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A surname or family name is a name added to a given name. In many cases, a surname is a family name and many dictionaries define "surname" as a synonym of "family name". In the western hemisphere, it is commonly synonymous with last name because it is usually placed at the end of a person's given name.
In most Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking countries, two or more last names (or surnames) may be used. In China, Hungary, Japan, Korea, Madagascar, Taiwan, Vietnam, and parts of India, the family name is placed before a person's given name.
The concept of a "surname" is a relatively recent historical development, evolving from a medieval naming practice called a "byname". Based on an individual's occupation or area of residence, a byname would be used in situations where more than one person had the same name.
A family name is typically a part of a person's personal name which, according to law or custom, is passed or given to children from one or both of their parents' family names. The use of family names is common in most cultures around the world, with each culture having its own rules as to how these names are formed, passed and used. However, the style of having both a family name (surname) and a given name (forename) is far from universal. In many countries, it is common for ordinary people to have only one name or mononym, with some cultures not using family names. Also, in most Slavic countries and in Greece, for example, there are different family name forms for male and female members of the family. Issues of family name arise especially on the passing of a name to a new-born child, on the adoption of a common family name on marriage, on renouncing of a family name and on changing of a family name.
Surname laws vary around the world. Traditionally in many European countries for the past few hundred years, it was the custom or law that a woman would on marriage use the surname of her husband and that children of a man would have the father's surname. If a child's paternity was not known, or if the putative father denied paternity, the new-born child would have the surname of the mother. That is still the custom and law in many countries. The surname for children of married parents is usually inherited from the father. In recent years there has been a trend towards equality of treatment in relation to family names with women not being automatically required or expected, some places even forbidden, to take the husband's surname on marriage, and children not automatically being given the father's surname. In this article, family name and surname both mean the patrilineal (literally, father-line) surname, handed down from or inherited from the father's line or patriline, unless explicitly stated otherwise. Thus, the term "maternal surname" means the patrilineal surname which one's mother inherited from either or both of her parents. For a discussion of matrilineal ('mother-line') surnames, passing from mothers to daughters, see matrilineal surname.
In English-speaking cultures, family names are often used by children when referring to adults, but it's also used to refer to someone in authority, the elderly, or in a formal setting, and are often used with a title or honorific such as Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss, Dr, and so on. Generally the given name, first name, forename, or personal name is the one used by friends, family, and other intimates to address an individual. It may also be used by someone who is in some way senior to the person being addressed. This practice also differs between cultures; see T–V distinction.
In many cultures (particularly in European and European-influenced cultures in the Americas, Oceania, etc., as well as the Middle East, South Asia, and most African cultures), the surname or family name ("last name") is placed after the personal or given name ("first name"). In other cultures the surname is placed first, followed by the given name or names. The latter is often called the Eastern order because Europeans are most familiar with the examples from the East Asian cultural sphere, specifically Japan, China and Taiwan, Korea and Vietnam. This is also the case in Hungary, parts of Romania, Bavaria, Austria, Albania and Kosovo, South India, Sri Lanka, and Madagascar.
Since family names are normally written last in European societies (except in Hungary), the term last name is commonly used for family name, while in Japan (with vertical writing) the family name may be referred to as upper name (ue-no-namae (上の名前?)).
When those from Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong write their personal name in the Latin alphabet, it is common to reverse the order of the given and family names for the convenience of Westerners, so that they know which name is the family name for official/formal purposes. Reversing the order of names for the same reason is also customary for the Baltic Fennic peoples and the Hungarians, but other Uralic peoples traditionally did not have surnames, perhaps because of the clan structure of their societies. Surnames have been imposed by the dominant authorities: evangelists, then administrations. Thus, the Samis saw no change or a transformation of their name. For example: some Sire became Siri, Hætta Jáhkoš Ásslat became Aslak Jacobsen Hætta — as was the norm. Recently, integration into the EU and increased communications with foreigners prompted many Samis to reverse the order of their full name to given name followed by surname, to avoid their given name being mistaken for and used as a surname.
Indian surnames may often denote caste, profession, and village and are invariably mentioned along with the personal names. However, hereditary last names are not universal. In Indian passports the surname is shown first. In telephone directories the surname is used for collation. In North Indian states the surname is placed after given names where it exists. In south India, where use of two names is by no means universal, surname is placed before personal name and in most cases it is only shown as an initial (for example 'S.' for Suryapeth).
