Oh, those long Latin American names! How do we fit them on our name badges? How do we alphabetize our attendees' names, or how do we address people correctly? Why is Jorge Antonio Lopez Rodriguez from Mexico addressed as Sr. Lopez when Jorge Antonio Lopes Rodrigues from Brazil is addressed as Sr. Rodrigues?

The answer lies in the family names. In the Americas, the custom is to drop the mother's maiden name and use only the father's last name as the family name. But this is not the case in Ibero-America, where Spanish and Portuguese names include the family names of both the mother, known as the “materno,” and that of the father, known as the “paterno.” The father's name is the dominant surname in both Spanish and Portuguese, however the order in which the two names are placed varies between the two languages.

In Spanish, the correct name order is First Name, Second Name, Father's Surname, Mother's Surname.

In Portuguese, the order is First Name, Second Name, Mother's Surname, Father's Surname.

This is why Jorge Antonio Lopez Rodriguez from Mexico City should be alphabetized on your attendee list under “Lopez” while Jorge Antonio Lopes Rodrigues from São Paulo would be filed under “Rodrigues.”

The Difference Between S and Z

“OK, great,” you are thinking, “but how do I distinguish the Portuguese names from the Spanish names? A few clues: If the attendee is from Brazil or Portugal, the name is most likely Portuguese.

The letters “s” and “z” in Portuguese are used in reverse from their use in Spanish at the end of words. So Luis Gonzalez in Mexico would be Luiz Gonzales in Brazil.

Rules for Women

Women's names in both languages follow the same rules until a woman marries, at which time she drops her mother's surname and adds her husband's paternal surname, preceded by “de.” Thus, when Maria Teresa Romero Avila marries Jorge Antonio Lopez Rodriguez, she becomes Maria Teresa Romero de Lopez. What would her name be if she married Jorge Antonio Lopes Rodrigues? Maria Teresa Romero de Rodrigues — right!

Full names are used in social situations, so that if you were introducing our gentleman to an audience as a speaker, you would present him as “Sr. Jorge Antonio Lopez Rodriguez.” Once people become familiar with each other, they often drop the mother's last name, so you might hear a colleague refer to him as “Jorge Antonio Lopez or just “Jorge Lopez.”

Test Your Knowledge with Another Quiz

Got all that? Try the following quiz:

Maria Elena Hernandez Gallo from Mexico City marries Juan Manuel Hernandez Garcia from Bogotá, Colombia. Her married name is now:

a. Maria Elena Hernandez Hernandez
b. Maria Elena Gallo de Garcia
c. Maria Elena Hernandez Garcia
d. Maria Elena Hernandez de Hernandez

Maria's sister, Ana Paula Hernandez Gallo, meets Luiz Ignacio Hernandes Ferreira on the beach in Copacabana and moves to Rio de Janeiro six months later after a gala wedding. What is her name now?

a. Ana Paula Hernandez de Hernandes
b. Ana Paula Hernandez de Ferreira
c. Ana Paula Gallo Ferreira
d. Ana Paula Gallo de Ferreira

They have a son named Luiz Roberto. What is his full name?

a. Luiz Roberto Ferreira Hernandes
b. Luiz Roberto Hernandez Hernandes
c. Luiz Roberto Hernandez Ferreira
d. Luiz Roberto Gallo Ferreira

If you chose 1-d, 2-b and 3-c — Bravo! You are now ready to tackle attendee lists, name badges, and tent cards with cross-cultural aplomb!

Carol Lynn Krugman Stern, CMP, CMM is president/CEO of Krugman Group International Inc., a global conference and incentive planning company that specializes in Latin American events.