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Spanish Matters - a blog in English and Spanish for those learning the language

This blog is entitled "Spanish Matters", because it does! Matter, that is. If you have committed to living in Spain, you should also make a commitment to learn some Spanish. So this is a blog about matters Spanish, as well as promoting the notion that Spanish does indeed matter. The blog contains articles in both English and Spanish. Don Pablo hopes it will be helpful to those learning the language.

What’s in a Name?
Tuesday, January 11, 2022 @ 6:17 AM

In most Christian countries it has been commonplace for two thousand years for parents to choose biblical names for their children.  In England, for example, there was a time when most male babies were given at least one disciple’s or saint’s name: Andrew, James, John, Michael, Paul, Peter, Thomas, David, Francis, George, Joseph, etc.  Girls too: Ann, Elizabeth, Mary, Ruth, and so on.

However, in Spain, they have turned religious naming into an art form.  Even today, as Spain becomes more and more secular, most children are given a religious name or two.  Saints’ names feature strongly; indeed, every saint has a saint’s day (el día santo) which is celebrated more enthusiastically than birthdays are!  But, in addition, there is a whole host of other very religious names, which, when translated into English, sound very odd indeed to us. 

There are umpteen girls called Asunción (Assumption), Belén (Bethlehem), Concepción (Conception), Encarnación (Incarnation), Inmaculada (Immaculate), Montserrat (a pilgrimage site in Cataluña), although they invariably abbreviate these to make them sound less religiously formal, viz Conchi, Encarna or Encarni, Inma and Montse.

And what about all the different types of Virgin Mary?  There are María de los Ángeles, María del Carmen, María del Coro, María de la Cruz, María Dolores, María de la Paz, María del Pilar, all of which become, respectively, Angeles, Carmen, Coro, Cruz, Dolores (Loli), Paz, Pilar (Pili).  Then there are María Jesús, María José and María del Mar, which seem not to have a shortened version.

As for Spanish boys, there are a whole host of them called José, José María, Jesús, Ángel, Francisco, Pablo, Pedro, Antonio, Miguel.  I even know a few called Ezequiel, Moisés and Elías.

As we have seen with the girls, abbreviations are common: Paco for Francisco and Pepe for José, being two of the most common.  The story behind Pepe as the nickname for José is an interesting one.  On Spanish statues or paintings of Joseph the father of Jesus appear the letters p.p. at the bottom, standing for padre putativo (putative Father [of our Lord]) and how are the Spanish letters p.p. pronounced? You’ve guessed it: pe-pe. 

What we haven’t mentioned is that Spaniards have two surnames; the first is their dad’s and the second their mum’s. So typically a Spaniard’s full name is: Christian Name - 1st Surname (Father’s) – 2nd Surname (Mother’s).  Offspring of a marriage take their father’s 1st Surname and their mother’s 1st Surname.  So, when Manuel Pérez Rodríguez marries Antonia Herrero Blanco, their children will be called Oscar Pérez Herrero and Francisca Pérez Herrero.  This ensures that the father’s name survives through the male line.

In tight-knit rural communities, cousins and other relatives often marry each other.  I was once a guest at a village wedding in Tenerife where the bride and groom were called Candelaria Báez Báez and Carlos Báez Báez.  No confusion about their children’s surnames there, then!

By the way, when you see two entirely different names on a flat’s nameplate, it doesn’t mean that the occupants are living ostentatiously in sin! Not at all, for Spanish women have always retained their own names on marriage.  Quite emancipated in such a fiercely traditional culture…

Happy listening and hasta luego


Don Pablo is Paul Whitelock, a graduate in Spanish, former languages teacher, retired school inspector and translator. He has lived in the Serranía de Ronda with his German wife since 2008. He is now a writer and property developer.


Like 1


pjck said:
Saturday, January 15, 2022 @ 12:14 PM

There is that Polish jokes about Spaniards and their names.

Nigthtime. The lady at her home. Knocking at the door.

"- Who's there?

- Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso!

-... All right! Come in everyone!"

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