Spanish Name for Grandfather

Shortened Forms Are Sometimes Used

Photo © JGI/Jamie Grill

Many who don't speak Spanish nontheless know that abuelo is Spanish for grandfather. It is one of those grandparent names that has achieved a certain level of familiarity.

Abuelito, which literally means "little grandfather," is often used as a term of affection. Abuelito is sometimes shortened to lito or tito.

Bisabuelo is the term for a great-grandfather, and tátara abuelo refers to a great-great-grandfather.

These terms are used in most Spanish speaking countries, which include Mexico, which now has the largest number of Spanish-speakers. The United States has the second largest number, having surpassed Spain and Colombia.

Spanish is one of the six official languages of the United Nations and is the third most-used language on the Internet.

You may also be interested in Spanish names for grandmotherethnic names for grandfathers and a comprehensive list of grandfather names.

Hispanic or Latino?

Almost everyone knows the terms Spaniard and Mexican, for those living in Spain and Mexico. It can be difficult to know what term to use for Spanish-speaking people living in other countries. The term Hispanic is perhaps mostly commonly used to refer to Spanish-speaking persons and cultures. Sometimes Latino is used as an alternative to Hispanic, but strictly speaking it would include only persons of Latin American origins and not Spaniards.


In the United States, the term Hispanic is heard more in the East and in Texas. Latino is more prevalent in California. Most governmental entities use "Hispanic or Latino." A Latina is a female Latino. In Spanish, however, plurals take the masculine -o ending, so the term Latinos includes females.

In the U.S., National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from Sept.

15 to Oct. 15. It began as Hispanic Heritage Week during the term of President Lyndon B. Johnson. President Ronald Reagan expanded it to a month. The Sept. 15 date is important because on that date in 1821 the countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica gained their independence from Spain. Mexico celebrates its independence on Sept. 16 and Chile on Sept. 18. In addition, National Hispanic Heritage Month encompasses Columbus Day, which is celebrated in Latin America as Día de la Raza, or the Day of the Race. This celebration does not commemorate Columbus the man but does celebrate the multicultural society that eventually resulted from the collision of European culture with the indigenous peoples of the Americas. 

Family Structure

During the 20th century, many countries transitioned from a hierarchical, patriarchal authoritative family structure to a more egalitarian model. As woman's sphere expanded beyond the home, other societal changes were triggered. 

In Spain, these changes came slowly, partly because of the iron rule of Franco and laws that institutionalized sexism. In Latin America, change has been slow, too, because of the pervasive culture of machismo, in which men are valued for their power and virility and women are valued for their passivity and purity.

In many cultures, the primary role of the family is the rearing of children. In Hispanic or Latino culture, the family is much more. It is like a fraternal organization that provides support for the members in all phases of life. Being independent and self-sufficient has not been valued in Hispanic culture as much as being supportive and generous. For that reason, family members often stay geographically close to each other.

Grandparents are very important in Hispanic or Latino families. It is accepted that they should have a say in how their grandchildren are reared. Grandparents generally believe they have a responsibility to teach their grandchildren the Spanish language, cultural traditions and religious values. In return, they believe that their descendants should care for them when they become old and infirm.

Spanish Proverbs

As they seek to impart cultural values to their grandchildren, abuelos might use these proverbs:

  • El que madruga coge agua clara. He who rises early gets clear water. This is another way, arguably more elegant, of saying the early bird gets the worm.
  • Al mal tiempo, buena cara. Put a good face to bad times. This is an admonishment to make the best of hardships and trials and seek something good from them. 
  • Cría cuervos y te sacarán los ojos. Raise crows, and them will peck out your eyes. Bring up children without the proper values, and they will turn on you.
  • Del tal palo, tal astilla. Such is the stick, such is the chip. This is another way of saying children are often like their parents, as in the expression, "a chip off the old block."
  • Donde hay gana, hay maña. Where there is desire, there is ability. This is basically the same thing as, "Where there's a will, there's a way."
  • Las cuentas claras y el chocolate espeso. The accounts clear, the chocolate thick. When doing accounting, clarity is the most important thing, but when making chocolate, thickness and richness are paramount. This proverb refers to the traditional chocolate drink, which is served dense and creamy. The overall meaning of the proverb is that different situations call for different qualities.