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30 Discoveries About Family History in Spanish Surnames

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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.

3. BATANERO

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.

4. BERMEJO

Bermejo (vermilion) comes from Latin vermiculus, diminutive of vermis, “worm” and referred to those who made a red dye from an insect Kermes vermilio.

5. BOTERO

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.

6. BOYERO

A boyero is an ox driver.

7. CABALLERO

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.

9. CALDERÓN

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.

10. CANTERO

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.

12. CUBERO

Cuba means “cask”; a cubero is a cooper, or barrel maker.

13. ESCRIBANO

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.

19. JURADO

Jurado means “sworn.” The present meaning is “juror,” but earlier on it referred to sworn officials with a variety of duties.

20. LABRADOR

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.

23. MELERO

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.

28. VAQUERO

From vaca, “cow” + - ero (agentive suffix), vaquero, as many Western fans know, is a cowboy.

29. VERDUGO

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

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'Froyo,' 'Troll,' and 'Sriracha' Added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary
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Looking for the right word to describe the time you spend drinking before heading out to a party, or a faster way to say “frozen yogurt?" Merriam-Webster is here to help. The 189-year-old English vocabulary giant has just added 250 new words and definitions to their online dictionary, including pregame and froyo.

New words come and go quickly, and it’s Merriam-Webster’s job to keep tabs on the terms that have staying power. “As always, the expansion of the dictionary mirrors the expansion of the language, and reaches into all the various cubbies and corners of the lexicon,” they wrote in their announcement.

Froyo is just one of the recent additions to come from the culinary world. Bibimbap, a Korean rice dish; choux pastry, a type of dough; and sriracha, a Thai chili sauce that’s been around for decades but has just recently exploded in the U.S., are now all listed on Merriam-Webster's website.

Of course, the internet was once again a major contributor to this most recent batch of words. Some new terms, like ransomware (“malware that requires the victim to pay a ransom to access encrypted files”) come from the tech world, while words like troll ("to harass, criticize, or antagonize [someone] especially by provocatively disparaging or mocking public statements, postings, or acts”) were born on social media. Then there’s the Internet of Things, a concept that shifts the web off our phones and computers and into our appliances.

Hive mind, dog whistle, and working memory are just a few of the new entries to receive the Merriam-Webster stamp of approval. To learn more about how some words make it into the dictionary while others get left out, check these behind-the-scenes secrets of dictionary editors.

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How New Words Become Mainstream
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If you used the words jeggings, muggle, or binge-watch in a sentence 30 years ago, you would have likely been met with stares of confusion. But today these words are common enough to hold spots in the Oxford English Dictionary. Such lingo is a sign that English, as well as any other modern language, is constantly evolving. But the path a word takes to enter the general lexicon isn’t always a straightforward one.

In the video below, TED-Ed lays out how some new words become part of our everyday speech while others fade into obscurity. Some words used by English speakers are borrowed from other languages, like mosquito (Spanish), avatar (Sanskrit), and prairie (French). Other “new” words are actually old ones that have developed different meanings over time. Nice, for example, used to only mean silly, foolish, or ignorant, and meat was used as blanket term to describe any solid food given to livestock.

The internet alone is responsible for a whole new section of our vocabulary, but even the words most exclusive to the web aren’t always original. For instance, the word meme was first used by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene.

To learn more about the true origins of the words we use on a regular basis, check out the full story from TED-Ed below.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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