Latin America is where languages derived from Latin are spoken. Spanish is the language most commonly used in most of the countries of Latin America. Latin-American names can be confusing for one used to the tradition of naming used in the United States and elsewhere.

In ancient times, the Incan Empire, the center of which is now Peru, had their own unique practices. They had no systematic way of naming persons. They did not have family names, and there were no rigid rules for naming children. However, they tended to use names of prominent ancestors. Children did not receive names until they were two years old, and at ten years old, they chose new names for themselves.

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In Latin America, in more recent times up to the present, a person’s first name is followed by his/her father’s surname, which is then followed by the mother’s surname. However, it is the father’s surname that is traditionally considered more significant, so that the father’s surname is also considered the surname of a person. The mother’s surname is secondary, but is also always part of a person’s full legal name. For example, from looking at the name Antonio Reyes de Castro, we understand that Antonio’s father was a Reyes, and his mother a de Castro.

Nowadays it is common for people to drop the maternal surname and use only the father’s, or at least reduce the maternal surname to an initial at the end of the full name, usually because the name is considered too long (for example, Fernando Garcia L. ) But the maternal name will still always be part of a person’s official legal name.

Men and women are named using this pattern, but upon marriage, there is a further step in the naming of a woman. Upon marriage, she may drop her maternal surname, then add a “de” at the end of her name after which comes her husband’s surname. For example, “Rowena Romualdez  Reyes” becomes Rowena Romualdez de Vargas. When a man has a “de” before the last name, however, it is simply part of his maternal surname.

The origins of Latin American names are varied. Some of the most common kinds of origins are religious (such as Jose, a diminutive of Joseph, which is of Hebrew origin, with the original meaning of “Jehovah inreases”), and geographic (such as del Monte, which literally means “of the Mountain”).

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References:

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Rowe, J. H. (1946). Inca Culture at the time of the Spanish Conquest. U.S. G.P.O

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Inca society. (2006, June 4). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:32, June 5, 2006, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Inca_society;oldid=56850526.

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Latin America. (2006, June 5). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:33, June 5, 2006, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Latin_America;oldid=56982143.

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Behind the Name: The Etymology and History of First Names. (2006). Mike Campbell. Retrieved June 5, 2006, from http://www.behindthename.com/php/view.php?name=joseph

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Darlington, R. (2006, June 2). WHAT’S IN A NAME? The varying use of first and family names in different countries and cultures. Retrieved June 5, 2006, from http://www.rogerdarlington.co.uk/useofnames.html#Americas