Para ver este documento en español, oprima aquí.


Keeping Up With The Garcias

by Maria T. Padilla

August 17, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All Rights Reserved.

OK, is he or isn't he?

Is pop sensation Ricky Martin Hispanic or not? And if he is Hispanic, is he living la vida loca with a non-Hispanic moniker so he'll appeal to mainstream tastes?

Those are some of the questions people are asking as Martin's star continues its meteoric rise through the entertainment industry.

The answers are intriguing, and they come from none other than the U.S. Census Bureau, which published a study on Hispanic surnames three years ago.

So here goes:

Yes, Ricky Martin -- born Enrique Martin IV in Puerto Rico in 1971 -- is Hispanic.

No, Martin is not a Hispanic surname. But it happens to be one of those rare non-Hispanic names that a few Hispanics carry, according to the census.

"His last name is not Martin. It's Mar-teen," said Griselle Arroyo of Orlando, referring to the Spanish pronunciation of the name.

Like most surnames in the New World, the name Martin migrated to Puerto Rico from elsewhere. In addition, European immigration to Puerto Rico in the 19th century generated hundreds of families with non-Hispanic surnames. Today, the name Martin takes up more than half a page of listings in the San Juan residential phone book.

Throughout the United States, however, only about 3 percent of those with the surname "Martin" are Hispanic, according to the census. Such a low percentage disqualifies Martin as a Hispanic surname.

Now, if Martin were a Garcia or a Martinez or a Rodriguez, he would be certifiably Hispanic. No question about it.

"The Spanish names don't seem to vary among Spanish-speaking countries . . . which means you could almost say a Spanish surname is universal," said David Word, a census demographer who co-wrote the Spanish-surname study.

The census has been compiling Spanish surnames since the 1950s. There are more than 600 surnames nationwide that have a 95 percent or better chance of being Hispanic, Word said.

Because the country's Hispanic population is multiplying fast ­ up more than one-third in Florida between 1990 and 1997 -- the Garcias, Martinezes and Rodriguezes are becoming ubiquitous -- with less flash than Ricky Martin.

In fact, those three surnames rank Nos. 1, 2, and 3, respectively, among Hispanics. And they have edged their way onto the list of the 25 most common surnames in the United States -- way ahead of Reagan (No. 2,000), Bush (No. 304) and Clinton (No. 1,706).

"I'm not surprised. Latinos are always mixed in everything, like rice and beans," said Arroyo, a receptionist whose name is No. 132 among Hispanics.

High birth rates and immigration totals make it likely that a Spanish surname -- most likely Garcia -- will inch up several notches on the national list by the next census. Garcia could climb into the top 15 or 10 names, up from No. 18, Word said. There are more than 88,000 names on the national tabulation, a much larger and more diverse census sampling than the Hispanic list.

In some parts of the Western United States, the first names Maria and Jose are already the most popular first names for newborns, according to recent news reports. Among the nation's females overall, Maria is the seventh most common first name. Jose is No. 28. But not all Marias are Hispanic; Maria is also a favored name among Eastern and Southern Europeans, according to Word.

Wilfredo Martinez of Orlando believes it is important that Hispanic names become more recognizable. "The higher the name is in the [U.S.] ranking, the more the name is recognized by the general population, and the less discrimination against the person. That's why it's important to get those names up," Martinez said.

Martinez, an Orange County judge, said the current trend echoes earlier patterns among other groups of immigrants whose last names once seemed foreign. There was a time when surnames such as Cuomo, Abrams and Ryan weren't considered "American."

Hispanic names are boosted by the fact that the same ones keep bobbing to the surface. About 20 percent of Hispanics share just a dozen surnames, a far higher percentage than for most ethnic groups. The names have changed little since the 1970s, the census notes.

What's more, 8 percent of the nation's Hispanics are named either Garcia, Martinez or Rodriguez. In contrast, Smith and Jones, the most common surnames in the country, are found among only 1 percent of the total population.

"I don't know a lot of Garcias but I know a lot of Rodriguezes. I look at my Rolodex and that's what's there," said Bill Negron of Longwood. Negron, whose name ranks No. 216, owns a real estate company.

Spanish surnames have a few other things in common. A name with double R or double L is likely to be Hispanic. Names ending in "ez" or "es," as in Perez or Gonzales, also have a high Hispanic probability.

Although Spanish surnames may be "universal," a few names are more particular to certain ethnic groups. For instance, Rivera and Colon are more Puerto Rican, while Gutierrez is more uniquely Mexican, Word said.

Hispanics pay close attention to, and take great pride in, their last names, seen as symbols of continuity and breeding.

"The most unusual name I ever heard was Confesor Cuadrado," Martinez said.
Hispanics from the same country often try to pinpoint the region others come from based on last names.

"It's amazing how people can trace who you are according to your name. . . . My father did it a lot when he was in the military. He learned more about name dispersal on the island by meeting with other soldiers," said Negron, who is from Puerto Rico.

Unlike in the United States, women retain their last names in Spanish-speaking cultures. When they marry, women add their husband's name to their own, a practice that has recently caught on in this country. Children carry their mothers' surnames too. Which makes Ricky Martin's full name Enrique Martin Morales.

Morales is No. 18 on the Spanish surname list, and there's a 95 percent certainty it's Hispanic.

Self-Determination Legislation | Puerto Rico Herald Home
Newsstand | Puerto Rico | U.S. Government | Archives
Search | Mailing List | Contact Us | Feedback