All you need to know about Iberian America

The Confusion of Last Names in Latin America

Published December 23, 2021 in Personal Stories & Opinions - 0 Comments

Yesterday, I had to walk around Mexico City to get some stuff done at a clinic.

First, I had to get TRT again and it’s proven to be difficult the last few days.

For some reason, all of the “farmacias similaries” that I like to go are out of TRT!

For those who don’t know, “farmacias similaries” is a type of common pharmacy you see around Mexico City that often offers the cheapest prices you can get usually from a bigger name pharmacy.

Now who the hell else is buying up all of the testosterone?

I have no idea.

Anyway, I probably went to maybe 5 pharmacies before I could find one by Rosa neighborhood that had TRT.

And I was lucky they sold it to me because the lady behind the counter assumed that they were out but then checked her computer and found that they have a few bucks that just came in that day.

On that point, I say that I was lucky because she even checked the computer at all without me even having to ask her to check.

In my time in Latin America, I often find the customer service to be so shit at most places that they won’t even check if they have anything of whatever you’re looking in the back.

They’re often just too lazy to check!

So I was lucky that this lady was productive and nice enough to check without me even having to ask.

At any rate, I got the TRT and then needed to visit another pharmacy to get something else done.

Before I got there though, I decided to check Mexico’s most notorious neighborhood along the way: Tepito.

Why did I stop there?

Honestly, it happened to be by Centro Historico where I was headed anyway and I always wanted to give the area a look.

I’ve considered heavily moving into the area over the last few months and just might before my time in Mexico is over.

To my surprise, I quite liked Tepito.

It had a certain vibe I was digging.

Plenty of commerce outside, cheap bars blasting reggarton viejo, sexier “barrio” gals running around, more outside activity in general, etc.

I was liking it!

I promise you this – if I give myself enough time left in Mexico City, I’m moving there for a few months just to get a better feel for the area.

Anyway, I wanted to buy something at Tepito also but couldn’t find what I was looking for.

So I carried on towards Centro Historico to visit another pharmacy where I was reminded of a funny but small detail to life in Latin America.

Filling Out Paperwork at a Pharmacy

Once I got to the pharmacy, I explained to the doctor in the back room that I needed something special done.

It’s a story but I gave the dude about a 100 peso bribe (5 bucks) to get it done.

We did what we had to do and then he sat me down to fill out some paperwork.

At the start of this, he asked me for my name.

Nombre? – Matt.

Then he asked me for my “primero apellido.”

I told him what is my actual last name.

Then he asked me something that seemed confusing at first.

“Segundo apellido?” he asked me.

My second last name?

It didn’t hit me right away what he was asking and he must’ve seen the confusion on my face as he proceeded to try to say the words “second last name” in English but was lost for how to translate it.

Before he could find the translation in his head, I remembered what name to give him but we had to backtrack a bit.

I told him to instead put my middle name for my “primero apellido” and my actual last name for my “segundo apellido.”

He seemed confused at first for why the change in the first last name but I simply said that I misunderstood and there’s a cultural difference here.

He nodded away and filled out the paperwork accordingly.

And that was that.

Now while it doesn’t sound like the most interesting detail on the planet, it does reveal a certain confusion I have still about last names down here.

Let me explain.

Confusion Surrounding Last Names in Latin America for a Gringo

I find this issue to repeat itself every so often.

Particularly if I happen to move into a new apartment and the landlord actually gives receipts!

Now that doesn’t happen most of the time because most landlords in Mexico City – at least in my experience – hate giving actual receipts because they want to avoid paying taxes.

To be fair, I don’t ever insist for a receipt because I prefer my interactions with people down here to more informal anyway and I don’t give a shit if they pay taxes or not.

Still, on the few occasions I have been given a receipt, they ALWAYS confuse my middle name as my actual last name.

I never say anything because I don’t care.

But the same issue presents itself whenever I have gotten serious with a woman down here also.

Whenever they wish to know more about me, they learn about my full name obviously to start and equally conclude at first that my middle name is my actual last name.

For them, I obviously explain that my last name is my last name and that my middle name isn’t a last name.

It’s just a “middle name.”

But do Latin Americans know what a “middle name” is?

Honestly, I have no idea.

The Latina gals I mentioned understand what I’m saying when I explain which name is my last name but they don’t ask any more questions about it usually.

Do they just assume that the middle name is the second last name?

I don’t know.

Never asked any Latin American if they understand the concept of a “middle name” or not.

And, being honest with you, I never understood why they frame it as “first last name” and “second last name.”

Never cared until today as I figured it could be something to write about.

So, according to Google here, this is the meaning of “primero apellido” and “segundo apellido.”

“Primer apellido: El primer apellido de tu padre. Segundo apellido: El primer apellido de tu madre. Tercer apellido: El primer apellido de tu abuela paterna (la madre de tu padre) ... Quinto apellido: El primer apellido de tu bisabuela paterno-paterna (la madre de tu abuelo por parte de padre)”

So the first last name is that of the dad and the second last name is that of the mother.

Makes sense now why so many folks confuse my middle name for an actual last name given the order we gringos put our names in.

And it makes sense for why the first name would be that of the dad – obviously we men are cooler than women so we get dibs on being number 1 in the naming system.

As a side point, it makes me wonder if any hardcore feminists in Latin America insist on naming their kids in a way to have the mother’s last name be the first name instead?

Maybe somewhere in Argentina…

Still, it would be weird for me to put my mom’s last name on any form down here since no government document from back home uses that name and I never use it for any purpose.

But I guess that clears the mystery!

Finally, one last thing that should be said that Latin Americans sometimes get confused at our last names too!

In my experience, they often confuse my middle name to be my last name.

Whenever I have to present my passport to someone, it's very common for them to just ignore my real last name and treat my middle name like it's the last name.

But that's all.

If you have anything to add, drop a comment below in the comment section.

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Thanks for reading.

Best regards,


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