Colombian last names are often one of the most important parts of their identity. It is not uncommon for Colombians to refer to themselves by their last name instead of their first, and some even believe that the full meaning of a person’s name can be found in their surname. A Colombian’s last name reveals where they were born, what ethnic group they belong to, and sometimes who they descend from.
Colombian surnames come from many different sources including Spanish naming customs (the patronymic system), Indian, Arabic, or indigenous origins. Each culture has its own set of rules when it comes to choosing a surname that will be passed on through generations. Some choose them based on professions while others follow family tradition; there are also those who pick names simply for their pleasing sound or personal belief.
Colombian law states that all children must receive a first and last name at birth, but not every country follows this rule. A common belief is that your last name is given to you by your parents or close family member. However, some surnames are passed on for many generations before the reason behind them is forgotten, which makes it even more interesting to learn about their history.
Some of the most common Colombian last names that have been in the country since colonial times are Serna, Rincón, Londoño and Muñoz, among others.
Common (and uncommon) Colombian surnames
Serna: This last name heavily influenced by the Spanish language is also written Sarmiento or Sarmento. It means “saw” in Spanish and originally referred to carpenters who worked with saws.
Romero: The Romeros are usually found in the Cundinamarca department and get their name from “hromo”, which means steel in Spanish.
Muñoz: The Muñoz are usually from Antioquia and get their name from “mongez” which means enchanter or sorcerer.
Coello: This last name is spelled slightly differently in Spanish and has the meaning of “swift”, it is usually from Santander.
Rincón: This last name comes from the Spanish word for “corner” and was originally meant to be descriptive.
Londoño: The original meaning behind this last name is “one from London”. It is usually from Antioquia.
Sánchez: Originating from the Iberian Peninsula, this last name means “son of Sancho” or “saint” in Spanish. The Sánchezes are usually found in Santander and get their name from “sanctus”, which means blessed, holy or saint. It also refers to someone who has a lot of faith.
Lozano: This last name is from the Spanish word for “carpenter” and usually hails from Santander.
Flórez: The Flórez’s are found in the Antioquia, Cundinamarca and Valle del Cauca department and get their name from “flor”, which means flower. It was originally used to describe someone who worked with flowers or planted them.
Cortés: in Spanish means “court-like” and was used to refer to someone who lived near the court.
Hernández: This last name is derived from Germanic origin and is found in several places including Antioquia, Santander, Valle del Cauca and Bogotá. The most common meaning is “son of Hernán”.
López: This last name has several meanings in different languages including “son of Lope”, “son of Lawrence” and “crowned one”.
Vargas: The original meaning behind this last name is “cow herds” or someone who watched over cows. It’s usually found throughout the country.
Martínez: Originating from the Iberian Peninsula, this last name is derived from “martillo” (which means “hammer”) and was originally meant to be descriptive. Martínez can also mean something along the lines of “like Martín” in Spanish and is usually from Antioquia.
Jiménez: This last name is derived from the Iberian Peninsula and means “son of Jimeno”. It’s usually found in Santander, Valle del Cauca and Bogotá.
Ortíz: This last name is derived from Latin which means “son of Ortíz”. It’s usually found in the Santander department.
Torres: This last name comes from the Spanish word for tower and was originally meant to be descriptive.
Murillo: The Murillos are found throughout Colombia, especially Cundinamarca, and get their name from “murus” which means wall in Latin.
Rodriguez: This last name comes from the Spanish word for “son of Rodrigo” and is usually found throughout the country with a very high frequency among Colombians with indigenous ancestry.
Montero: The Monteros are typically found throughout Colombia with more of a concentration in the Antioquia department. It means “mountain dweller”, originally used to describe someone who lived in the mountains.
Cuellar: The origin behind the Cuellar is a place name hailing from Cantabria, a region of northern Spain. It usually comes from a person that hails from there.
Guerrero: A Guerrero is usually from Cundinamarca and gets its name from “guerra” which means war in Spanish.
Gómez: Originating from the Iberian Peninsula, a Gómez hails from a place of that name.
Gallego: This last name is a derivative of the Spanish word for “from Galicia”, an autonomous community in north-western Spain. It usually hails from that region.
Pérez: is derived from different Spanish words such as “pelayo” and “pereño”. These words mean “descendent of Pelayo” and “little Peter”, respectively.
Cabrera: Originating from Spain, this last name means “one who lives in a hut”.
Álvarez: Originating from the Iberian Peninsula, this last name means “son of Álvaro”.
Núñez: This last name is of Spanish origin meaning “to/from the nose”. It can also come from the Latin word “naris” which means “nostril”.
Nieves: This last name is of Spanish origin and is usually found in the Antioquia department. It is derived from the Spanish word for “snow”.
González: The Gonzálezes are usually found throughout Colombia with a higher concentration in Valle del Cauca and Antioquia. It is derived from the Spanish word for “son of Gonzalo”.
Giraldo: This last name comes from the Latin word “gens” meaning family or clan. It can be found in the Santander department with a higher concentration in its capital, Bucaramanga.
Méndez: This last name is of Spanish origin and is usually found in the Santander department. It comes from “Mendo” which means “middle”.
Ospina: Originating from the Iberian Peninsula, this last name is derived from “ospino” which means “thorn bush”. It can be found throughout Colombia but with a higher concentration in the Antioquia department.
Reyes: Originating from Spain, this last name comes from “rey” which means king.
Londoño: This last name is of Spanish origin, meaning “from London”. It can be found throughout Colombia but with a higher concentration in the Cundinamarca department.
Colombian last names are interesting and come with a lot of cultural baggage. I hope this blog post has been helpful for you in understanding more about how Colombians think about their surnames. Let us know what your favorite part was, or if there’s anything else you want to learn more about.