain, no name changing occurs. You are still referenced as the child of your parents and so is your spouse. Maiden and married names are simply not a thing.
Have you ever ignored an online request from someone with an unfamiliar last name and a profile picture of their dog only to find out after they confront you at homecoming that it was really them, a friend from years ago who is now married to Mr. Unfamiliar Last Name? The “apellido” system could have rescued you from such theoretical awkwardness.
To complete the circle, let’s say the lovely Apple Guthrie Joplin marries Jimi and Diana’s equally famous and imaginary son George Hendrix Ross. When these flower children have their own offspring, Rose, she will be named: Rose Hendrix Guthrie.
Here comes the fascinating part to me. This whole time I have said that everyone in Spain has two last names. In reality, they only list two but the names go on forever. Most people know eight of their last names. That version of Rose’s name would be Rose Hendrix Guthrie Ross Joplin Jeter Greenblatt Moten East. And just like that, you know Diana Ross’ mother’s maiden name was Moten.