Spanish surnames

I’m puzzled by the signatures I’m seeing on official documents in Spanish from the early 1800s. They seem to contradict some of what I was taught about how Spanish surnames work.

My understanding is that Spanish speakers don’t use their “last” name by itself. This is because they append their mother’s surname after their father’s, occasionally with a de or y between them. So the author of Don Quixote had a father named Cervantes who married the daughter of a man named Saavedra; his son was Miguel Cervantes y Saavedra. But when referred to by a single surname, he’s Cervantes, not Saavedra.

Here’s why I’m puzzled. In 1813 the captain-general of Cuba was named Juan Ruíz de Apodaca, so his paternal surname was Ruíz. Yet he signs himself “Apodaca” alone. My only guess as to the reason is the de in front of his maternal surname, suggesting that his mother’s family was ennobled, so that was the name he preferred to display. It’s just a guess, and not one I’m confident of.

The captain-general supervised the commandant of Pensacola (hence governor of West Florida), a man named Mateo Gonzales Manrique — so, one would assume, “Gonzales” for short. He doesn’t sign himself “Manrique” alone, but “Manrique” is always present, both in his own signature and in his correspondents’ references to him. His signature normally reads “Mateo Gonzs Manrique.”

The abbreviation could be explained by the fact that “Gonzales” is among the most common Spanish surnames, so it can safely be abbreviated (just as English “William” often became “Wm.”). Still, I’m beginning to doubt that Anglo-American references to this man as “Governor Manrique” were founded on ignorance of Spanish protocol, as I’d assumed. Maybe protocol has changed since the early 1800s.

It’s not a burning issue, so I’m not spending research time on it. But it does nag at me, and I’d love to have someone come along and shed light on the subject.

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