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Understanding surnames and given names can help you find and identify your ancestors in records.
Before record keeping began most people had only one name, such as Juan. As the population increased, it became necessary to distinguish between individuals with the same name. Until the 10th century, common people did not use a surname. The problem of distinguishing people with the same names was usually solved by adding descriptive information. The Council of Trent (1545–1563) made it mandatory to keep parish records that would list names of children, parents, and godparents.
In 1568 Phillip II decreed that the Moors should abandon their names and adopt Spanish names. Thus, Moorish names such as Ben-egas became Venegas. The French practice of placing de before a name as a mark of nobility was also used in Spain, but it was only a preposition of origin (of or from) used before a geographic name. From long usage, names such as Del Monte became Delmonte and La Villa became Lavilla.
In Spain, the name system was well established by the 1100s, and the naming customs of Spain became the basis for other Spanish-speaking countries. The four influences that played a part in the development of Spanish surnames were patronymical terms, occupational terms, descriptive or nickname terms, and geographical terms (estates, manors, or dominions). Examples of these influences are:
- Patronymic names (based on a parent’s name, usually the father’s) such as Juan Fernandez (Juan, son of Fernando) or Juan Martinez (Juan, son of Martin).
- Occupational names (based on the person’s trade) such as Francisco Ferrera (Francisco the Blacksmith) or José El Molinero (José the Miller).
- Descriptive names or nicknames (based on a unique quality of the person) such as Felipe el Bueno (Felipe the Good) or Domingo Calvo (Domingo the Bald-Headed).
- Toponymic names (based on a person’s residence) such as Francisco de Córdoba (Francisco from the city of Córdoba) or Domingo del Río (Domingo from near a river).
At first, surnames applied only to one person and not to the whole family. After a few generations, these names became hereditary and were used from father to son.
Surnames were first used by the nobility and wealthy land owners. Later the custom was followed by merchants and townspeople and eventually by the rural population. This process took two or three centuries. This practice was already well established in Spain prior to the Conquest.
The most common type of family name in Peru is the patronymic surname. Alvarez, Fernandez, Garcia, Chávez, Díaz, and Gonzales(z) are examples of common surnames. Because of immigration to Peru, there are also many surnames of other nationalities. For example Arizmendi is Basque, Benalcázar is Arabic, Chu is Chinese, and Fujimori is Japanese.
In the records a surname may be preceded by the words alias, tambien conocido como, conocido como, or llamado, all referring to an alias, which may have later become a surname, used in addition to a surname. This practice is not common in official Spanish records.
Books that discuss Spanish surnames are:
- Godoy Alcantara, José. Ensayo Histórico Etimológico Filológico sobre los Apellidos Castellanos (A Historical, Etymological, Philological Study on Spanish Surnames). Barcelona: Ediciones El Albir, 1975. (FHL book 946 D4g; film 1183629 item 10.)
- Wold, Lillian Ramos. Hispanic Surnames: History and Genealogy. Fullerton, Calif.: Society of Hispanic Historical and Ancestral Research, 1994. (FHL book 946 D4h.)
- Platt, Lyman D. Hispanic Surnames and Family History. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1996. (FHL book 980 D43p.)
Present-day Spanish has influences from Hebrew, Latin, German, French, Italian, Greek, Arabic, and Catalan. Peruvian given names are usually derived from Spanish Biblical names, such as José; the names of a saint, such as Juana; or from old German given names, such as Sigfrido.
When baptized, children were usually given two names, such as José María or María del Socorro. Some of these may be the names of parents or other relatives. Today, children may be named without regard to the original meaning of the name, named after the saint day, or named after a favorite relative. In Peru the child was usually called by the first name given at baptism.
Given names are translated into 23 different European languages (including English) in:
- Janowowa, Wanda, and others. Sownik Imion (Dictionary of Names). Wroclaw: Ossoliski, 1975. (FHL book 940 D4si; film 1181578 item 2; fiche 6000839.)
Many books discuss names and their meanings. Books that provide understanding of Spanish names include:
- Gordon, Raymond L. Spanish Personal Names. Yellow Springs, Ohio: Antioch College, 1968. (FHL book 980 D4g; film 0924066.)
- Gosnell, Charles F. Spanish Personal Names, Principles Governing Their Formation and Use. New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1938 (reprinted by Blaine Ethridge Books, Detroit, 1971). (FHL book 980 D4go.)
- Gran Diccionario de los nombres de persona, origen, significado y onomástica de más de 5.500 nombres (Great Dictionary of Personal Names, Origin, Significance and Onomastics of the Major 5,500 Names). Barcelona: Editorial de Vecchi, S.A., 1998. (FHL book 946 D46g.)
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