Why Costa Ricans have two last names instead of one
Estimated Reading Time: 6 Minutes
Did you know that Costa Ricans have two last names? When born, children are registered in the civil register with the father’s surname first and the mother’s as the second surname.
If you come from a non-Latin American country, it’s hard to figure out why Costa Ricans have two last names and what happens when they marry, after the divorce, 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). Let me explain what started as a dream, and turned into a nightmare pretty soon.
Juan de Dios Gómez Aguilar (they call him Juan) and María del Socorro Gámez Chinchilla (they call her Socorro) have a daughter; she also has two last names: María de los Angeles Gómez Gámez. The first is the father’s first surname and the second is the mother’s first surname. María de los Angeles is such a long name to use, her parents call her Marielos.
When Marielos marries Juan Carlos Castro Guzmán (they call him Juanca), she doesn’t adopt her husband’s last name like they do in many other countries. Instead, she will still be María de los Angeles Gómez Gámez but might “simply” add “de Castro” to her two surnames.
Therefore, 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.
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 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, and others will call her Macha. But when she travels the people at the airline will call her María de los Angeles Gómez Gámez because that’s what’s in her passport.
FYI, the cédula de residencia or DIMEX does not have the option of conocido como.
The 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, a Mr. John Jr. Smith III. Macha becomes pregnant. But they’re not married, and John Jr. Smith III doesn’t accept the baby is his. So 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, the child will automatically get the mother’s last name twice.
If John Jr. had accepted the baby as his, the kid’s name would probably be John Jr. Smith IV Gómez. Or something like that…
A few years later, Macha meets 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 he receives the name of his godfather, Frank, as well as the name of his godmother, Marie, due to his faith. 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 choose to put the property in both their names, in derechos. The closing notary public knows perfectly well how to use Macha’s name in the deed because she is simply María de los Angeles Gómez Gámez.
Unfortunately, the lawyer forgets to ask for the details of Miguel’s name. His assistant, still in law school, attends a phone call when filling out the details in the deed. When the property is registered, the second derecho is owned by Michel Frank Marie De. The National Registry recognizes Michel Frank as the first name, Marie as the first last name, and De as the second last name. Lange gets lost in the assistant’s struggle of trying to keep up with the job.
If you have only one last name, as I do, don’t try to adopt your second last name (your mother’s); it won’t work. I’ve tried to do that myself. Immigration will tell you that your passport and your birth certificate carry only one last name.
Both last names are 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. That means in English, “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).
It is customary in most Latin American countries 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 are used correctly in your property ownership documents. Contact us now for expert guidance in your real estate purchase.
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