In English—although the usual order of names is "first middle last"—for the purpose of cataloging in libraries and in citing the names of authors in scholarly papers, the order is changed to "last, first middle," with the last and first names separated by a comma, and items are alphabetized by the last name.
While surnames are usually one word, in some cases a surname comprises more than one word.
In most Spanish-speaking countries, the custom is for people to have two surnames. For instance, Spanish ex-premier José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has José Luis as his given name, Rodríguez, as his first (i.e. paternal) surname, and Zapatero as his second (i.e. maternal) surname.
This custom is not seen in the Hispanic world as being a true compound surname system per se, since it is widely understood that the first surname denotes one's father's family, and the second surname denotes one's mother's family. So "Rodríguez Zapatero" is not considered one surname; it is two distinct surnames. Given that it is not a true compound surname, his children do not inherit the "compound" surname "Rodríguez Zapatero." Only the paternal surname of both father and mother are passed on. The father's paternal surname becomes the child's own paternal surname, while the mother's paternal surname becomes the child's second surname (as the child's own maternal surname). Thus, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero would pass on only Rodríguez to his children as their first (i.e. paternal) surname.
Beyond this seemingly "compound" surname system in the Hispanic world, there are also true compound surnames in the Spanish-speaking countries. These true compound surnames are passed on and inherited as compounds. For instance, former Chairman of the Supreme Military Junta of Ecuador, General Luis Telmo Paz y Miño Estrella, has Luis as his first given name, Telmo as his middle name, the true compound surname Paz y Miño as his first (i.e. paternal) surname, and Estrella as his second (i.e. maternal) surname.
Luis Telmo Paz y Miño Estrella is also known more casually as Luis Paz y Miño, Telmo Paz y Miño, or Luis Telmo Paz y Miño. He would never be regarded as Luis Estrella, Telmo Estrella, or Luis Telmo Estrella, nor as Luis Paz, Telmo Paz, or Luis Telmo Paz. This is because "Paz" alone is not his surname (although other people use the "Paz" surname on its own).
In this case, Paz y Miño is in fact the paternal surname, being a true compound surname. His children, therefore, would inherit the compound surname "Paz y Miño" as their paternal surname, while Estrella would be lost, since the mother's paternal surname becomes the children's second surname (as their own maternal surname). "Paz" alone would not be passed on, nor would "Miño" alone.
To avoid ambiguity, one might often informally see these true compound surnames hyphenated, for instance, as Paz-y-Miño. This is true especially in the Anglosphere, but also sometimes even in the Hispanic world, since to many Hispanics unfamiliar with this and other compound surnames, "Paz y Miño" might be inadvertently mistaken as "Paz" for the paternal surname and "Miño" for the maternal surname. Although Miño did start off as the maternal surname in this compound surname, it was many generations ago, around five centuries, that it became compounded, and henceforth inherited and passed on as a compound.
Other surnames which started off as compounds of two or more surnames, but which merged into one single word, also exist. An example would be the surname Pazmiño, whose members are related to the Paz y Miño, as both descend from the "Paz Miño" family of five centuries ago.
Álava, Spain is notorious for its incidence of true compound surnames, known as "apellido compuesto alavés" (Álava compound surname).
Unlike other true compound surnames, which resulted from the merging of a previously paternal and maternal surname, the Álava compound surname is characterized for having the first portion of the surname as a patronymic, normally a Spanish patronymic (i.e. from the Castilian language) or more unusually a Basque language patronymic, followed by the preposition "de", with the second part of the surname being a local toponymic surname from Álava. While this form of compound surname can be found in other regions of Spain, albeit scarcely, it is only in Álava that it has persisted. These type of customary compound surnames used to be found throughout Guipúzcoa, Navarra, Soria, Logroño, and most of Green Spain generally (i.e. the Spanish northern maritime façade exposed to the Atlantic Ocean which runs along the coastal strip lying north of the Cantabrian and Basque mountains, along the Bay of Biscay.)
