30 Discoveries About Family History in Spanish Surnames
If your family name represents an occupation, you know something about how one—or likely more—of your ancestors made a living. In English, occupational names, like Smith and Miller, are among the most common. In Spanish, though, patronymics (names derived from a father’s name) like Rodríguez (son of Rodrigo) and Martínez (son of Martín) are far more common. In a Spanish government ranking of surname frequency, you have to scan down to #30 (Molina) before you find a name definitely related to a trade. There are plenty of occupational surnames in Spanish, though. Some, like Barbero and Carpintero, are transparent. Here are a few that are a bit less obvious.
1. ABAD, ABATO, ABADE, ADAT, BADAL, BADIOLA, BADÍAS
These surnames all derive from Latin abbas, which in turn comes from Aramaic abba, “father”; all refer to an abbot.
2. BALLESTA, BALLESTER, BALLESTERO, BALLESTEROS
These names referred to someone who used a crossbow (ballesta), a bowman. A ballestero came to mean a royal armorer and later someone who assisted with shotguns on royal hunts.
Batanero, like the English word fuller, referred to someone who beat or agitated cloth (especially wool) in water to remove oil and dirt, making it thicker.
Bermejo (vermilion) comes from Latin vermiculus, diminutive of vermis, “worm” and referred to those who made a red dye from an insect Kermes vermilio.
The Colombian artist Fernando Botero is known for painting and sculpting rotund figures who look as if they might enjoy guzzling wine from a bulging bota. A botero is a maker of wineskins or bottles. Botero can also relate to bote or “rowboat,” however, and some people with this name may have had ancestors who were ferrymen rather than bottle makers.
A boyero is an ox driver.
Although caballero now means “gentleman,” it comes from late Latin caballarius, from Latin caballus, “horse,” and originally meant “knight.”
8. CABRERA, CABRERO, CABRA, CABRAL
These names derive from Latin caprarius and mean goatherd. A variant, Cabrisas, is an archaic term for goat pen.
This surname, which is shared by a recent president of Mexico and a poet and playwright of the Golden Age of Spanish literature, means caldron and was given to a maker of cooking pots.
A cantero is a stonemason.
11. CARRILLO, CARRO, CARRERA, CARRERO, CARRETA, CARRIL
These surnames come from Spanish carro, from Latin carrus, “cart,” and refer to cart or wagon makers. Carrillo also means “cheek” and one source says the name was given to those with unusual cheeks.
Cuba means “cask”; a cubero is a cooper, or barrel maker.
An escribano was a scrivener—a clerk, scribe or notary who certified documents.
14. ESCUDERO(S), ESCUDILLO
From Latin scutarius, escudero means “shield bearer or squire.”
15. FUSTER, FUSTÉ
These names relate to fustero, meaning “carpenter,” or more specifically, “turner, lathe operator.”
16. FERRER, FERRERO, FERREIRO, FERREIRA, FERRUFINO, FERRÓN, HERRERA, DE HERRERA, HERRERO, HIERRO, HERRADA
These are all historical and regional variants of a word meaning “iron.” The name was applied to blacksmiths, but in some cases may have arisen from a place name.
17. GUERRA , GUERRERO
The Spanish word guerra, “war,” comes from Germanic werra. Guerrero means warrior.
18. HIDALGO, FIDALGO
From Latin filius aliquid, “son of something [i.e. wealth],” the name was applied to noblemen.
Jurado means “sworn.” The present meaning is “juror,” but earlier on it referred to sworn officials with a variety of duties.
From Latin laborātor, “laborer,” labrador refers to someone who works the earth, a plowman or farmer.
21. MARÍN, MARINO, MARINA, MARES, DELMAR
From the Latin word marinus, meaning “man of the sea,” these are variants of the word for sailor.
22. MERINO, MERÍN, MERINA, MERINERO
From (you guessed it) Latin maiorinus, “something greater,” a merino was a judge appointed by the king to preside over a broad jurisdiction.
From Latin (yet again) mellarĭus, “honey collector, beekeeper,” melero means a seller of honey.
24. MOLINA, MOLINO, MOLINERO, MOLINER, MOLNER, MUELAS, MOLA, MOLERO
These variants of terms for “mill” or “miller” come from Latin molinum, which is derived from molere, “to grind” (as your molars do).
25. OBREGÓN, OBRERO, OBRADOR
Although these names ultimately derive from Latin opus, “work,” and the current meaning of both obrador and obrero is “worker,” the surname Obregón came from the Asturian dialect of Spanish where it had developed a more specific meaning: butcher.
26. ROMERO, ROMER, ROMEO, BORROMEO, ROMÁN, ROMANO
This surname and its variants have two sources: Latin romanus, “inhabitant or native of Rome,” and late Latin romaeus, “pilgrim.”
27. TEJERO, TEIJEIRO, TEJERINA, TEXEIRA, TEJADA
These are some of the variants of tejero, a maker of roofing tiles or bricks.
From vaca, “cow” + - ero (agentive suffix), vaquero, as many Western fans know, is a cowboy.
If this is your surname, you may be glad you’re not in the family business. A verdugo was an executioner.
30. ZAPATERO, SABATER
Spanish speakers know that the name Zapatero means shoemaker, but they may not recognize that Sabater is the Catalán equivalent.
Sources: Elián, Gran libro de los apellidos y la heráldica; Real Academia Española, Diccionario de la lengua española; Robb, Encyclopedia of American Family Names; Wikipedia: la encyclopedia libre, Apellido; Williams, Diccionario ingles y español