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

13 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.

    Reply

  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.

    Reply

  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?

    Reply

    • 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.

      Reply

      • 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.

        Reply

        • 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.

          Reply

  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.

    Reply

    • 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.

      Reply

    • 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?

      Reply

  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?

    Reply

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