What’s in a Name? The Difference Between Spanish and English Names

By: Patricia Ann Talley (Wall de Tucker), Editor.

My Spanish word of the day is “Apellido.” You will find it on your immigration/declaration form if you fly to/from Mexico. Apellido is a masuline noun meaning “surname” or “family name.” Apellido de soltera indicates “maiden name.”

It is customary in the English-speaking world for men and women to use the last name (or family name/surname) of their father. For African-Americans, the family/surname came from the male owner of the plantation where their ancestors were enslaved – like (George) Washington or (Thomas) Jefferson. In the English world, married women customarily change their last name to their husband’s family name, or sometime use a hyphenated name, combining both their father’s and husband’s last names.

English Names

But, names are different in the Spanish-speaking world! In Mexico, and other Spanish-speaking countries, people commonly use the last names of both their father and their mother (in that order). When a woman marries, she usually keeps her full maiden name, rather than adopting her husband’s last name; or, she uses “de” (of) to add-on his family name. Mexicans also use academic titles in front of their names.

Spanish Names

Pedro García Fernández is typically addressed as Señor Garcia, or if he is a college graduate, he is addressed as Lic. Garcia. His wife will retain her maiden name of María Piñedo Saavedra that is a combination of her father’s and mother’s family names. If she has an academic title such as a teacher, she is addressed as Maestra Piñedo Saavedra.

Pedro García Fernández and María Piñedo Saavedra have a daughter called Eva. She is known as Eva García Piñedo. This custom is followed in all official documents, though in everyday use many people use only their first surname. So, if Eva García Piñedo married Carlos Hernández Río, she could either keep her own name intact, or be known as Señora de Hernández Río. In Latin America she might also be known as Eva García Piñedo de Hernández.

Warning to Ladies! In today’s global world, it is best not to change your name – add on if you like, but maintain your original family name! 

I learned this lesson about the difference in names in different parts of the world the hard way! It was a problem for me when I moved from the United States to Mexico, married, and then wanted to work as a marketing and language professor. Well, that required a trip to the Mexican immigration office to obtain a residency visa AND a professional work permit.

Mexican forms and documents ask for your name(s), indicating first and middle name; your father’s last name; and your mother’s last name. And, for my professional work permit, I need to show my academic degrees and university transcripts.

Line 1 of the Mexican application form read:



Apellido de Padre

(Father’s Surname)

Apellido de Madre

(Mother’s Maiden Name)

Patricia Ann Talley Wall

Well. . .My English maiden name is Patricia Ann Talley“Ann” is my middle name and “Talley” is the surname/last name of my father. My mother’s maiden name is Barbara Wall. When I married William Tucker, I changed the name on my USA passport to Patricia Ann Tucker. My academic degrees are in the names of Patricia Ann Talley and my former married name of Patricia Ann Fisher. None of these names matched the format of the application.

So, to eliminate confusion, and to conform to the Spanish tradition, I returned to the USA to change my passport BACK to my maiden name, AND took a trip to my former universities to change my academic name BACK to my maiden name. I also changed my USA driver’s license to a hyphenated name. This took a lot of time and expense!

I lecture to girls and young women about their futures in a global society. The first lesson is DO NOT CHANGE YOUR NAME! You may not anticipate the customs of other countries.

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