I'm writing my professor. She has two surnames. So far, I've been using only her first surname; however, I'm curious whether that's, generally, how I should address a professor with two surnames. I don't know whether the addressee's culture affects the answer, but the professor is from Spanish South-America. (I've noticed that some Spanish people use only the first of both last names, but most English people who take two names ask others to use both names.) Also, I don't whether familiarity matters but we communicate frequently enough that I begin my emails with 'Hi Dr...' instead of 'Dear Dr...'.

Thank you

  • I don't know the answer to this, but can confirm that the conventions are different in Spanish speaking languages than they would be in the US. Feb 19, 2014 at 19:28
  • 2
    A couple of points; a) Spain != South America, b) did you check any article she's on, or read any emails she's written, chances are that she's already told the world how she wants to be addressed :)
    – posdef
    Feb 19, 2014 at 19:29
  • @posdef I meant Spanish speaking South America. I don't know what country she's from - just that Spanish is her first language, and that her accent is definitely not one from Spain, Central America, or Cuba. In some of her writing she uses just her first surname, in others she uses both
    – Hal
    Feb 19, 2014 at 19:49
  • Here in Chile, second surname (mother's maiden name) is rarely used, only in extremely formal settings (i.e., in a contract or such), or in case the name and first surname are very common. All around, best bet is to look at the "published" name, and use that (some use both surnames separated by hyphen).
    – vonbrand
    Mar 3, 2016 at 17:19

2 Answers 2


Mexican here!!

We also have two surnames, and to be perfectly honest we do not mind if you use both or only one of our last names.

People call me Dr Palafox and my former advisor (Who is the head of the CS department) Dr Benitez. We are talking people from all the spectrum of workers, from administrative and cleaning staff to general directors. So is perfectly fine to use only one last name.

Actually is going to sound weird if you end up using both names, because we rarely do. Even the President is rarely called by his 2 last names, unless is a very specific situation.

  • 2
    Only addition I'd say is be aware that if you use one, the default should always be the first one. Only use the second one by itself if the person actively uses it that way. Mar 2, 2016 at 17:56

You cannot do any harm if you are more polite when writing to someone with a significantly higher academic state than yours. So unless she's ever written you a mail signed less formally, stick to the formal way of writing.

It's actually quite unlikely that she gives any attention to it. When she replies, the way she signes at the end is how you should title her next time, with "Prof." added, which she'll very likely exclude.


You write: Dear Professor Doe-Toe, ... Sincerely, John Brown

She replies: Hello, ... Regards, J. Doe

Next time you write: Dear Prof. Doe, ... Best regards, J. Brown

There are people who are really really informal. One professor at my university always uses just the first name at the end of e-mails. She really does not care, but politeness in my environment (Czech) says that you shouldn't reply so much impolitely.

  • Most professors seem to sign with their first name. But 'Hi Dr. Smith' is as casual as I'll reply. That said, here (Canada) only full professors are addressed as Prof.
    – Hal
    Feb 19, 2014 at 19:34
  • @Hal Because only them deserve that. The fact that every journal editor calls you "Prof." is given by the fact that they can't know what degree you have so they assume the highest to prevent insulting anyone.
    – yo'
    Feb 19, 2014 at 19:39
  • Hm, good point.
    – Hal
    Feb 19, 2014 at 19:46
  • 2
    @tohecz "Because only them deserve that." That is dependent on the region. In many places, everybody up from assistant prof. is formally considered a professor, and reserving the formal title "prof." to full professors might insult a lot of people.
    – xLeitix
    Feb 19, 2014 at 21:11
  • @tohecz Is it insulting to address a full professor with "Dr. Fernandez"?
    – gerrit
    Feb 20, 2014 at 0:59

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