In Colombia Kids Have Two Last Names

When I got engaged to Colombian Daddy, one thing that my parents -- born and raised in the good old USA -- wanted to know was why he had 2 last names and which one was his 'real' last name.

Actually, in the Hispanic world, there is no such thing as a LAST name. In fact, if you were to directly translate the word LAST NAME into Spanish it would be ÚLTIMO NOMBRE. This phrase would be fairly meaningless in Spanish, and it is possible that you would even get the middle name of the person in response to a petition for a LAST NAME.

The word used in Spanish in order to ask for what we call a LAST NAME is APELLIDO, which is more closely translated as SURNAME. In Colombia, as well as all Hispanic countries, most people will have 2 APELLIDOS -- called the FIRST and SECOND APELLIDOS. The person's first surname (apellido) is their father's first surname and the second surname (apellido) is the mother's first surname, what we call "the mother's maiden name in the U.S.".

Here's an example:

Father's Apellidos: García Gómez
Mother's Apellidos: Osorio Pérez

Child's Apellidos: García Osorio

This custom seems strange to most Americans because we just don't do that here. However, this system has been used for generations. In reality, it was one way of showing that you were NOT an illegitimate child. You see, for generations illegitimate children only had ONE APELLIDO, and being an illegitimate child had many negative social consequences. In fact, in recognition of the segregation that illegitimate children felt, it was only recently that Colombia passed a law allowing a child to be given the two last names of the mother and thereby avoid the embarrassing ONE APELLIDO problem.

If you are adopting an older child, one who has spent their entire life using 2 Last Names, it may be important to explain to them the cultural difference in last names and that having ONLY ONE is not a reason to be ashamed or embarrassed. Do not assume that because you understand it, they will too. It is possible that some of these kids have had only one last name their whole lives and they have been ashamed of that. They may even be looking forward to having two and showing off that they now have a mom and dad. Like any cultural topic this should be discussed with understanding and cultural sensitivity, without criticism or negativity. The tradition is neither crazy nor strange, just different from what we are used to seeing.


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