As a Portuguese person living in the United States, I’ve had to explain Portuguese names (and Portuguese naming conventions) to lots of Americans. Now that I’m expecting a half-Portuguese, half-American baby, the topic of names has been the focus of lots of questions and explanations. The English language three-name convention (first, middle, last) is virtually unheard of in Portugal. In Portugal, it isn’t uncommon to have four, five or even six names! This post will explain how Portuguese names are formed. Looking to add a Portuguese touch to your children’s names? This is a good place to start. For my non-Portuguese readers, this post will explain why your Portuguese friends have such long names!…
“So… which one is your actual last name?”
When English speakers try to break down a Portuguese name – for example José Maria Almeida de Pais Vieira – into first, middle and last, they will struggle. Portuguese names are divided into first names (nomes próprios) and last names (apelidos) only. In this case, José Maria is the first name and Almeida de Pais Vieira is the last name. But… “Which one is your actual last name?”, people will often ask.
Portuguese last names are formed from family names, which is really lovely as it celebrates the heritage from both sides of the family. In the example above, Almeida is José Maria’s mother’s last name and de Pais Vieira is the father’s last name. If José Maria were to have a sister, she might be called something like Daniela Almeida de Pais Vieira, or Ana Rita Almeida de Pais Vieira. José Maria’s daughter might be named Leonor Pereira de Pais Vieira (Pereira being the mother’s last name). According to law, you can only have a maximum of six names: up to two first names and up to four family names. But each name can be either a simple (i.e. Daniela, or Almeida) or composite names (i.e. Ana Rita, or de Pais Vieira).
Getting Married? Changing Your Name?
The other thing that may surprise those of Anglo-Saxon roots is that in Portugal it isn’t “expected” that a woman will change her name when she gets married. That’s right: the classic security question asking what your mother’s maiden name is not something you really see in Portugal. This is because your mother may very well still be using the name she was given at birth. If a woman (or man) decides to take their spouse’s name when they marry, they aren’t allowed to drop their current name, but they will simply tack on their spouse’s last name to their existing name. That’s right: an already comparatively long name will get even longer! In 2014, for example, only around 41% of women who married chose to take on their husband’s name. Men have legally been able to change their last name to their wife’s last name since the late 1970s. In 2014, approximately 4% of men in Portugal did so.
Naming Your Baby
In order to protect children from a lifetime of teasing/legal challenges, Portugal (like several other countries) has a list of approved names that you must abide by to name your child. Additionally, some names are allowed for only one gender. So no matter how much you want to name your baby boy “Elizabeth”, it’s not allowed in Portugal – trust me, he’ll be grateful for this law when he starts going to school. You’re also not allowed to name your child Sayonara, Warrior, or Apple. The good news for parents who prefer less conventional names, or parents of half-Portuguese children who want to give their child a non-Portuguese name, a large number of new, permitted names were added to the list in 2017. Wondering if your name is allowed in Portugal? You can consult the list here.
I hope this post has helped my non-Portuguese readers come to appreciate the art of Portuguese names. It can be tricky combining two different naming cultures (while still staying true to both), or incorporating some of your family’s heritage in a society that is unfamiliar with those norms and names. If you’ve gone through this yourself, please let me know how you came to a decision, in the comments section below. I’d love to hear it!
*The above post is not meant to serve as legal advice, and rules & regulations may be subject to change at any time.