The suffix -ez in Spanish family names

In common Spanish family names like González and Sánchez, the -ez ending originally meant ‘of,’ or more specifically ‘descendant (and especially son) of.’ The relationship is clearer in the old spelling -es, which is sometimes still used, as in the Gonzales that coexists with González. It’s clearer etymologically because many Latin nouns took an -is ending when they were put in the genitive (possessive) case. For example, with the name Caesar, the form Caesaris meant ‘of Caesar’ or ‘Caesar’s.’ In fact the ‘s in that second English translation is a native cognate of the Latin genitive ending (something I wish high school Latin teachers knew and would point out to students).

In any event, Gonzales started out meaning ‘Gonzalo’s [son].’ In the case of Jiménez or Ximenes, as it used to be spelled, the original sense was similarly ‘Ximeno’s [son].’ (The x in Spanish words like this used to be pronounced the same as English sh.) Guido Gómez de Silva, who himself has one of those family names ending in -ez and is therefore descended from someone named Gome, notes that Ximeno may have been a Spanish rendering of the Hebrew name Shimeon or Shimon, now standardized as Simón and Simeón. As for Sánchez, it means ‘descendant of Sancho,’ a name we recognize from Don Quixote’s big-bellied sidekick Sancho Panza.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

21 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Maria F.
    Feb 15, 2015 @ 12:44:24

    Interesting to learn this, and there are so many here ending with ‘ez’. An old custom (which you also mentioned here) was to use “de” as a possessive, as my mother would be “de Firpi”. This is no longer used, but it was a custom that applied to newly wed couples quite some time ago. I don’t know if this has to do anything regarding the identification of any descendants, but a custom that has prevailed here also is to use both first and second last names for every legal signing of any documents. I also heard they did it in Spain also, so I still don’t know why this custom is still prevalent here, because I have lived in the U.S., and there was never a need to reveal a second last name, not even with legal documents.


  2. Maria F.
    Feb 15, 2015 @ 12:51:44

    Being ‘Firpi’ is enough for in the U.S., but in Hispanic countries you have to give a second last name for absolutely everything, I don’t know if you noticed that when you lived in Central America.


  3. Jane
    Feb 16, 2015 @ 04:07:58

    Hi Steve,
    Since learning of my Spanish ancestry last year (it came as a complete surprise as no-one ever mentioned it) I have become fascinated by Spanish history and language. This is one of the reasons why I am finding your blog very interesting. I am hoping to learn Spanish. It seems more of a phonetically predictable language than English. One of my lines of ancestry are many generations of de Carabajals or de Carvajals Many were secretly Jews who pretended to be Christians during the Spanish inquisition. One distant grandfather was even a conquistador with a history I am not so proud of! I was wondering if the surname actually means something in Spanish? It’s possible it is of Portuguese origin though. Does it mean anything to you?


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Feb 28, 2015 @ 16:10:25

      Hi, Jane, and welcome. You’re right that Spanish spelling is more phonetically predictable than that of English, and one reason is that Spanish standardized its spelling more recently than English. The English language has changed more since its spelling was standardized hundreds of years ago, so the discrepancy is often obvious (and notorious).

      I found one website claiming that carvajo originally meant ‘oak tree,’ so that carvajal would be ‘place of oak trees’ or ‘grove of oak trees,’ but I don’t know if the claim is correct. The assertion that the name has a historical Jewish connection seems better established.

      I wish you well in your studies of Spanish, a language that is now a clear second in the United States.


      • Jane
        Feb 28, 2015 @ 22:06:02

        Thanks, Steve, for taking the time to research the name for me. I’ve tried myself but haven’t come up with much. That whole part of my family tree seems to have been kept a bit of a secret from us. I’m quite happy to believe carvajal means a “grove of oak trees.” It sounds rather lovely. I quite like foreign films so that has been one way I’m becoming immersed in the Spanish language. Thank you.


        • Steve Schwartzman
          Feb 28, 2015 @ 23:55:53

          You’re welcome. Tracking down family names is often harder than tracking down regular words, and I expect there are books in a good library (like the one at the University of Texas) that could give us something more about Carbajal than what I was able to find online.


