Posted by: janecronin | May 7, 2017

First names


We don’t often think about it as part of the language, but we frequently come across people’s first names in Spanish, and it helps to have some idea about them.   Spain is in fact quite a first name society these days.  Even your bank manager or your children’s teacher will be address by his or her first name which is why you will often be told – “phone this number and ask for Paco” or “go to that office and ask for Elena”.  It gives the whole procedure a certain sense of informality, but it is the custom in Spain these days.

You may have noticed that an awful lot of men are called José, or its abbreviated form Pepe.  This is not a coincidence.   When the Catholic church was officially part of the state during Franco’s dictatorship, everyone was obliged to be baptised into the church, and therefore had to have a saint’s name.  The most common practice was to put the name María in front of the chosen girl’s name, and José, which of course is the Spanish form of Joseph, in front of the chosen boy’s name.

That is why so many Spanish men are called things like, José Carlos, Jose Antonio, Jose Luis, José Ramón, and in fact if you were to look at the identity cards of any Carlos, Antonio, Luis or Ramón that you know, they will almost certainly have a José there as well, which they just don’t use in everyday life.  Other saints’ names are acceptable such as Juan or Jesús.  Also common is the combination of José María and Jesús María for men, as in the case of a former president of Spain, José María Aznar, and María José or María Jesús for women.

Nowadays baptism, and naming after saints is not obligatory, but Catholic traditions are still strong in many cases.  Of course, not everybody wants to walk round with a name like Jesus Mary or Mary Jesus, especially in modern Spain where it already sounds a bit old-fashioned, so they are often turned into abbreviated names which in themselves sound a little odd to our ears.  For example, Chema comes from Jesús María, and Chus comes from José Jesús.

The ubiquitous Paco is in fact the abbreviation of the name Francisco, but where we get into a maze of abbreviated forms is with women’s names.  María Teresa becomes Maite, María de la Soledad (Mary of the Lonliness) becomes Marisol, María del Pilar may be Pili, Maripili or Mapi.  Many woman are called Inmaculada Concepción, which can become Inma, Conchi or Concha whilst “María de los Dolores” (Mary of the Pains) becomes Lola, Lolita, Loles or Loli.   I’m glad I’m just called Jane, although when my name is called at the doctor’s they usually plump for my second name, Elizabeth, obviously assuming that Jane is my baptismal saint’s name, rather than the one my parents chose to call me.

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