Compound surnames in English and several other European cultures feature two (or occasionally more) words, often joined by a hyphen or hyphens. However, it is not unusual for compound surnames to be composed of separate words not linked by a hyphen, for example Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of the British Conservative Party, whose surname is "Duncan Smith". A surname with the prefix "Fitz" can be spelled with the prefix as a separate word, as in "Fitz William", as well as "FitzWilliam" or "Fitzwilliam".
The common prefixes "Ó" and "Mac" can be spelled with the prefix as a separate word, yielding "Ó Briain" or "Mac Millan" as well as the anglicized "O'Brien" and "MacMillan" or "Macmillan."
While given names have been used from the most distant times to identify individuals, the advent of surnames is a relatively recent phenomenon. In Britain, hereditary surnames were adopted in the 13th and 14th centuries, initially by the aristocracy but eventually by everyone. By 1400, most English and some Scottish people used surnames, but many Scottish and Welsh people did not adopt surnames until the 17th century, or even later. Henry VIII (ruled 1509–1547) ordered that marital births be recorded under the surname of the father. In England and cultures derived from there, there has long been a tradition for a woman to change her surname upon marriage from her birth name to her husband's family name. (See Maiden and married names.) The first known instance in the United States of a woman insisting on the use of her birth name was that of Lucy Stone in 1855; and there has been a general increase in the rate of women using their birth name. This has gone through periods of flux, however, and the 1990s saw a decline in the percentage of name retention among women. As of 2006, more than 80%Template:How many more? Avoid imprecise "more than" of American women adopted the husband's family name after marriage.
Many cultures have used and continue to use additional descriptive terms in identifying individuals. These terms may indicate personal attributes, location of origin, occupation, parentage, patronage, adoption, or clan affiliation. These descriptors often developed into fixed clan identifications that in turn became family names as we know them today.
In China, according to legend, family names started with Emperor Fu Xi in 2852 BC His administration standardised the naming system in order to facilitate census-taking, and the use of census information. Originally, Chinese surnames were derived matrilineally, although by the time of the Shang dynasty (1600 to 1046 BCE) they had become patrilineal. Chinese women do not change their names upon marriage. They can be referred to either as their full birth names or as their husband's last name plus the word for wife. But in the past, women often had no official first name and were referred in official documents by their family name plus the character "Shi" and when married by their husband's surname, their birth surname, and the character "Shi."
In Ancient Greece, during some periods, formal identification commonly included place of origin. At other times clan names and patronymics ("son of") were also common, as in Aristides Lysimachu. For example, Alexander the Great was known as Heracleides (as a supposed descendant of Heracles) and by the dynastic name Karanos/Caranus, which referred to the founder of the dynasty to which he belonged. In none of these cases, though, were these names considered essential parts of the person's name, nor were they explicitly inherited in the manner that is common in many cultures today.
In the Roman Empire, the bestowal and use of clan and family names waxed and waned with changes in the various subcultures of the realm. (See Roman naming conventions.) The nomen, which was the gens name, was inherited much like last names are, but their purposes were quite different. In later Europe, last names were developed to distinguish between individuals. The nomen were to identify group kinship. The praenomen was literally the "forename" and was originally used like a first name today. In later times, praenomen became less useful for distinguishing invidiuals as it was often passed down for boys along with the nomen (like an entire culture where "John Smith, Jr." was the norm), and girls, were often given nno praenomen at all or functional names like Major and Minor ("Older" and "Younger") or Maixma, Maio, and Mino ("Biggest," "Middle," "Littlest") or ordinal numbers rather than what we might think of as names: Prima, Secunda, Tertia, Quarta, etc. Around this time, the nomen became followed by one or more additional names called cognomen. It became usual that one of these cognomen was inherited, but as the praenomen and nomen became ever more rigidly used and less useful for identifying individuals, additional personal cognomen were more often used, to the point that the first the praenomen and then the nomen fell out of use entirely. With the gradual influence of Greek/Christian culture throughout the Empire, Christian religious names were sometimes put in front of traditional cognomen, but eventually, people reverted to sungle names. By the time of the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, family names were uncommon in the Eastern Roman Empire. In Western Europe, where Germanic culture dominated the aristocracy, family names were almost non-existent. They would not significantly reappear again in Eastern Roman society until the 10th century, apparently influenced by the familial affiliations of the Armenian military aristocracy. The practice of using family names spread through the Eastern Roman Empire and gradually into Western Europe, although it was not until the modern era that family names came to be explicitly inherited as they are today.
