There is one thing that is easy to see when researching
Mexican names—everyone seems to have more than one. Understanding the reason
for multiple Mexican last names (apellidos) and other naming conventions will
help you do your Mexican family history.

What Does a Typical Mexican Name Look Like?

When looking at Mexican names, you will often see at least two given names (for example, Maria Angelica) and two surnames (for example, Rodriguez Lopez). All put together, a full Mexican name could look like this:

Maria Angelica Rodriguez Lopez

Why Do Mexicans Have Two Last Names?

Mexicans are given two first names for a variety of reasons
that range from religious to cultural and family reasons. However, when it
comes to the last names, there is a traditional system for passing down a
surname, or “apellido.”

In the example above, “Rodriguez Lopez” are both surnames. According to Mexican naming conventions, a person’s first surname (Rodriguez, in this case) is the father’s first surname, and the second surname (Lopez, in this case) is the mother’s first surname. This graphic illustrates how parents pass on their first surnames to their children:

Mexican Naming Conventions
Mexican Naming Conventions

Does a Woman Take Her Husband’s Last Name?

Traditionally, Mexican women don’t lose their maiden names
when they marry. However, some women add their married name to the end of their
other names, often separated by the word de. A married woman’s name might look like the following, with
“Vasquez” being her husband’s first surname:

Maria Angelica Rodriguez Lopez de Vasquez

Why Is There a Dash (—) in Some Last Names?

Some families create compound surnames. This compounding is done if a surname was considered too common, if the family belonged to (or wanted to belong to) an aristocracy, or if the family doesn’t want to lose the family name of the mother in the next generation. A compound surname could look like this:

Maria Rodriguez-Lopez Vasquez-Garcia

Mexican immigrants might also hyphenate their names so that others who don’t understand Hispanic naming conventions don’t think the first surname is a middle name. For example, you might see this sort of name:

Maria Rodriguez-Lopez

Why Is There a De, Del, or De La in the Name?

De, del, and de la are sometimes used
in Mexican last names if the name comes from a certain place or recalls a common
item. For example, if someone’s surname included the word Basque, which translates as “Forest,” a name
could look like this:

Maria Angelica Rodriguez del Basque

As mentioned previously, the prepositions could also be used
to add a married name.

A bride and groom smile off-camera.

Mexican surnames might also appear differently on records, dropping
the de (meaning “of”) or de la or even del (meaning “the”)
from the name.

Why Did My Ancestors Change Their Name in the United States?

It was common for people to switch their surnames when
immigrating to the United States because of the way surnames work in the United
States culture. So, when researching family history, watch for immigration
records and the surname switching, and search under both surnames.

What Is an Apellido?

A husband holds his son and smiles at his wife.

When looking at records, it is important to remember that Mexicans don’t refer to Mexican last names as “last names.” They refer to them as “apellidos.” This word may help in your research because the translation of “last name” in Spanish does not have the same meaning.

Being armed with the two-surname knowledge can help you trace your family history, especially when you are searching through records. Now that you understand Mexican last names better, check the FamilySearch wiki, and spend some time recording your own family names on the FamilySearch Family Tree.


Discover Your Mexican Heritage

A Mexican family smiles and looks at each other while eating at the table

Source: New on FamilySearch