The Intergenerational Transmission of Surnames in Spain, 1500-1900

George Ryskamp, “The Intergenerational Transmission of Surnames in Spain, 1500-1900.” La Vie Genealogique, 28 (Acts of the 24th International Congress on Genealogical and Heraldic Sciences, Besançon, France, May 5-7, 2000). 317-330.

This article is a great help for anyone interested in (or confused about) Hispanic naming patterns. It lists the different prevalent varieties, where and how frequently they were used, and reflects on the reasons why these variations existed.

In this article, Ryskamp traces the surname changes through family lines in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies, revealing that Hispanic society had a very flexible selection in which surname each generation carried. This applied with well known surnames that were associated with nobility as well as the poorer class.

This study was done through studying the surname variations in pedigrees individuals bought to prove the purity of their Catholic blood in order to hold various offices, civil registration, parish records, and dispensation records. Previous studies agree that surnames are an important aspect of establishing identity. In certain regions of Spain in the sixteen-hundreds, children were occasionally given surnames completely different from either parent, reflecting back on a well known relative. Other times sons would receive their father’s surname, while the daughter’s inherited their mother’s surname. Hispanic surnames already have unique aspects in Spain, with the use of double surname emerging in the eighteenth century. Less frequently, an entire generation would take both parents names, and that double surname would be transmitted for generations. This method is fairly recent, originating around 1850, when names were already beginning to standardize.

The advent of civil registration in the late 1800s held solidify naming patterns, but the eventual legislation leading to double surnames was influenced by a cultural view that maternal heritage was equally important as paternal heritage. Heritage came from the entire family, not the patriarchal line, requiring greater awareness of naming patterns for anyone researching families in these areas.


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