Understanding Naming Conventions in Latin America to Enhance Investigations

Names in Spanish and Portuguese-speaking jurisdictions typically comprise three parts:

  • Given name (commonly one to two names)
  • Paternal surname
  • Maternal surname

Naming Conventions in Spanish-Speaking Latin America

In Spanish-speaking jurisdictions, the paternal surname comes first and is the primary surname by which the individual is known.

This construction results in a full legal name Juan Guillermo Oblitas Cuadrado, where Juan Guillermo is the given name, Oblitas is the paternal surname, and Cuadrado is the maternal surname. This individual could appear in a Spanish-language record as:

  • Juan Oblitas
  • Juan Guillermo Oblitas
  • Juan Oblitas Cuadrado
  • Juan Guillermo Oblitas Cuadrado

Names also appear surname-first in many documents:

  • Oblitas, Juan
  • Oblitas, Juan Guillermo
  • Oblitas Cuadrado, Juan
  • Oblitas Cuadrado, Juan Guillermo

Women sometimes modify or add to their names to match their spouse. For example, Adela Janet Lopez Sanchez, marrying a man with the paternal surname Chacon, could become:

  • Adela Janet Lopez Sanchez De Chacon
  • Adela Janet Lopez De Chacon
  • Adela De Chacon
  • Adela Chacon
  • Adela Janet Lopez Chacon
  • Adela Lopez Chacon

If the woman becomes a widow, her name changes again by adding viuda de, meaning “widow of,” before her husband’s paternal surname. Viuda de may also be shortened to vda de. The widow’s name would then appear as:

  • Adela Janet Lopez Sanchez Viuda De Chacon
  • Adela Janet Lopez Sanchez Vda De Chacon

For individuals with multi-part surnames, such as Juan Guillermo Oblitas Del Castillo and Adela Janet Lopez Sanchez Viuda De Chacon, users should search for versions both with and without del, as well as with and without viuda de. The shortened variants will be as follows:

  • Juan Oblitas Castillo
  • Adela Janet Lopez Sanchez Chacon

Naming Conventions in Portuguese-Speaking Latin America

In Portuguese-speaking jurisdictions, the surnames are reversed: the paternal surname comes last, and the maternal comes first. In this case, if Juan had been born to Brazilian parents, his name would be Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Oblitas. This would entail a slightly different set of searches:

  • Juan Oblitas
  • Juan Guillermo Oblitas
  • Juan Cuadrado Oblitas
  • Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Oblitas

Some given names may have archaic or variant spellings. These include:

  • Filipe vs. Philippe
  • Manuel vs. Manoel
  • Luis vs. Luiz

Individuals with multi-part surnames should be searched with and without any prepositions that link the surnames. In Portuguese, this includes: dadasdodos, and de, all of which mean “from” or “of.” For example, the name Jose Pedro Ferreira Da Costa should also be searched as Jose Pedro Ferreira Costa.

Women can choose to adopt their husbands’ surname(s) and choose whether or not to keep their familial surnames. In general, women keep part of their familial surname and use part of their husbands’ surname(s). For example, if a woman named Maria Laura Almeida Santos were to marry a man named Jose Pedro Ferreira Costa, her name could become:

  • Maria Laura Almeida Santos Costa
  • Maria Laura Almeida Santos Ferreira Costa
  • Maria Laura Ferreira Costa
  • Maria Laura Santos Costa

Thanks for Reading!