Portugal Personal Names

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Understanding customs used in surnames and given names can help you identify your ancestors in records. Learn to recognize name variations and see clues in names.

Online Tools[edit | edit source]

Sometimes, deciphering a given name in an old handwritten document is not as easy as one might suppose. This could be due to the widespread use of abbreviations or to the difficulty in reading the handwriting. Use these lists of names to assist you in interpreting the names mentioned in the documents.[1]

Surnames[edit | edit source]

A Portuguese name is typically composed of one or two given names, and a number of family names (rarely one, but often two or three, sometimes more). The first additional names are usually the mother's family surname(s) and the father's family surname(s). It is not uncommon in Portugal that a married woman has two given names and six surnames, two from her mother's family, two from her father's family, and the last two coming from her husband. In addition, some of these names may be made of more than one word, so that a full feminine name can have more than 12 words. For instance, the name "Maria do Carmo Mão de Ferro e Cunha de Almeida Santa Rita Santos Abreu" would not be surprising in a married woman. For practicality, usually only the last surname (excluding prepositions) is used in formal greetings. [2]

There has never been a standardized method of establishing surnames. However, there are several prevalent patterns.

  • Historically, daughters were commonly given their mother's surname, and sons were given their father's surname.
  • It was also common for children to receive both of their parents' surnames. When this combination occurred, the mother's surname would typically precede the father's surname.
  • Women tended to retain their maiden surname throughout their life.
    • In the late 19th century, the it became common for women to adopt adopting their husband's surname, but this practice faded by the end of the century.
  • From the mid 20th century onward, individuals tended to include their last (father's) surname in formal settings.[3]
  • Prepositions that can be used in Portuguese surnames are da, das, do, dos and de, such as in Maria da Cunha, José das Neves, Joana do Rosário, Luís dos Santos, Gabriela de Sousa, etc. and mean "from" or "of." Da, dos, etc. are contractions of the preposition de and a definite article (o, as, etc.), meaning "from the" or "of the." The current convention in Portuguese is that they be written in lower case.[2]

Surname Changes of Immigrants in the United States[edit | edit source]

As Immigrants moved into English-speaking countries, their surnames were impacted in a variety of ways.


  • Most of the time the surname spelling changed to accommodate the different phonetic spelling in the English language. In other words, the recorder tried to write the name the way he heard it.
  • Surnames may also have been translated outright into English, sometimes with a slight twist.
  • Within the community, such as the local parish, immigrants may continue to use the original name, while at the same time using English-language equivalents when dealing with local government, census takers, and other English speakers.
  • Different branches of the same family may adopt various surname spellings.
  • Prior to 1900, formal surname changes documented in local court records are relatively rare.
  • During the early 20th Century, especially the World War I era, surname changes are recorded more frequently, as immigrants or, more often, their children, tried to adopt more neutral surnames.

Given Names[edit | edit source]

In Portugal, given names have been regulated since the creation of the Portuguese Republic, with couples allowed to choose only from a defined list of names. Because of this regulation, common given names have changed little over time.[4]

The name 'Maria'[edit | edit source]

The given name Maria is extremely common as a feminine given name and even combined with masculine names. In Portugal, it has always been common. Traditionally Maria is more common as the first part of a double first name combination; these may be formed by several different elements.

  • Religious predicates (often honouring one of the Virgin Mary's denominations):

Catholic devotion festivities: Maria da Conceição (referring to Our Lady of Conception), Maria das Dores (Our Lady of Sorrows), Maria da Assunção (Assumption of Mary), Maria da Natividade (Nativity of Mary).

  • A place of a Marian apparition: Maria de Fátima (Fátima), Maria de Lurdes (Lourdes), Maria de la Salete (La Salette), Maria Aparecida (common in Brazil, after Aparecida), Maria Nazaré (Nazareth).
  • A virtue or a nature element (many of which have lost religious associations nowadays): Maria do Céu (Heaven or Sky), Maria da Luz (Light), Maria do Mar (Sea), Maria da Graça (Grace).

The name of a saint: Maria de São José (after Saint Joseph).

Other types of combinations:

  • Maria paired with a different feminine given name: Maria Madalena, Maria Teresa, Maria Antónia (or Antônia, in Brazil), Maria Gabriela, Maria Beatriz, Maria Eduarda, Maria Luíza, Maria Fernanda, Maria Alice, Maria Carolina, Maria Dulce
  • Maria paired with a masculine given name: Maria João, Maria José, Maria Manuel, Maria Luís, José Maria (which is often abbreviated as JM). It is not unusual to find masculine names such as João Maria, José Maria, Manuel Maria, Luís Maria etc. In this case, Maria would always be the second given name, in honour of the Virgin Mary, and the first name would be a masculine name. This custom was fashionable among the Portuguese nobility and the upper classes.
  • Many names that are etymologically related to Maria are also used. The most common is the name Mariana, a contraction of Maria and Ana.[2]

For Further Reading[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Portuguese Documents, BYU Script Tutorial, https://script.byu.edu/Pages/the-portuguese-documents-pages/portuguese-overview, accessed 22 February 2021.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Portuguese names', in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portuguese_name, accessed 21 February 2021.
  3. Collaborators of Wikipedia, "Portuguese name," in Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portuguese_name. Visited 23 June 2017.
  4. Collaborators of Wikipedia, "Portuguese name," in Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portuguese_name. Visited 23 June 2017.