Tag Archives: surnames

Those Basque Names and Surnames…

As you all well know, in the Spanish Basque Country, Navarra and Basque French Country (complicated, uh!) there are three languages spoken, Spanish, French and Basque (and the latter, with 7 dialects!!). And that most signs are written in both languages (Basque and Spanish or Basque and French). Now I´ll deal with Basque people´s names, since they are also a particularity that make of us a rarity in the Iberian Peninsula…

Traditional names in the Basque Country were very common in the past: Jesús, María, José, Antonio, Francisco, Ángel, Ángeles, Piedad, …Yes, many people are called Jesus in Spain (without any religious connotation!!) And what´s more, they are called in many cases Jesús María (for a man) or María Jesús (for a woman). Or José María (man) or María José (woman). The custom was to put the name of the saint of the day to the newborn, or a biblical name. By the way, those called José are called Pepe (coming from P.P., short for Pater Putativo, a father that really isn´t), those called Jesus Maria are called Txusma or Jesusmari…Spanish names have a lot of “diminutive” alias.

In the 80´s there was a strong current in favour of  Basque names, based on Basque mythology or on nature. Hence, we got many “Aitor” (father of the Basques), “Amaia” (the mother), Garikoitz, Aritz (oak), Harri (stone), Eder (pretty), Garazi (special), Gorka (translation for George), Ibai (river), Odei (cloud), Ainara (swallow),  Oihane (scream), Irati (a virgin and also a forest),…These names have nothing to do with Spanish ones and are a clear sign of the origin (and sometimes, of the political views) of the parents. Also, many names are based on Virgin´s names, for instance, Arantza (from the Virgin of Arantzazu) or Begoña.

Basque surnames are also different. In many cases, they show the place of origin of the person. Etxebarria (or Echevarria) means “New House”, Madariaga (Place with Pear Trees), Ibarra (Valley), Urrunaga (Far Away Place), Arizmendi (Oak Mountain), etc. There are very long Basque surnames, with long meanings (Agirregomezkorta, Atxalandabaso, Aguinagalde, Uriberrementeria, Bedialauneta, Ocerinjauregui,…). An interesting place to visit and see the extraordinary long names in the tombs is the Markina cemetery, beautiful area and beautiful cemetery.

Last, in the Basque Country, as in Spain, we always use two surnames, the father´s first and then the mother´s. For example, a girl named Ainhoa, with a mother Ana García and a father David Zubizarreta, is named Ainhoa Zubizarreta García. Women don´t lose their maiden´s name when they marry. Now you can put the mother´s name first (as they do in Portugal, where they say that you always know who is the mother, but not so sure about the father…it makes sense!).

Yes, I know, what the heck has this to do with Basque tourism…but I thought you may find the above interesting!!