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THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
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
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
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
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, 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
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
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,"
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
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.