One last name works best for new Spanish premier

Zapatero bucks tradition, uses maternal surname

April 18, 2004|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

MADRID, Spain - Spaniards generally have two last names, one from the mother and one from the father. The paternal surname is listed next to last but is the dominant one.

By the rules of the Spanish language, then, the new prime minister of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, should be referred to as Rodriguez or Rodriguez Zapatero.

Yet he is known as Zapatero - "shoemaker." He signs "R. Zapatero," according to his aides. He campaigned as ZP, Zapatero, Presidente.

The reason goes to a peculiarly Spanish affectation. If the paternal last name is considered too common, too run-of-the-mill, then a person - especially one who strives for a position of power, fame or fortune - may use the maternal surname if it is more appealing.

The Spanish news media have not completely resolved this problem, however. The new prime minister is at times Zapatero, at other times Rodriguez Zapatero. One or two commentators even tried simply Rodriguez. That didn't stick.

The last Socialist prime minister, Felipe Gonzalez Marquez, who left office in 1996, also deemed his paternal surname as too common. But his solution was to use his first name, so he became known universally as Felipe or Felipe Gonzalez.

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