October 3, 2011

The Name Game: Composite Names and Saint's Days

I struggle with names whatever country I'm living in, but it is twice as hard to catch a name when you are meeting people and all the names sound unfamiliar. Two helpful tricks, Spanish names:
1) very frequently come from the Bible, and
2) are often compound, which is to say a person has two first names.

It doesn't take long to discover that in Spain, and in fact most Catholic countries, many people have two first names, or more accurately a compound name. This is not quite the same as in the United States, where people have a first and then a "middle name," because in Spain the name order is fixed by tradition (i.e. Juan or José go first). In the U.S. the middle name is really a second, alternative name by which a person can choose to go. While in Spain often the second name (the non Juan, José, or María name) _can_ become a person's used name, some of the second names in Spain could _never_ be used as their stand-alone name, for reasons that will become clear in a moment.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of common compound names, as well as common composites of the names used to distinguish one John or Mary from another:

Men:                                                      Common composites:
José María                                             Josema, Josemari
José Antonio       
José Luis                                                Joselu
José Miguel                                            Josemi
José Ramón
Juan Andrés
Juan Bautista                                         Juanba
Juan Carlos                                            Juanca
Juan David
Juan José                                               Juanjo
Juan Manuel                                          Juanma
Juan Pablo                                             Juanpa
Miguel Ángel

Ana Belén                                              Anabel
Ana Lucía
Ana María
María José                                             Mariajo
María Isabel                                           Maribel
María de los Ángeles                             Mariángeles
María (del) Carmen                               Maricarmen, Maica
María Eugenia                                       Maru, Maruja
María Cruz                                            Maricruz
María Paz                                              Maipa
María Teresa                                         Maite

So as you can imagine, men don't go by "María" and women wouldn't go by "José," despite having them as a second first name. Morevover, the widespread use of the composite names helps distinguish the many Marías and Juans from each other.

Celebrating one's Saint's Day is also common
in Italy, as this greeting card shows.
One reason for the common occurrence of these biblical names is tied to the Catholic calendar. In the past, one tradition was to name your child after the saint who's Saint's Day corresponded with his or her birthday. (Though much like in most countries all over the world, the most typical source for names are parents or other family members' names.) However, what is more common is for people to be named independently of whatever Saint's day their birthday happens to fall on, and then to celebrate their name day, the "día del santo" or "onomástica" when the saint with the same name is celebrated on the "santoral" (the Catholic calendar of the saints), much like a second, lesser birthday. They might get sweets from their family members, some small token or treated out to some small occasion and made the center of attention. Usually it's nothing special, just one more excuse throughout the year for people to show their affection. Following in this tradition, father's day is aligned with the saint's day of José (adopted father of Christ) on the 19th of March.

A Spanish blogger wrote this nice entry about the most common first and last names in Spain
according to a survey published this past spring.


Anonymous said...

curiosa reflexión sobre un tema tan corriente como es el nombre propio.

An Expat in Spain said...

¡Gracias Isabel por tu comentario! Para nosotros no hispanohablantes, nombres poco familiares son frecuentemente una razón de perder el hilo de la conversación. Por eso, próximamente voy a escribir un par de entradas mas sobre el tema de los nombres, los apodos (o alias) típicos y el fenomeno (en mi opinión curioso) de los dos apellidos. Espero que te interesen.

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