This is also true for addresses, but my pet hate is email address fields that are limited to 30 characters (luckily this breed of form seems to be going the way of the dodo).
As a Mexican, I spend quite a bit of time interacting with the local Canadian habits and explaining my names. A lot of Hispanophones will hyphenate their two family names or will just use the primary one, the paternal family name. I’m stubborn and refuse to adapt my name to make it easier for Canadians or US nationals.
In all but the most formal occasions, however, most Hispanophones only use their paternal surname. Did you know that Enrique Iglesias is actually Enrique Iglesias Preysler? That Antonio Banderas is actually Antonio Domínguez Banderas? Yeah, looks like Antonio goes by his maternal family name. Sometimes people will do that when the maternal surname is more unique. My father would go professionally by his maternal family name which I don’t have at all, so you might have gotten the impression that we’re not related if you’re just checking family names.
I’m kind of ridiculous because I wanted my name to be fairly unique across all of the internets in which I’ve plastered it, so I made a decision pretty early on in my life to always give both of my family names. This seems a bit too formal for some occasions.
Oh, and sometimes Hispanophones just can’t make up their mind what to name their kids, so they just give them as many names as they can think of. There’s no limit to the number of given names a Hispanophone can have. My mother has five given names on her birth certificate, although most people don’t know of any of them except one or two.
Oh, oh, oh, and one final complication: these rules actually can vary a little within Hispanophone countries. Argentines, for example, didn’t have any maternal family names at all until very recently.
More than the usual three names isn’t uniquely hispanophone, either: I’m about as gringo as they come, and I have four (given name, family name, and two middle names from further back in my genealogy lost through marriage). Forms with one character for middle initial annoy me very disproportionately. =/ My understanding is that more than three names is relatively common throughout Europe, as well.
Varies in Europe a bit. As an example: For legal purposes, Denmark is very rigidly three names, of which the third is the family name. And confusingly, in practice some of the middle names are “really” part of the first name (used socially), while others are treated as a second last name (but not legally a last name). You can only tell by recognizing whether something looks like a first-name or last-name type of name. For example if someone was named Jens Christian Pedersen, their given name would be “Jens Christian” (and this is what people would typically call them) and surname “Pedersen”. But if someone is named Jens Kjærgaard Pedersen, their given name is simply “Jens”, and their unofficial surname is “Kjærgaard Pedersen” (this mostly happens in families that once had farms or estates… one surname is the ancestral land’s location, and the other is the usual patronymic). A confusing bit as a foreigner is that I often have trouble telling whether I should address someone using their first name or first two names— and the same goes in the other direction, with many Danes emailing me with greetings like “Dear Mark Jason”, when as an American I don’t really go by “Mark Jason”, just “Mark”.
The law handles this by just ignoring it and saying that you have one surname and it’s the one you write last; if you want to treat your middle name as a second surname socially you can, but the law won’t. If you really want two names in the surname, you can legally change it to a hyphenated form, like Kjærgaard–Pedersen, but that is uncommon.
I think it is actually more common in America than most realize. I only have one middle name, but the rest of my siblings all have two.
It certainly is common in my America. ;-)
In Chile we also use two family names and since a couple of years ago and you can choose the order for your child.
I’m also very amused when foreigners have to do official things in Mexico and have to think of their mother’s family name so that they can put it in forms. The reverse kind of problem to what TFA is talking about.
See also falsehood programmers believe about names.
This is one of my favourite articles ever in that it highlights the subtle complexity of human society and the way it clashes with programmers' relentless urge to simplify and “clean up” code.
A few years ago my mother called me, distraught, because she was attempting to book plane tickets online and the form said she had to type her name “exactly as in her passport”—but only accepted 50 characters. I advised her to omit one of her two middle names. Until then I didn’t know she had middle names!