In Ireland, the use of surnames has a very old history. Ireland was the first country in Europe to use fixed surnames. As noted in the Annals, the first recorded fixed surname was Ó Cleirigh, which recorded the death of Tigherneach Ua Cleirigh, lord of Aidhne in Co. Galway in the year 916.
In England, the introduction of family names is generally attributed to the preparation of the Domesday Book in 1086, following the Norman conquest. Evidence indicates that surnames were first adopted among the feudal nobility and gentry, and only slowly spread to other parts of society. Some of the early Norman nobility who arrived in England during the Norman conquest differentiated themselves by affixing 'de' (of) before the name of their village in France. This is what is known as a territorial surname, a consequence of feudal landownership. In medieval times in France, such a name indicated lordship, or ownership, of the village. But some early Norman nobles in England chose to drop the French derivations and call themselves instead after their new English holdings.
During the modern era, many cultures around the world adopted family names, particularly for administrative reasons, especially during the age of European expansion and particularly since 1600. Notable examples include the Netherlands (1811), Japan (1870s), Thailand (1920), and Turkey (1934). Nonetheless, their use is not universal: Icelanders, Tibetans, Burmese, Javanese, and many people groups in East Africa do not use family names.
Family names sometimes change or are replaced by non-family-name surnames under political pressure to avoid persecution. Examples are the cases with Chinese Indonesians and Chinese Thais after migration there during the 20th century, or the Jews who fled to different European countries to avoid persecution from the Nazis during World War II.
The United States followed the naming customs and practices of English common law and traditions until recent times. Beginning in the latter half of the 20th century, traditional naming practices, writes one commentator, were recognized as "com[ing] into conflict with current sensitivities about children's and women's rights." Those changes accelerated a shift away from the interests of the parents to a focus on the best interests of the child. The law in this area continues to evolve today mainly in the context of paternity and custody actions.
In 1979, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women ("CEDAW"), which declared in effect that women and men, and specifically wife and husband, shall have the same rights to choose a "family name", as well as a "profession" and an "occupation." For a further description of and treatment of this Convention, see Matriname.
In France, until 1 January 2005, children were required by law to take the surname of their father. Article 311-21 of the French Civil code now permits parents to give their children the family name of either their father, mother, or a hyphenation of both – although no more than two names can be hyphenated. In cases of disagreement, the father's name applies. This brought France into line with a 1978 declaration by the Council of Europe requiring member governments to take measures to adopt equality of rights in the transmission of family names, a measure that was echoed by the United Nations in 1979. Similar measures were adopted by Germany (1976), Sweden (1982), Denmark (1983) and Spain (1999). The European Community has been active in eliminating gender discrimination. Several cases concerning discrimination in family names have reached the courts. Burghartz v. Switzerland challenged the lack of an option for husbands to add the wife's surname to his surname, which they had chosen as the family name, when this option was available for women. Losonci Rose and Rose v. Switzerland challenged a prohibition on foreign men married to Swiss women keeping their surname if this option was provided in their national law, an option available to women. Unal Tekeli v. Turkey challenged prohibitions on women using their surname as the family name, an option only available to men. The Court found all these laws to be in violation of the Convention.
Name etymologists classify European surnames under five categories, depending on their origin: given name, occupational name, location name, nickname, and ornamental name. This classification can be extended to surnames originating elsewhere.
These may be a simple first name such as "Wilhelm," a patronymic such as "Andersen," a matronymic such as "Beaton," or a clan name such as "O'Brien." Multiple surnames may be derived from a single given name: e.g. there are thought to be over 90 Italian surnames based on the given name "Giovanni."
The Icelandic system, formerly used in much of Scandinavia, does not use family names. A person's last name indicates the first name of his or her father (patronymic) or in some cases mother (matronymic). Many common family names in other Scandinavian countries are a result of this naming practice, such as Hansen (son of Hans), Johansen (son of Johan) and Olsen (son of Ole/Ola), the three most common surnames in Norway. This also occurs in other cultures: Spanish and Portuguese (López or Lopes, son of Lopo; Álvarez or Álvares, son of Álvaro; Domínguez or Domingues, son of Domingo or Domingos; etc.); in English (Johnson, son of John; Richardson, son of Richard), etc.
