He was born in Madrid, Spain with the name Jorge Augustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana.
Santayana moved to Boston in 1872, and took the name George he is generally known by in the English language. He studied with William James at Harvard University, where he became a professor of Philosophy until he retired upon gaining an inheritance in 1912. He then lived for several years in Paris and in Oxford, England, before settling in Rome in 1925.
Santayna wrote some 18 volumes of philosophy, as well as poetry, a novel (The Last Puritan which was a best seller in 1935), and an autobiography.