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What´s in a name?

December 17, 2009

Raimundo, Maicól, Paola – what can you learn from Brazilian names? Of course, they tell a lot about the family´s background and beliefs.

Name trends are often launched by soap operas and celebrities. One example: Marcelo, Luciana and Patrícia were very popular 30 or 40 years ago, (not anymore), thanks to some  TV characters. Later, in the early nineties, Patrícia became derogative – Patricinha, it´s diminutive version, was a nickname for pretentious and vain girls. So it vanished considerably.

Brazilians also tend to be very creative when defining the way a name will be written. They double letters (sometimes because of numerological studies); use y, k and w freely (letters that don´t exist in only recently included in the Portuguese alphabet); mix parts of the names of the mother and the father.

One famous sort-of-hippie singer, Baby do Brasil, named her first-born ´Riroca (yes, the apostrophe was part of the name. Later the girl adopted the more conventional Sarah Shiva). She was followed by siblings Kriptus Baby, Zabelê and other babies that were probably bullied at school.

Check below what some common names suggest about the citizens that carry them (or at least about their parents):

Júlia, Luisa, João, Pedro – In the last decade, upper class families favored short, simple names (not double names, such as Pedro Paulo, João Pedro or Ana Luisa, common among rich kids of earlier generations).

Raimundo, Cícero, Severino – These names are typical of families from the Northeast of the country (region that includes the states of Bahia, Pernambuco and Ceará). They are associated to the cult of Saint Raymond Nonnatus and Padre Cícero, a local saint that is not recognized by the Vatican.

Maria – It used to be omnipresent, specially combined with other names (Maria Carolina, Ana Maria, Maria Luisa). It is still very common thanks to catholic families, but it is definitely losing steam, probably because of the progressive shrinkage of Catholicism in the country.

Maicól, Anderson, Kéli, Stéfany – English names and family names are adapted in creative ways, particularly by the working classes.  In even poorer communities, you might find Rolinstoni, Maicojackson – I swear, they do exist!

Kaíque, Luan, Paola – Some names completely invented become very popular in different social groups. Paola´s case is particularly interesting. It is written just like its Italian equivalent, but pronounced in a very different way (with the “o” stressed, not the “a”), due to a very popular soap opera, “Terra Nostra“, a tale about immigrants established in São Paulo that spoke with an adorable but very fake accent.

Check here the list of most common names registered on birth certificates in Brazil in 2008.

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5 comments

  1. i did a simialar post sometime back, in fact with the same name..
    http://wicketsandguayaba.blogspot.com/2008/02/whats-in-name.html
    the best name has to be the soccer player named “creedence clearwater couto”..
    locally, the “beatles” family ranks at the top.. this mom named her boys after the beatles.. but she named them the way she thought the names are spelled according to how they are pronounced here:
    There is a family in my neighborhood with four boys named : Jonleno, Paumacatiney, Joeharrison, and Hingostarre
    there are an awful lot of “suely” or “suelen” and variations thereof, from when sue ellen was a character on dallas..
    take a look at my post to see some more “classic” brazilian names..


    • Your post is great, Dani. Indeed, weird names are abundant, and I definitely should have thought of Suellen (I have seen it in a boy). I also should have mentioned the Rosado family, writers and politicians of Mossoró, in the state of Ceará. After the sixth baby, the father, Jerônimo, decided to christen the kids with numbers, either in Portuguese or French – the little one was named Vingt-un (twenty one in French). I will definitely visit your blog again soon.


      • the version i saw for a boy was “suelington”.. many times they take one of the parents names and adapt it to the sex of the child, or just combine them, like “marifranklin” for a maria and a franklin..


  2. My wife tried to name her son ‘Juan’ and was told she couldn’t- she had to name him ‘Ruan’ instead. And I thought they added W, K and Y back into the alphabet…

    I read a book by John Grisham one time that takes place largely in Brazil and my favorite part was when he mentions a character with a name that ‘sounds like Milton.’ I thought that was pretty funny


    • You are right – the new ortograph just incorporated w, k and y, but they should be used only when you write a foreign word.
      The best story I know involving a notary making silly decisions when a kid is registered involves the famous cartoonist, writer and sharp political analyst Millôr Fernandes. His mom presented a paper with his name written for the notary to copy. It was written “Milton”, but apparently it was pretty unreadable, so the “t” became an “l” and the trait that cuts “t” became the accent “^” and “r” became “n”.



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