Skip to main content
Making sense of old handwriting

Catalan Names

Deciphering a given name in an old handwritten document is not as easy as one might suppose. This could be due to the widespread use of abbreviations, the difficulty in reading the handwriting, or the unique practices found in the language. To make this process easier, below are glossaries of names and explanations of the naming practices you will encounter.

Masculine Names

Catalan/ Ramon_Berenguer_IV.jpg

Feminine Names




Given Names

Given names in Spanish countries can often pose a unique problem. Dr. George R. Ryskamp outlines these potential difficulties in Finding Your Hispanic Roots, saying:

"In some places only one name will be given at the time of birth and baptism; in many other places, two, three, or even more names are given... even six names are not impossible. ...¶ The most common variation found in given names over a person's lifetime is where that person is given more than one nombre at the time of his birth, but all of the given names are not repeated at the time of his marriage or at the birth of his children. A person often decided in later life not to use the first in the series of given names that he received at birth" (103).

These potential difficulties are also common in Catalan-speaking regions. Thus there could be a man who at birth was christened with the given names of Mateu Marc Lluc and Joan with the surname of Montserrat. However, later in life, he goes by Lluc Monserrat and is recorded as such in his marriage certificate and the birth registers of his children, but then in his last will and death record, he was recorded as Joan Monserrat. As such, it is important to be careful when recording names so as not to create duplicate identities accidentally.

Personal Articles in Catalan

Like other romance languages, Catalan often places a personal article in front of names, typically with given names. This can be done with the definite articles el and la, such as with el Joan and la María (literally "The John and The Mary"). Catalan also has unique personal articles that are used only for given names, which are en and na. These articles come from the Latin title dominus and domina (Lord and Lady), which is also the origin for the honorific titles don and doña in Spanish and dom and dona in Portuguese; because of this origin, it is possible to find the more archaic don or dom, and donya in Old Catalan Documents. In Modern Catalan, en and na have lost their formal tone, are more intimate than their linguistic cousins, and are interchangeable with the el and la articles.

Below we see an example of this in a baptism register in Santa Maria de Coupons in 1572, where it states d`en Benet Romeu and dena Elianor, literally "of the Benet Romeu" and "of the Elianor."


Catalan Surnames and Naming Practices

Many researchers that are familiar with Spanish naming practices may be familiar with the double surname that is common across many Spanish-speaking regions. At first glance, it may appear that Catalan surnames follow the same practice; however, it is imperative to understand that the Catalonia region follows its own unique naming practices that can quickly lead to confusion if not properly understood.

Like many European nations, Catalonia follows the practice where the woman takes on the man's surname. Yet, unlike what is normally expected, the woman takes on her husband's surname while still keeping her original surname.

To better understand this practice, let us look at the example of Cèlia.

  • Cèlia was born to Andreu Torà and to Maria Palao, and so she was given the name Cèlia Torà.
  • After her marriage to Jofre Badall, her name can appear in the records as Cèlia Badall or as Cèlia Badall i Torà.
  • Cèlia remarries Ramon Puig after the death of her first husband, and her name can appear as either Cèlia Puig i Torà, or as Cèlia Puig i Badall, or simply Cèlia Puig.

It is very important to notice that the double surname while looking like other Spanish names, is NOT composed of her father and mother's surname, but rather her married and maiden name and, in the case of her remarriage, her new married name, and her widow's name.

It may appear strange and confusing at first, as this is only practiced in Catalonia, but it gets easier with practice.

Peculiarities in Catalan Surnames

Surnames in Catalan have a couple of unique characteristics that can sometimes be confusing to researchers who are new to the language and its customs.

There is a common practice among Catalan speakers to feminize surnames; usually, this is done for female members of a family to reflect gender. Thus, if there is a female member of a family with the surname Ferrer she might be given the surname Ferrera. This being the case, it is important to recognize that both surnames refer to the same surname and family, despite it being inflected by gender. This can also be further complicated when a masculine surname is feminized and ends up looking like a given name. For example, if there is the surname Antoni, it can become feminized as Antonina, which is also a common given name for women.

It is also common in Catalan to make new surnames by adding prefixes to already existing surnames. For example, the prefix bell- can be added to existing surnames to make new ones:

  • Bell- + Prat = Bellprat
  • Bell- + Puig = Bellpuig
  • Bell- + Solell = Bellsolell
  • Bell- + Vís = Bellvís or Belbís

Sometimes these prefixes can in themselves be stand-alone surnames such as Casa, Mont, or Puig. Others can be adjectives, like the Bell example above, which means 'beautiful,' or they can be prepositions, like with Cap, which shows direction.

It is helpful to keep this 'sticky' nature of Catalan surnames in mind when attempting to decipher them in old handwriting. While not an exhaustive list, the following is a list of common surname prefixes:

AlaCarDel /aMiraPortSerraVila
Bell /aCastellFontMont /aRocaSobreVilla
Bon /aCastelloLaPal /aRomaTerraVillar
CampClar /aMal /aPenaSaTorreZa
CapColl MasPiSanVall
CapdeCostaMataPlaSant /aVert

Over the many years, many titles of occupations came to be used as surnames. Therefore it is important to discern if a document is talking about a person's occupation or if it is, in fact, their surname. These occupations made surnames are included in the glossary above but can also be found in the Genealogical Glossary.

Additional Resources:

  • Behind the Name: Catalan Names
  • Bernstein, Judy, Francisco Ordóñez, & Francesc Roca, "On the emergence of personal articles in the history of Catalan," in Cycles in Language Change, ed. by Miriam Bouzouita, et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019).
  • Capdevila, Olga, Joan Ferrús, Míriam Martín Lloret, Curset: mètode de Català per a tothom, (Barcelona: Liberdúplex, 2021).
  • Moll, Francesc de B., Els Llinatges Catalans: Catalunya, País Valencià, Illes Balears. (Palma de Mallorca: Gràfiques Miramar, 1987).
  • Ryskamp, George R., Finding Your Hispanic Roots. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc, 2005).

Image Credit:


Paleography Introduction