Spanish Names from the Late 15th Century

by Juliana de Luna (Julia Smith,
© 1999-2000 by Julia Smith; all rights reserved.


Surnames were still quite simple in the late 15th century. The vast majority of people had a single element surname. Two element surnames occur rarely; three element surnames are not found in this data. No surname at all is given for 9% of men and 15% of women. A variety of reasons account for this: some were royal (and the queen's immediate family), others were servants, and still others were people whose surnames may simply not have been known.

Over 50% of people had simple locative surnames, taking the form de (placename), meaning 'of (or from) a place'. 55% of men and 51% of women with surnames had surnames of this type. Some mentioned a specific place, while others may describe a kind of location rather than be the name of a specific place (e.g. de la Vega means 'from the meadow'). Locative surnames rarely refer to the name of a kingdom (such as Leon, Castile, Aragon, and Portugal), because these names were reserved for descendants of the lords of the rulers of those kingdoms. However, because these names were preserved over generations, using them does not claim to be the son of a king, only a descendant of one.

About 10% of men and 19% of women used simple patronymic surnames. The majority of these surnames were formed by taking a man's name, dropping the final 'o' (if there was one), and adding 'ez' to the end. A smaller number were formed by simply using the father's name without modification. These names were originally true patronymics, in which each person would form a new name from his own father's name; by the late 15th century, they had become frozen as surnames inherited from generation to generation.

Several other kinds of surnames are found mostly descriptive names of various sorts. No single type of other surname comprises more than a few percent of individuals. Some, such as el joven 'the young', el negro 'dark' and Calvo 'bald' describe a physical trait. Others describe other kinds of traits, such as Bravo 'brave' and Cortes 'courteous. Others, such as Aragones 'Aragonese', Naharro 'Navarese', and Gallego 'Gallician' describe citizenship or ethnicity. Still others are occupational, including Peregrin 'pilgrim', el ballestero 'crossbowman', Capenellas 'chaplain'. Some names are simply unidentifiable. As with patronymic surnames, most of these surnames were inherited family names rather than literal descriptions of these individuals.

Less than 7% of men and less than 3% of women have two element surnames. Of these names, 70% combine a first patronymic element with a second locative element: Ferrandes de Llerrena, Ruyz de Azcona, and Ponçe de Leon for example. The remaining 30% of two element surnames are split evently between the pattern of a patronymic element followed by another kind of element and the pattern of another element followed by a locative element. Examples of the first include Peres Vitoria and Alonso Niño; examples of the second include Hurtado de Mendoça and Carrillo de Guadalupe. There are no examples of combinations of two patronymic elements or two locative elements.

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