Patronymic name conventions are similar in some other nations, including Malaysia (see Malaysian name) and other Muslim countries, among most people of the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala (unlike another Indian state Andhra Pradesh, where ancestral origin village names have become surnames for the people), in Mongolia and in the Scottish Gaelic personal naming system. In Russia and Bulgaria, both patronymic and family name are obligatory parts of one's full name: e.g. if a Russian is called Ivan Andreyevich Sergeyev, that means that his father's name is Andrey and his family name is Sergeyev. A similar system is used in Greece.
In Ethiopia and Eritrea, a child adopts the given name of one of their parents, usually the father, as a pseudo-surname. For example, Abraham Mesfin's father's first name would have been Mesfin, while Abraham Mesfin's child might be called "Nestanet Abraham." Just as in Iceland, referring to Abraham Mesfin as "Mr Mesfin" would be erroneous: the correct term would be "Mr Abraham." Very rarely do children adopt their mother's given name, who in any case would retain their "pseudo-surname".
As part of Hebrew patronymic names, Ben is followed by the father's name, e.g. ben adam (Hebrew: בן אדם) or Abraham ben Abraham. Bar-, "son of" in Aramaic, is used likewise, e.g. Meir Bar-Ilan. Ben (Hebrew: בֶּן, son of) also forms part of Hebrew names, e.g. Benjamin.
Occupational names include such simple examples as Smith (for a smith), Miller (for a miller), Farmer (for farm tax collectors or sometimes farmers), Thatcher (for a thatcher), Shepherd (for a shepherd), Potter (for a potter), and so on, as well as non-English ones such as Eisenhauer (iron hewer, later Anglicized in America as Eisenhower) or Schneider (tailor). There are also more complicated names based on occupational titles. In England it was common for servants to take a modified version of their employer's occupation or first name as their last name, adding the letter s to the word, although this formation could also be a patronymic. For instance, the surname Vickers is thought to have arisen as an occupational name adopted by the servant of a vicar, while Roberts could have been adopted by either the son or the servant of a man named Robert. A subset of occupational names in English are names thought to be derived from the medieval mystery plays. The participants would often play the same roles for life, passing the part down to their oldest sons. Names derived from this may include King, Lord, Virgin, and Death; the last is often wrongly thought to be an anglicization of the French name D'Ath. It is now thought that the surname D'Ath arose well after the surname Death was first used.
Location (toponymic, habitation) names derive from the inhabited location associated with the person given that name. Such locations can be any type of settlement, such as: homesteads, farms, enclosures, villages, hamlets, strongholds or cottages. One element of a habitation name may describe the type of settlement. Examples of Old English elements are frequently found in the second element of habitational names. The habitative elements in such names can differ in meaning, according to different periods, different locations, or with being used with certain other elements. For example, the Old English element tūn may have originally meant "enclosure" in one name, but can have meant "farmstead", "village", "manor", or "estate" in other names.
Location names, or habitation names, may be as generic as "Monte" (Portuguese for "mountain"), "Górski" (Polish for "hill") or "Pitt" (variant of "pit"), but may also refer to specific locations. "Washington," for instance, is thought to mean "the homestead of the family of Wassa," while "Lucci" likely means "resident of Lucca." Although some surnames, such as "London," "Lisboa" or "Bialystok" are derived from large cities, more people reflect the names of smaller communities, as in Ó Creachmhaoil, derived from a village in County Galway. This is thought to be due to the tendency in Europe during the Middle Ages for migration to chiefly be from smaller communities to the cities and the need for new arrivals to choose a defining surname.
In Portuguese-speaking countries, it is not uncommon to find surnames derived from names of countries, such as Portugal, França, Brasil, Holanda.
Many Japanese surnames derive from geographical features; for example, Ishikawa (石川) means "stone river", Yamamoto (山本) means "the base of the mountain", and Inoue (井上) means "above the well."
