I'm from Spain, and here we have 2 last names; one coming from our mother, and the other one from our father.
In the translation of last name, technically it's like a family name, but in my country we don't work by using family names. To my understanding, a family name is just 1.

So is it adequate if I refer to our 2 last names, as simply "last name"?


With respect to your own name, you can definitely refer to both of your parents' last names collectively as your last name or your surname. It is also used collectively in the same way a single last name would be: for example, even in English-language bookstores, the books of Mario Vargas Llosa are alphabetized under "V".

Formally, a last name made up of multiple names is called a compound surname. You can also call it a double surname or a double last name.

In the UK, you sometimes hear this called a double-barreled name and it was historically associated with the upper classes. This term was at one time meant to be somewhat mocking and poking fun at someone for being pompous, but that is less true today as hyphenated names become more common.

  • My father had a double name Halladay (his mother's maiden name) and Harvey (his father's) and was always known as Royston Halladay Harvey, and he was not at all a member of the upper classes, I am just Harvey, as you can tell. – Michael Harvey Sep 28 '20 at 21:47
  • When I was young we thought of 'double-barrelled' (hyphenated) surnames as pretentious because the custom was associated with landed gentry who wished to preserve their name when they had no son and the heir to the land had a different surname. It rather amuses me that, nowadays, such names are widely used by all kinds of couples who wish to go on using the wife's surname. – Kate Bunting Sep 29 '20 at 9:21
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    I've edited the answer to place the "double-barreled name" commentary more in the past. – Canadian Yankee Sep 29 '20 at 15:56

You can refer to the apellido paterno as the paternal surname and the apellido materno as the maternal surname. However, you cannot assume that all or even most English speakers will know what these terms mean without an explanation.

If you want to refer to both surnames together, simply using "last name" is probably not a good default choice, as it's very likely to be taken as referring only to the apellido materno. In some contexts you might be able to get away with "so-and-so's two last names" or "both of so-and-so's last names," though pedants may claim that such phrases are inherently contradictory. "Two surnames," "compound surname," or "double surname" are safer choices in that sense, though unfortunately "surname" is also a word that not all native speakers know.

At times you may have to be more specific or use other workarounds, and depending on the circumstances you might even have to give a brief explanation of Spanish naming customs to your clueless anglophone interlocutor. For example, if your name were Juan Rodriguez Martinez and someone asked for your full name, in some contexts it might be enough to say "My first name is Juan, and my surname is Rodriguez Martinez." But in other contexts, you might want to say something like, "In Spain we use surnames from both parents, and my two surnames are Rodriguez and Martinez. Even though Martinez comes last in my full name, I prefer to be called Mr. Rodriguez."

I'm sorry I can't offer a simpler answer, but Spanish naming conventions are so different from those commonly used in the anglophone world that I don't think there's a single word or phrase that will work in all contexts. And your question doesn't really make it clear what particular context(s) you're most interested in!

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    You said “last name” will be normally taken to be the apellido materno but I think you meant apellido paterno, in the US at least, most people take their father’s last name. – Connor McCormick Sep 29 '20 at 19:15
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    @Connor McCormick, in Spanish names the apellido paterno comes second to last, and the apellido materno comes last. So if someone refers to Juan Rodriguez Martinez's "last name" in English, that will likely be taken as referring to Martinez, which is Juan's apellido materno. This may be problematic for Juan, who is likely to consider his appellido paterno his main surname even though it does not come last in his full name. (The point of the OP's question is that in Spain and many other Spanish-speaking countries it's common to take both one's father's and one's mother's surname.) – Nanigashi Sep 29 '20 at 19:49
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    Ahh I’m following you now – Connor McCormick Sep 29 '20 at 19:51
  • My Peruvian son-in-law uses his paternal last name as his last name. He may still use both for official documents, I don't know. My daughter, who grew up with a hyphenated last name (because my wife didn't change hers), was happy to change it to his when they got married, as it was much shorter and easier to spell. She also only uses the paternal last name. – bkb105 Sep 29 '20 at 20:49

If you just want to use both names without having to explain the different system, the simplest answer is to hyphenate them into a single name.

Some married women, especially those with an established career, choose to hyphenate their maiden name and husband’s name as a balance of maintaining continuity vs social convention. (Note that the children in these cases will usually take only the father’s name.)

Some couples, either unmarried or when the wife didn’t take the husband’s name at all, will give their children a hyphenated last name. (Most, though, still use only the father’s name.)

Neither case exactly matches your system, but the latter is somewhat close (one name from each parent), and both are common enough that people will use a hyphenated name correctly when they see one.

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    Alas, I can say from experience that hyphenation is no guarantee. Some humans use just one or the other, while some machines regard the hyphen as "invalid" or even "illegal". Ultimately, names are messy and there is no perfect solution. – KlaymenDK Sep 29 '20 at 8:58

In my passport issued while the UK was still a member of the EU the first page has Surname/Nom (1). In the key on the next page to the numbers (1) in Spanish is Apellidos so the EU expected to find both apellidos there. You do not state your nationality but if you need this information for official purposes this may help.

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