      • Kevin Katner
        Sep 05, 2017 @ 19:53:32

        Hey Steve, I was told by a Brazilian friend of mine that the names for trees and plants were often taken by Jews in the Iberian peninsula. Oliveira is a common name in Brazil and he tells me that it means Olive Tree. I am wandering if this is where Jane got her information that her surname “oak” tree was originally Jewish. And you cleared something up for me. I looked up my wife’s cousin’s last name and it is Hernandez which is “Son of Hernan” and is Gothic. So I wrongfully assumed that the “ez” was a gothic suffix, but I know now that it is a “Latin” suffix used by the Goths in Spain. It makes more sense now as I was trying to find some Germanic equivalent but there is nothing close except for “sohn”, son and sen which are not close to “ez” or “es” which the es is still used in Portuguese names. My wife’s last name is Leyva which is Jewish and from what I know comes from the Levite tribe. I am not Jewish, but I am fascinated by the fact that there were so many Jews in Spain and in Germany and German speaking areas of Eastern Europe. For a small area of the middle east and a small kingdom, the Jews have outlasted far greater kingdoms and peoples. Kind of got side tracked here.


        • Steve Schwartzman
          Sep 06, 2017 @ 08:33:49

          The Germanic equivalent of the Spanish -ez is closer to home than you realize. That’ll be clearer once you know that the -ez at the end of Spanish family names sometimes gets spelled -es, so that Cortez has the alternate spelling Cortés; similarly Gómez can be Gomes, etc. Regardless of how that ending is spelled, it’s a descendant of the ending that marked the genitive case in certain Latin nouns. For example, pater meant ‘(the) father’, while patris meant ‘of (the) father’ or ‘father’s’. Notice in that second translation how English also uses s to indicate possession. It’s etymologically the same s as in Latin. That’s because both Latin and English inherited the ending from their common ancestor, which is known as Indo-European. Some things last a long time.


        • LEYVA
          Jul 14, 2021 @ 05:50:01

          indeed, according to my research Leyva is from Leiva in Spain. converted sephards who went to put forth the law of god into mexico, when they conquered them.


  4. shoreacres
    Feb 19, 2015 @ 10:02:22

    It crossed my mind that we could call the suffix -ez the -ez tag.

    I had no idea about the suffix’s function in Spanish names. My own maiden name was Matson (Swedish) and the “son” functioned in the same way: i.e., “Son of Matt.” The Norwegians prefer “sen,” but the function’s the same.

    I’m sure you know Iceland uses patronyms derived from the father’s given name and the suffixes -son or -dóttir (meaning “daughter”). Now I wonder about the use of Dottir for daughter in Cajun Louisiana. I know one woman who frequently refers to her daughter that way on her blog. I’ll have to ask her about it.


    • Maria F.
      Feb 19, 2015 @ 12:33:48

      I’m wrong, there’s probably a suffix for most last names, now whether they all allude to an ancestry or parental lineage is what I don’t know.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Feb 28, 2015 @ 15:24:09

      That’s a good one about the -ez tag.

      As you noted, the general linguistic term for a form that indicates family lineage is patronym(ic), and the most familiar example in our culture is the -son that you pointed out in names like Johnson, Williamson, Stevenson, and your own Matson.

      I’m aware of the Icelandic -dóttir, but I don’t know about its possible spread to Cajun. Did you find out anything from the blogger you mentioned?


  5. Maria F.
    Feb 19, 2015 @ 11:42:45

    Thanks for the info, there must be plenty of names that don’t even have a suffix period. That’s why I was wondering where the custom of signing with two last names came from, because in the U.S. they don’t require that. I wonder where Steven is though?


  6. Jim Johnson
    Apr 27, 2019 @ 12:10:24

    Ez, I read in other research that it is the Moriscos who were converted by force to Christianity during the fall of Andalusia. It was used to help the government of Spain track the Muslims and the Jews …EZ and ES..


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Apr 27, 2019 @ 12:38:57

      I don’t see how that could be true, because the -ez suffix in family names is attested as far back as the 11th century, and as a patronymic in the sense ‘son of’ as far back as 780.


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