Rivera Surname Meaning and Origin

The Rivera surname comes from the Spanish word for riverbank.
The Rivera surname comes from the Spanish word for riverbank. Walter Boring / EyeEm / Getty Images

Rivera is a common Hispanic surname bestowed on a person who lived on a riverbank, from ribera, the Spanish word for "riverbank." The name may also be a habitational name for someone from any one of the places named Rivera.

Rivera is also a northern Italian variation of the surname Ribera, which also means river bank or shore, from the Italian ribera (Late Latin riparia), meaning "bank, shore."

The Rivera surname can be traced back to Gonzalo López de Rivera, Lord of the Castle of Rivera in Galicia in the 1200s, according to Instituto Genealógico e Histórico Latinoamericano. Some sources, however, claim that the Riveras are direct descendants of Sancho Belloso, natural-born son of the King of León, Ramiro III. Others, that the name dates back to ancient Roman times.

Rivera is the 9th most common Hispanic surname.

Surname Origin: Spanish

Alternate Surname Spellings: RIBERA, RIVA, RIVERO, RIVIERE, RIBA

Famous People With the Surname Rivera

  • Chita Rivera - American dancer, singer, and actress
  • Diego Rivera - Mexican painter and muralist
  • Geraldo Rivera - American talk show host and journalist
  • Jenni Rivera - Mexican American singer

Where Do People With the Rivera Surname Live?

Rivera is the 260th most common surname in the world, according to surname distribution data from Forebears, found in greatest numbers in Mexico and with the highest density in Puerto Rico where it is the most common surname. The Rivera surname is also very common in Honduras and El Salvador, where it ranks 8th, as well as Nicaragua (19th), Panama (24th), Mexico (29th) and Guatemala (30th).

Within Europe, Rivera is most frequently found in Spain, according to WorldNames PublicProfiler, especially in the Extremadura and Galicia regions. The surname is also very common in the United States, especially in the states of New Mexico and New York.

Genealogy Resources for the Surname Rivera

100 Common Hispanic Surnames & Their Meanings
Garcia, Martinez, Rodriguez, Lopez, Hernandez... Are you one of the millions of people sporting one of these top 100 common Hispanic last names?

How to Research Hispanic Heritage
Learn how to get started researching your Hispanic ancestors, including the basics of family tree research and country-specific organizations, genealogical records, and resources for Spain, Latin America, Mexico, Brazil, the Caribbean, and other Spanish speaking countries.

Rivera Family Crest — It's Not What You Think
Contrary to what you may hear, there is no such thing as a Rivera family crest or coat of arms for the Rivera surname. Coats of arms are granted to individuals, not families, and may rightfully be used only by the uninterrupted male-line descendants of the person to whom the coat of arms was originally granted. 

Rivera Family Genealogy Forum
Search this popular genealogy forum for the Rivera surname to find others who might be researching your ancestors, or post your own Rivera query.

FamilySearch — Rivera Genealogy
Access over 4.8 million free historical records and lineage-linked family trees posted for the Rivera surname and its variations on this free genealogy website hosted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

GeneaNet — Rivera Records
GeneaNet includes archival records, family trees, and other resources for individuals with the Rivera surname, with a concentration on records and families from France, Spain, and other European countries.

RIVERA Surname & Family Mailing Lists
This free mailing list for researchers of the Rivera surname and its variations includes subscription details and searchable archives of past messages.

DistantCousin.com — RIVERA Genealogy & Family History
Explore free databases and genealogy links for the last name Rivera.

The Rivera Genealogy and Family Tree Page
Browse family trees and links to genealogical and historical records for individuals with the last name Rivera from the website of Genealogy Today.


Cottle, Basil. Penguin Dictionary of Surnames. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1967.

Dorward, David. Scottish Surnames. Collins Celtic (Pocket edition), 1998.

Fucilla, Joseph. Our Italian Surnames. Genealogical Publishing Company, 2003.

Hanks, Patrick and Flavia Hodges. A Dictionary of Surnames. Oxford University Press, 1989.

Hanks, Patrick. Dictionary of American Family Names. Oxford University Press, 2003.

Reaney, P.H. A Dictionary of English Surnames. Oxford University Press, 1997.

Smith, Elsdon C. American Surnames. Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997.


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Powell, Kimberly. "Rivera Surname Meaning and Origin." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/rivera-last-name-meaning-and-origin-1422600. Powell, Kimberly. (2020, August 27). Rivera Surname Meaning and Origin. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/rivera-last-name-meaning-and-origin-1422600 Powell, Kimberly. "Rivera Surname Meaning and Origin." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/rivera-last-name-meaning-and-origin-1422600 (accessed June 9, 2023).