Arabic names sometimes contain surnames that denote the city of origin. For example, in cases of Saddam Hussein al Tikriti, meaning Saddam Hussein originated from Tikrit, a city in Iraq. This component of the name is called a nisbah.
These include names, also known as eke-names, based on appearance such as "Schwartzkopf," "Short," and possibly "Caesar," and names based on temperament and personality such as "Daft," "Gutman," and "Maiden," which, according to a number of sources, was an English nickname meaning "effeminate." When Jewish families in Central Europe were forced to adopt surnames in the 18th and 19th centuries, those who failed to choose a surname were often given pejorative or even cruel nicknames (such as "Schweinmann" ("pig man") or "Schmutz" (a variant of "filthy")) by the local registrar. Many families later changed these names.
Ornamental names used as surnames are more common in communities which adopted (or were forced to adopt) surnames in the 18th and 19th centuries. They occur commonly among Jewish families and in Scandinavia. Examples include "Morgenstern" ("morning star"), "Safire" ("sapphire"), and "Reis" ("branch"). In some cases, such as Chinese Indonesians and Chinese Thais, certain ethnic groups are subject to political pressure to change their surnames, in which case surnames can lose their family-name meaning. For instance, Indonesian business tycoon Liem Swie Liong (林绍良) "indonesianised" his name to Sudono Salim. In this case "Liem" (林) was rendered by "Salim", a name of Arabic origin, while "Sudono", a Javanese name with the honorific prefix "su-" (of Sanskrit origin), was supposed[by whom?] to be a rendering of "Swie Liong". During the era of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade (of Africans) many Africans lost their native names and were forced[by whom?] to take the surnames of their slave masters and any given name the slave master desired.
In some cultures, such as Greek, Bulgarian, Russian, Slovak, Czech, etc. surnames change form depending on the gender of the bearer. For example, in Greece, if a man called Papadopoulos has a daughter, she will likely be named Papadopoulou (if the couple have decided their offspring will take the father's surname), since that name has a female version. In Poland, if the husband is named Podwiński, and his wife takes his surname, her last name, and those of their unmarried daughters, would be Podwińska. The sons would be known as Podwiński. In Lithuania, if the husband is named Vilkas, his wife will be named Vilkienė and his daughter will be named Vilkaitė. In Slovakia and Czech Republic alike, if a man is called Novák, the wife adds a feminine suffix "-ová" to his surname after the marriage, hence Nováková. The same is true for daughters which almost always inherit the father's surname with the feminine suffix.
The meanings of some names are unknown or unclear. The most common European name in this category may be the Irish name "Ryan", which means little king in Irish Gaelic. Other surnames may have arisen from more than one source: the name "De Luca," for instance, likely arose either in or near Lucania or in the family of someone named Lucas or Lucius; in some instances, however, the name may have arisen from Lucca, with the spelling and pronunciation changing over time and with emigration. The same name may appear in different cultures by coincidence or romanization; the surname Lee is used in English culture, but is also a romanization of the Chinese surname Li. Surname origins have been the subject of much folk etymology.
Surnames were uncommon prior to the 12th century, and still somewhat rare into the 13th; most European surnames were originally occupational or locational, and served to distinguish one person from another if they happened to live near one another (e.g., two different people named John could conceivably be identified as 'John Butcher' and 'John Chandler'). This still happens, in some communities where a surname is particularly common, for example on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, many residents have the family name MacLeod (son of Lewis) and so may still be known by a surname symbolising their occupation such as 'Kevin the post' and 'Kevin Handbag'.
In French Canada until the 19th century, several families adopted surnames that followed the family name in order to distinguish the various branches of a large family. Such a surname was preceded by the word "dit" ("said") and was known as a "nom-dit" ("said-name"). (Compare with some Roman naming conventions.) While this tradition is no longer in use, in many cases the nom-dit has come to replace the original family name. Thus the Bourbeau family has split into Bourbeau dit Verville, Bourbeau dit Lacourse, and Bourbeau dit Beauchesne. In many cases Verville, Lacourse, or Beauchesne has become the new family name. Likewise, the Rivard family has split into the Rivard dit Lavigne, Rivard dit Loranger and Rivard dit Lanoie. The origin of the nom-dit can vary. Often it denoted a geographical trait of the area where that branch of the family lived: Verville lived towards the city, Beauchesne lived near an oak tree, Larivière near a river, etc. Some of the oldest noms-dits are derived from the war name of a settler who served in the army or militia: Tranchemontagne ("mountain slasher"), Jolicœur ("braveheart"). Others denote a personal trait: Lacourse might have been a fast runner, Legrand was probably tall, etc.
