One naming option is the double surname: two last names with a space between them. The two surnames are passed along or added from maternal, paternal, or marital surnames, depending on the specific tradition and situation. Some women use a double surname to keep their natal surname and add a partner’s surname without hyphenating the names. This naming option is often used by women as a way to maintain their natal identities while incorporating their husbands’ surname. It is also the tradition in the Iberian Peninsula and most nations colonized by Spain and Portugal.
While the double surname avoids some of the issues associated with hyphenation, such as triple hyphenation in naming children, the bureaucratic system in the United States is not well arranged for the double surname. Many online forms do not allow for a space in the last name or will cut off one of the names. In the United States, the double surname is most common in Hispanic families.
Hispanic Double Surname
Most nations colonized by Spain and Portugal follow the tradition of double surname. Individuals have their fathers’ last name followed by their mothers’ last name (the order may be reversed in certain regions or by legal change). Women and men keep their natal surnames throughout their lives, though some women may choose to attach their partners’ paternal surname with de, meaning of, to the end of their names. Children receive their fathers’ paternal surname and their mothers’ paternal surname (see diagram below).
This naming option gives more recognition and visibility to the wife and mother. The maternal surname disappears after each subsequent generation, however, as the parents pass along only their paternal surnames. The paternal surname is used by itself in most social and informal contexts, but the maternal surname is always included in legal documents, business, school, and all official interactions. The family unit is known by the paternal surnames of the mother and father and will always be referred to with both surnames.
Though the Hispanic double surnames are ultimately paternal names, they give greater visibility and recognition to women in marriage, the raising of children, and family.
Click Here to read interviews of people with double last names.