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Form of address to married Spanish-Mexican woman, 1870s California
starry_diadem wrote in little_details

I'm writing something set in 1870s California, where the Spanish-Mexican traditions are still very strong and many of the people living and working in the towns/ranches are Mexican. 


I need to understand how a married woman is addressed and I'm hoping that those of you who are/speak Spanish can help here.  From what I've been able to grasp from the on-line searches that I've done, the naming conventions are broadly unchanged for generations, so I think that modern practice would (in general terms) apply. 


I've googled and wikied "Spanish surnames" and "forms of address for married Spanish women" and found some darn interesting sites on Spanish family names.  I've not got a problem with how Spanish family names are constructed as the Wiki article on Spanish naming conventions and several other sites are very helpful, but I'm a little unclear about how, exactly, a married woman is addressed.

What I think is clear:  (just so I don't send you off on wild-goose chases!)

(i) generally the format of a name is first name/father's surname/mother's surname (the modern flexibility on whether mother or father's name comes first isn't relevant to my time period, so we go with the classical format)


So, as an example, a girl might be called Maria Martinez Garcia.


(ii) addressing her verbally before marriage and casually, she would be addressed as Senorita Maria Martinez, but writing to her someone would use the full form of address: Senorita Maria Martinez Garcia, Morro Coyo, California etc. etc.

Where the confusion is - when Maria marries

 Most of the sources I've read say that a woman doesn't change her name on marriage.  So if Maria marries Cipriano Villanueva Morales (that is, Senor Villanueva), she doesn't take the Villanueva name, but she does become Senora, to mark her married status. 


Question :  so she'd be Senora Maria Martinez?


(and their son would be Juan Villanueva Martinez, another Senor Villanueva like his father, right?)


BUT a couple of sources – one is an on-line etiquette book that gives advice on forms of address to dozens of non-US countries (Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands, Morrison and Conaway) says this on marriage, "the woman would traditionally add her husband's surname and be known by that…"


Question : So if this is right, it would seem Maria becomes  Maria Martinez Garcia Villanueva and is addressed as Senora Villanueva?



I am confused.  Is there anyone out there with a better understanding of Spanish culture  who could tell me which of these  two opposing  views is the correct one?  And if you could confirm the applicability to 1870s Mexico or California, that would be a bonus!

Thank you!

Edited to add :  Thank you, everyone for your help.  de Villanueva, it is.


She also may be called Doña Maria.

At some point, I think she will, to reflect her standing in her community and to signify respect. Thank you!

I don't know about in past times, but I can tell you that now, there are a couple different ways things are done. This comes with a caveat that no one has ever really discussed the conventions with me that much, so I only have my observations to go on.

Some women will keep their own name, and not take on anything of their husbands'. Others will add their husband's name with a de (of) attached. To go with your example, María Martínez García would become, upon marrying, Señora María Martínez García de Villanueva. Some may also drop the maternal surname (thus becoming Señora María Martínez de Villanueva). I´m sure there are others as well, but those are the ones I have encountered at various points.

And yes, as the previous commenter pointed out, she may also be addressed as Doña. In the 1870s, that would depend very heavily on her social status.

Edited at 2008-09-17 08:27 pm (UTC)

Thank you! I think from what you and other commentators have said, things are becoming much clearer. de Villanueva it will be.

She's the wife of a segundo at a large estancia, so not upper class, but she's also a person who is deeply respected by everyone, so she may get the Dona (I don't have the html handy for getting the right letter n in there!) as a mark of that respect. It will be used very sparingly!

Thank you again. I appreciate the help.

(It's ñ -- ñ -- if you're curious.)

Thank you! I had bookmarked a list of useful codes, but dear old Firefox lost all my bookmarks at the last upgrade. Cheers.

She would be "señora María". Some people might even call her "señora Villanueva" or "señora de Villanueva" (first one is more used). But there's no problems with people still calling her by her original last name. However, "María Martínez Garcia Villanueva" is not very likely to be used at all.

And yes, their son would be Juan Villanueva Martínez

Thank you, that is very helpful. The consensus is certainly coming down to Villanueva or de Villanueva, so I'll go with that. Cheers

Women would take their husbands surname, example:

Woman - Consuelo Rojas Acosta

Man - Humberto Martinez Sanchez

For the wife's name her unmarried name would go first then he husband's like this:

Consuelo Rojas de Martinez

Also, it depends on her husband's status, if he is considered someone of importance, the California Elite, he would be a Don, and she would be addressed as Doña Consuelo or if she is rich but doesn't have the title it could be just Señora Consuelo or Señora Martinez.

People that work for them might just call her Señora Consuelo. But the other elite would call her Doña Consuelo.

If you have any more questions, just let me know.

Thank you! I really appreciate the advice!

She's the wife of the Segundo of a large estancia so not elite, but she is very highly respected by her community and seen as being the person they all turn to for approval of many things, from the frivolous (fashion, say) to weighty moral matters such as what they should think of a new priest. In those circumstances, would an occasional unironic reference to Dona Maria be totally incorrect?

Hmm, you could get away with that since she is so well respected. Sometimes the title is more honorific than actual, so yeah, I think you could do that. Or else they could just refer to her as senora Maria. I don't know in Cali, but in Mexico some of the poorer, less educated people would refer to them with Seno only. My mother gets referred as such when people come to ask us for work or money. Hope this helps!

Thank you, yes - you've been a great help.

It's a small thing in terms of the actual story, but I like to get the details right. So I really appreciate the trouble you've taken to help.

Thanks again

Not a problem, just glad I could help!

in addition to what everyone else has said, I would like to suggest and (the Files section - at least - of the latter is full of helpful information), and the members of both groups are just as eager to help as the nice folks here.

have nice days & be well.

Oh brilliant! Thank you - I'll check that out.

Name change after marriage.


2010-05-21 09:52 pm (UTC)

classic form and modern [in Mexico atleast]

you were right about the way the woman is addressed before marriage.
lets use the example Laura Paola Hernandez Castillo [before marriage]
when she marries Jose Luis Villadiego, she becomes [legally] Laura Paola Hernandez de Villadiego. Her mother's last name is dropped and replaced with "de" meaning of, and her husband's last name. An easy way to remember this is that she was once her father's, Hernandez, and is now her husband's, Villadiego.

Re: Name change after marriage.


2010-05-26 06:57 am (UTC)

Cheers! I'm still writing in that era and it's helpful to have confirmation of that.