In the United States, 1,712 surnames cover 50% of the population, and about 1% of the population has the surname Smith, which is also the most frequent English name and an occupational name ("metal worker"), a contraction, for instance, of blacksmith or other metalsmiths. Several American surnames are a result of corruptions or phonetic misappropriations of European surnames, perhaps as a result of the registration process at the immigration entry points. Spellings and pronunciations of names remained fluid in the United States until the Social Security System enforced standardization.
Approximately 70% of Canadians have surnames that are of English, Irish, French, or Scottish derivation.
According to some estimates, 85% of China's population shares just 100 surnames. The names Wang, Zhang and Li are the most frequent.
In Spain and in most Spanish-speaking countries, the custom is for people to have two surnames. Usually the first surname comes from the father and the second from the mother, but it could be the other way round. A child's first surname will usually be their father's first surname, while the child's second surname will usually be the mother's first surname. For example, if "(José) GARCÍA Torres" and "(María) ACOSTA Gómez" had a child named Pablo, then his full name would be Pablo García Acosta. One family member's relationship to another can often be identified by the various combinations and permutations of surnames.
In Spain, especially Catalonia, the paternal and maternal surnames are often combined using y (Spanish) or i (in Catalan), see for example the economist Xavier Sala-i-Martin or painter Salvador Dalí i Domènech.
In Spain, a woman does not change her legal surnames when she marries. In some Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America, a woman may, on her marriage, drop her mother's surname and add her husband's surname to her father's surname using the preposition "de" (of). For example, if "Clara Reyes Alba" were to marry "Alberto Gómez Rodríguez", the wife could use "Clara Reyes de Gómez" as her name (or "Clara Reyes Gómez", or, rarely, "Clara Gómez Reyes". She can be addressed as Sra. de Gómez corresponding to "Mrs Gómez"). In some countries, this form may be mainly social and not an official name change, i.e. her name would still legally be her birth name. This custom of adding the husband's surname is slowly fading.
Children take the surnames of both parents, so if the couple above had two children named "Andrés" and "Ana", then their names would be "Andrés Gómez Reyes" and "Ana Gómez Reyes". In Spain, a 1995 reform in the law allows the parents to choose whether the father's or the mother's surname goes first, although this order must be the same for all their children. For instance, the name of the son of the couple in the example above could be either "Andrés Gómez Reyes" or "Andrés Reyes Gómez". Sometimes, for single mothers or when the father would or could not recognize the child, the mother's surname has been used twice: for example, "Ana Reyes Reyes". In Spain, however, children with just one parent receive both surnames of that parent, although the order may also be changed. In 1973 in Chile, the law was changed to avoid stigmatizing illegitimate children with the maternal surname repeated.
It should be noted that some Hispanic people, after leaving their country, drop their maternal surname, even if not formally, so as to better fit into the non-Hispanic society they live or work in. Dropping the paternal surname is not unusual when it is a very common one. For instance, painter Pablo Ruiz Picasso and Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero are known by their maternal surnames as "Picasso" and "Zapatero". Similarly, Anglophones with just one surname may be asked to provide a second surname on official documents in Spanish-speaking countries. When none (such as the mother's maiden name) is provided, the last name may simply be repeated.
In some churches, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where the family structure is emphasized, as well as legal marriage, the wife is referred to as "hermana" [sister] plus the surname of her husband. And most records of the church follow that structure as well.
A new trend in the United States for Hispanics is to hyphenate their father's and mother's last names. This is done because American born English-speakers are not aware of the Hispanic custom of using two last names and thus mistake the first last name of the individual for a middle name. In doing so they would, for example, mistakenly refer to Esteban Álvarez Cobos as Esteban A. Cobos. Such confusion can be particularly troublesome in official matters. To avoid such mistakes, Esteban Álvarez Cobos, would become Esteban Álvarez-Cobos, to clarify that both are last names.
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