16th Century Spanish Names

by Elsbeth Anne Roth (Kathy Van Stone)

© 2002 by Kathy Van Stone; all rights reserved.


The names and naming practices for this handout were primarily taken from a series of books called Catálogo de Pasajeros a Indias (Catalog of passengers to the New World). The books contain lists of records of the people who traveled from Spain to the New World in the 16th century. The entries were altered from the original in that accents were added and abbreviated names were expanded. It is also possible that given names were normalized, although it looks like the surnames were not. Therefore, while the names listed here are in correct forms for the 16th century, there are probably other correct forms. In particular, for any name containing an accent the version without the accent is also appropriate. This is currently a work in progress -- the list of names will be updated as more of the Catálogo is entered. Currently the data is taken mostly from volume V, years 1571 and 1574, with smaller samples from 1536 (volume III), 1560 (volume IV), and 1578 (volume VI).

Name Structure

The names in this source generally consist of a given name followed by one or two bynames (there are a few examples of 4 element names in the last volume of the Catálogo, but none of them have yet made it into the data). While the choice of bynames were frequently governed by inheritance, that is, the names were hereditary surnames taken from one or both parents, for simplicity we divide the bynames into three types:

  1. Patronymic: These are names originally derived from the given name of one’s father. For example, if, in the 10th century, Diego’s father was Rodrigo, then Diego would be called Diego Rodriguez, where Rodriguez is the patronymic. The form was the same for women: Diego’s sister Maria could be called Maria Rodriguez. Patronymics were frequently formed by altering the father's name into a patronymic form originally derived from a Latin gentive form. Sometimes, however, patronymics were formed by using the given name unaltered, such as Diego Rodrigo. Approximately 1/3 of the bynames in the Catalog were patronymic in form. In the Catálogo patronymics are not longer literal; for example, one of the entries is for Alonso Sánchez. His father's name (included in the entry) is not Sancho but Diego Sánchez.
  2. Locative: These are names taken from places. In general, locatives come in two forms: names that refer to the name of a place (such as de Figueroa), and names that refer to a type of location, such as del Rio ("of the river”). About half of the bynames used in the 16th century were locatives. Locatives were often used with the preposition de (“of”), although there are examples where the name is used by itself (for example, Alonso León).
  3. Other: The other types of bynames are uncommon enough to be grouped together. These include descriptive nicknames (Calvo, “bald”, el Rojo, “the red”), occupational names (Scribano, “scribe”), and titles (Caballero, “knight").

Spanish names typically came in the following forms:

<given name> de <locative>
Ex.: Juan de Palencia, María de Recalde. Almost half of the names from the Catálogo are of this form.
<given name> <patronymic>
Ex.: Bartolome Gómez, Catalina González, Juan Martín. About a third of the names from the Catálogo were of this form.
<given name> <other>
Ex.: Pelagio Calvo, Francisca la Roja, Isabel Alemán. About 5-10% of the names from the Catálogo were of this form.
<given name> <patronymic> de <locative>
Ex.: Juan Martínez de Palategui, Diego López de Olivares. About 5% of the names from the Catálogo were of this form.

There are other forms of names (such as Hernán Sánchez Alemán), but they each consist of less than 1% of data.

Name Elements

The rest of this article contains the elements found so far in the Catálogo.

Given Names



Bermúdez Plata, Don Cristóbal, Catálogo de Pasajeros a Indias Durante los Siglos XVI, XVII, y XVIII (Sevilla: Imprenta de la Gavidia, 1946), vol III.

R.P. Gonzalo Diez Melcón. Apellidos Castellano-Leonese (Siglos IX-XIII, ambos inclusive). Granada: Univeridad de Granada, 1957

Romera Iruela, Luis, and Ma. del Carmen Galbis Díez, Catálogo de Pasajeros a Indias, Siglos XVI, XVII, y XVIII (Sevilla: Archivo General de Indias, 1980).

Last updated: 24 September, 2002