By Oliver Simões
Being the largest Catholic country in the world, Brazil’s naming of people (and places) reflects this fact. According to Census data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), Maria (Mary) was the most popular name in Brazil from the 1930s (even earlier) until 2010 (and possibly even to this day). José (Joseph) ranked second until the 1980s. The largest city in Brazil and South America (São Paulo) is named after a saint, and so are many other cities: São Carlos, Santa Maria, São Conrado, Santa Catarina, just to name a few. When names of saints run out, special qualifiers are added, resulting in names such as São João Del Rey (St. John of the King), São José dos Campos (St. Joseph of the Fields), and Nossa Senhora Aparecida (Our Lady, the Appeared One), the patron saint of Brazil. It’s not uncommon to find women named Aparecida, and sometimes it may be combined as Maria Aparecida in a clear reference to the Virgin Mary. The first mass in Brazil took place in Santa Cruz Cabrália (an allusion to the Holy Cross and Pedro Álvares Cabral, the first Portuguese to set foot in Brazil). Along these lines, the capital city of the state of Bahia is Salvador (Savior). The state name itself is a reduction of “Bahia de Todos os Santos” (Bay of All Saints).
Other personal names are due to the Catholic influence. Besides Maria and José, the top 10 list of the most common Brazilian names includes: João (John), Antônio (Anthony), and Francisco (Francis). João is an all-time high, and the latter two (Antônio, Francisco) made their way up until the 1950s. Ana (Ann) is the only female counterpart, being an all-time high. Francisca (Frances) was popular up until the 1950s, now ranks number 16. The top 20 list includes other names of saints such as Antônio, Francisco, and Francisca, as well as biblical names such as Paulo (Paul), Pedro (Peter), Daniel, Lucas (Luke), Marcos (Mark), and Gabriel.
There is a considerable variation when we compare data from one decade to another. For example, names like Raimundo (Raymond), Raimunda, Sebastião (Sebastian), Sebastiana (Sebastianne), Manoel, and Pedro (Peter) are no longer in the top 20 for the last few decades. Other names, once popular, made a comeback, such as Carlos (Charles) and Luiz (Louis), also spelled Luís. Others had a relatively short life, such as Bruno, Bruna (1990s), Sônia (1950s-1960s), and Aline (1980s). This could be explained in part by the influence of television, mostly due to the telenovelas (roughly translated as soap operas). Actress Sônia Braga, for example, was born in 1950, and it’s probably safe to assume that many girls were named after her. A French song called Aline, once popular in Brazil, may have been a source of inspiration for many parents when naming their baby daughters.
Census data shows that the top 20 names (see below) are mostly traditional and Portuguese in their spelling; however, Brazilians seem to be getting more creative in coming up with names for their children. Singer and former Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil, for example, has a daughter named Preta Gil (preta is a feminine-gender adjective meaning black). His equally famous friend, singer and composer Caetano Veloso has a son named Moreno (also an adjective, meaning brown or dark-skinned). Other creative names include those of actor Cauã Raymond and Luã (son of pop-singer Elba Ramalho), both names possibly inspired by the indigenous cultures of Brazil. Other nativist names include Jacira, Iracema, Iara, Janaína, Mayara, Kauane (for women) and Kauê, Moacir, Raoni, Ubirajara, and Ubiratã (for men). Due to the influence of the Hollywood movie industry and the internet, more and more English names are sifting through into Brazil, for instance: Edison, Sharon, Jenifer, William, and Wellington. When it comes to being creative, it’s even worth throwing in an occasional Spanish name here and there, such as “Baby Consuelo”, a pop-singer who eventually changed her stage name to “Baby do Brasil” (Baby of/from Brazil). Overall, Brazilians don’t like to be mistaken for speakers of Spanish, and they are proud to be the only country in the Americas that speaks Portuguese.
According to the Census of 2010, there are over 130 thousand names in Brazil for a population of nearly 200 million. Brazilian surnames reflect the country’s large diversity and they range from the Portuguese Silva to the Hispanic Piñon to the Bulgarian Rousseff to the Indigenous Guajajara, to the Lebanese Mansour, and anything beyond and in between. The same Portuguese convention of using the mother’s last name followed by the father’s last name is observed in Brazil. When a woman gets married, she has the option to keep her maiden name or take on her husband’s last name. Unlike English-language countries, Brazil tends to favor the use of the first name over the last, so, for example, while the US media refers to “former president Rousseff”, Brazilians are more likely to say “ex-presidente Dilma”. Doctors are normally referred to by their first name, and so are lawyers, and other professionals, preceded by a title when appropriate: Doutor Paulo, Professora Maria, Major Carlos, etc. Both first names and surnames are important in Brazil and hard to change. Normally, the courts will not allow name changes unless there’s an undue burden for the name bearer, for example, when the name is embarrassing, or when there’s a compelling reason to do so. A case in point is the name of former president Lula, which was originally his nickname, then made official due to his losing an election back in the 80s when the electoral court did not recognize the votes handwritten for “Lula”. Brazil’s Supreme Court has recently acknowledged the rights of transgendered people to use their social names rather than their given names.
Check out in the table below for the top 20 Brazilian names.
Page updated on 8/27/20