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Why have Costa Ricans two last names?

Why have Costa Ricans two last names?Did you know that Costa Ricans have two last names? When born, children are given first the father’s last name and second goes the mother’s last name.

If you come from a non-Latin American country, it’s kind of hard to figure out why Costa Ricans have two last names and what happens when they marry, when they have nicknames or even children out of wedlock.

The other night, I had a dream about this couple, Juan de Dios Gómez Aguilar and María del Socorro Gámez Chinchilla, who both have two last names. Last name(s) in Spanish is apellido(s).

Juan de Dios Gómez Aguilar and María del Socorro Gámez Chinchilla have a daughter; she also has two last names: María de los Angeles Gómez Gámez.  One is the father’s first last name and the second is the mother’s first last name. María de los Angeles is such a long name to use, so her parents call her Marielos.

Getting married

When Marielos marries Juan Diego Castro Guzmán, she doesn’t adopt her husband’s last name like they do in many other countries. She will still be María de los Angeles Gómez Gámez but will “simply” add “de Castro” to her last names.

From now on, she will use Marielos Gómez Gámez de Castro, although in the Civil Registry she is still registered as María de los Angeles Gómez Gámez.

Why have Costa Ricans two last names?

Conocido como

Marielos has blond hair and in high school, everyone starts calling her Macha. From then on, Macha is her nickname which she can register in the Civil Registry and could add to her cédula as conocida como Macha Gómez Gámez. Macha decided though to also add her husband’s last name to it and she became conocida como Macha Gómez Gámez de Castro.

So now, some people will call her Marielos or Macha but when she travels people will call María de los Angeles. The cédula de residencia or DIMEX does not have the option of conocido como.


Marriage between Marielos and Juan Diego isn’t going as planned and they get a divorce. Now, the advantage is that after the divorce, she is still María de los Angeles Gómez Gámez, conocida como Macha Gómez Gámez.

Out of wedlock

Macha Gómez now has a boyfriend from Florida, his name is John Jr. Smith III. Macha becomes pregnant but they’re not married and John Jr. Smith III doesn’t accept the baby as his. Macha presents the baby’s name to the Civil Registry as John Jr. Gómez Gómez. The reason for this is that if there is no legal father, so the child will automatically get the mothers last name twice.

If John Jr. would have accepted the baby as his, the kid’s name would probably be John Jr. Smith IV Gómez. Or something like that…

Why have Costa Ricans two last names?

Married twice

A few years later, Macha gets to know a Dutch guy, Michel Frank Marie De Lange. Michel is from the south of Holland, born and raised a Catholic. That is the reason he has three names and one last name. Michel is his given name and due to his faith, he also receives the name of his godfather, Frank, and the name of his godmother, Marie. Because he is Dutch, he has only one last name.

Macha and Michel, or Miguel in Spanish, fall in love and get married. Now, Macha becomes María de los Angeles Gómez Gámez, conocida como Macha Gómez Gámez de De Lange.

The reason for de extra “de” is that she wants to show she is married to De Lange.

Buying a property

Macha Gómez inherits some money when her parents pass away, so she and Miguel decide to buy a property in Escazu. They decide to put the property in both their names, in derechos. The closing attorney knows perfectly well how to use Macha’s names in the deed because she is simply María de los Angeles Gómez Gámez.

Unfortunately, the lawyer forgets to ask the details on Miguel’s name. His assistant, still in law school, attends a phone call when filling out the details in the deed.  When the property gets registered, the second derecho appears as owned by Michel Frank Marie De. The National Registry recognizes Michel Frank as first names, Marie as the first last name and De as the second last name.

Why have Costa Ricans two last names?

Go figure

Don’t try to adopt your second last name (your mother’s), it won’t work. Immigration will tell you that your passport, as well as your birth certificate, have only one last name. I’ve tried to do that myself.

The use of both last names is mandatory on any legal document in Costa Rica. Therefore, when needed, a notary public will use the phrase único apellido en razón de su nacionalidad Holandesa. In English that would be translated as “who bears only one last name due to his Dutch nationality”.

Make it clear, from the beginning, what your first names (and middle names) and your last name is. The best way to do so is like this: Michel Frank Marie (nombres) De Lange (apellido).

In most of Latin American, it is customary to use two last names, even though there are exceptions.

Make sure you use GoDutch Realty for all your real estate purchases in Costa Rica, we’ll make sure your last names will be used correctly. Contact us now.

The grammar of the Spanish version of this blog was checked and corrected by Wagner Freer of Spanish School for Residents and Expats. We strongly recommend this language school as your best choice to learn Spanish, click here to contact them.

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Ivo Henfling

If you are looking to buy a home in Costa Rica or invest in a condo anywhere in the central Valley, or looking for any property for sale in Escazu, you need to call me. I have been selling real estate in Escazu for over 20 years and can show you hundreds of happy buyers of real estate in Escazu and other areas. To me, a deal is not a good deal unless both buyer and seller are happy.

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