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Your name in Spain can cause you pain – Filling out Spanish forms

Travel advice about filling out Spanish forms and how people’s names work in Spain

“Your name in Spain can cause you pain” is some more practical travel advice from EBC TEFL for everyone who is interested in teaching English in Spain.

Find out why putting your name on a Spanish form is not as easy as you think.

I have lived and worked in Spain for 18 years and I have first hand experience of the pain of getting my name wrong on a form. Delays, aggravation, heated tempers and everything else that goes with an annoying situation that could easily have been prevented simply by properly filling out a form .

When you decide that teaching English in Spain is something you want to do, there are a few local issues you need to understand.

One of them is how Spanish people’s names are constructed, where it is different to our usual Anglo-Saxon naming style and why the difference can cause problems when you need to fill out a form.

Anglo-Saxon names follow the rule that a person has one first name (Christian name), one or sometimes more middle names and a last name (surname).

John Peter Smith or Andrea Elizabeth Jones are common examples.

Spanish names do not follow this pattern. The Spanish have one first name, one or sometimes more middle names, a first last name and a second last name. For this reason, Spanish people’s names are usually longer than Anglo-Saxon names.

The reason that the Spanish have two last names is because when they get married, the spouse does not change her name and the children inherit the father’s first last name followed by the mother’s first last name.

It is simpler than it sounds and here is an example.

Jaime Fernando Garcia Hernández marries Julia Isabel Puente Villalobos

They have a child (a boy) and call him Juan Pablo.

The boy‘s full name is Juan Pablo Garcia Puente. The boy’s father is a Garcia and his mother is a Puente so he inherits both parents’ names.

Why your name in Spain may cause you pain

Now that you understand how Spanish names work, you have to get to grips with filling out forms.

This is vital, especially for getting paid while you are teaching English in Spain.

At some point, you will have to fill out a form. Filling out forms in Spain is more or less the same as anywhere else, for example: opening a bank account, getting a utility service, renting a car, booking a flight, reserving a hotel, etc.

The most important part on the form is you. You must identify yourself correctly.

Anglo-Saxon forms usually have three spaces for the name: First, Middle (or initial) and Last.

Spanish forms usually have three spaces for the name: Nombre, Apellido 1 and Apellido 2.


Most Anglo-Saxons only have one last name. There are sometimes double-barrelled names but they are usually hyphenated, e.g. Ernest William Fortescue-Smythe.

The trick to filling out a Spanish form is simply understanding how it works.

Anglo-Saxon formSpanish form
Middle name (or initial)Does not exist on a Spanish form
Last nameApellido 1
Does not exist on an Anglo-Saxon formApellido 2

How you map your Anglo-Saxon name onto the Spanish form

We will use sample name, Elizabeth Jane Barclay.

Spanish form
NombreElizabeth Jane
Apellido 1Barclay
Apellido 2Leave this blank

Put your first and middle names in the Nombre box and your last name in the Apellido 1 box.

Why should I do this?

Apellido 1 is your surname, you only have one so you can only use Apellido 1.

You may get problems when you fill out the form like this …

Spanish form
Apellido 1Jane
Apellido 2Barclay (the common mistake)

This person has identified herself as Ms. Jane (Apellido 1). She is no longer Ms. Barclay.

Apartment concierges in Spain receive all the mail and then put the right letters in the right mailboxes. Chances are that the concierge knows a Ms. Barclay. If the electricity company sends the bill to Sra. Elizabeth Jane, the concierge may return it or worse, throw it out. Non-payment reminders may suffer the same fate. If this continues, one day Ms. Barclay will be sitting in the dark cursing the electricity company for a mistake she made when she filled out the form.

I got it wrong once on a form and I learnt the hard way. I booked a hotel. I drove five hours from Madrid to just outside Barcelona. I went to check in. The desk clerk told me that I did not have a reservation. My middle name is James. After about an hour of chaos and increasingly venomous looks from my wife and kids, they found the booking under Mr. James. Yes, I put James in Apellido 1.

Imagine this happening when you go to get your e-ticket.

If you put the right names in the right boxes, everything will be fine. You just need to understand how Spanish names and forms work. Do it right and you will avoid a lot of potential pain in Spain because of your name.

Additional travel advice articles

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