Spanish Names

How Do Spanish Names Work

Are you a Don, a Doña, a Señor or a Señora? How do Spanish names work? Let’s explain:


Everyone knows Señor y Señora mean Mr and Mrs, and that Señorita refers to an unmarried woman. So to most people, a Mr Peter Smith would be known as Señor Smith.

But what about Don y Doña? The titles are used as a sign of respect, and are always accompanied by the first name rather than the last name. So our friend Peter Smith would never be Don Smith, he would always be Don Peter. In the same way, his wife Pauline would be called Doña Pauline by anyone who wanted to convey respect.

To give you a real life example, we worked with a notary for many years, Pedro Botella, who was based in Arrecife. I’d describe him as a friend, but as a notary, he’s only one step down from a judge, so I always call him Don Pedro.

In the same way, a junior clerk in the bank will call me Don Michael, but the manager calls me Mike.

There’s an interesting expression in Spanish, where someone might be described as “Don Nadie,” literally a “Don Nobody.” It’s used as a negative term to suggest somebody has no culture.


People have a lot of names in Spain!

Using Don Pedro as an example again, his full name is Pedro Eugenio Botella Torres.

When children are named, they take as their full name, both their father’s and mother’s last names. As an example, if a child named Isabel was born to Jesus Cabrera and Maria Cortes, she would be named Isabel Cabrera Cortes. In day to day life, she would introduce herself as Isabel Cabrera, but on anything official, she would use both names. This is one of the reasons family names perpetuate within Spain – we have a lot of Cabreras here, for example.

On marriage, it’s not usual for Spanish women to take their husbands name, they almost always keep their own.

Spanish last names are not hyphenated, they are treated as two names, so you will never see Isabel Cabrera-Torres.

But first names can be hyphenated, and when they are, they should always be used together. For example, our lawyer is Maria-José Perez Callero. I would never call her Maria, it’s always Maria-José. Our accountant is José-Luis and I wouldn’t ever call him José.


There are loads of nicknames or shortened versions of first names used in Spain. Children commonly have -ito for boys, or -ita for girls, added to their names, especially when they’ve been given a parents’s first name. So you may meet Isabel and her daughter Isabelita, or Pablo and his son Pablito.

See below for a list of the most common.

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Here are some of the more common ones:

Magdadena often becomes Magda

Alejandro often becomes Sandro

Antonio often becomes Toni

Yolanda often becomes Yoli

Veronica often becomes Vero

Eva often becomes Evita

Fernando often becomes Nando

Ignacio often becomes Nacho

José often becomes Pepe

Ricardo often becomes Rici

Mercedes often becomes Merce

Margarita often becomes Marga

Manolo often becomes Lolo

So there you go – that’s the story of Spanish names.

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