segunda-feira, 23 de janeiro de 2012

Names In Spotlight: Portuguese Names

I decided to do a little article about portuguese names, for those of you who don't know, I'm half portuguese and I'm currently living in Portugal with some of my family. Now I've been to Portugal many times, but it's interesting to be back and stay here for a while, and also with my newish found love of baby names. I started to pay attention to portuguese names, and how they differ to american names in general.

In Portugal, when you name your baby, it's taken seriously. This means, no wacky names, certainly no trendy stuff for you to find (trendy names here are usually just normal names that are picking up a lot of popularity). Also, surnames remain surnames, and there are no unisex names - the rare exceptions are nicknames. However, you can give your son a female name if its used in the middle spot, and vice-versa for girls. For example, I know a boy named Afonso Lara (Lara, after his mother), and a girl named Marta Diogo. Usually you'll find many boys with the middle name Maria, and some girls with the middle name João (the equivalent of John). There are a lot of names with male and female spellings, so you'll have Ivo for boys, Iva for girls, Joaquim for boys, Joaquina for girls, André for boys, Andreia for girls, therefore there isn't a big demand to "steal" names. As a general rule "-o" and "-im" endings are masculine, and "-a" endings are feminine. There are some masculine names ending in "-a", but not too many, and they're mostly of foreign origin. There are even less female names ending in "-o". "E" endings are used widely by both genders, and while there are more male names ending in consonants than female, no particular consonant is more masculine than feminine, besides the already mentioned "-im" ending.

Nonetheless, new names have been allowed to filter over times, foreign names normally get adapted to portuguese orthography: for example Marta, not Martha, Filipe, not Phillip. Also, when adapting foreign names, there is an attempt to respect the origins of the name and gender usage. For example, names like Aubri (Aubrey), Quéli (Kelly), Sidnei (Sydney), Alexis, Paris, Nicola, Ariel, Luca, Jaime, are only allowed on boys. I sometimes wonder if the US had similar rules, would we have Courtney and Evelyn fighting for the male #1 spot in the SSA ranking today? But then I think there are far too many restrictions. While some names are allowed eventually, others never make it even though they're perfectly normal names - for example, Jade is not allowed for either sex.

Now onto more interesting things, I'm gonna talk about 5 very popular names for each sex, and then give you some other names that are less popular, but that I do like or find interesting.


Rodrigo - The portuguese equivalent to Roderick, this is the #1 name for boys in Portugal, and has been for the last few years. Roderick has lost it's shine in the US, but I think Rodrigo could be integrated really well. Plus like a lot of portuguese male names, they end in "o", an ending that has been rising in popularity lately in America, so that's a plus too.

Martim - Considered a trendy name in Portugal since it has picked a lot of popularity in the last decade, spreading from the richer families to the rest really quickly. The portuguese equivalent to Martin has an unusual -m ending for american years, which might cause some problems pronunciation-wise, since this is a nasalized ending. Only for the brave namers I think.

Diogo - Now this one I can see being used a lot, thanks to it's spanish counterpart Diego being inside the US Top 100. There is only one different letter, but it makes a brand new name. So for parents that like Diego but want something more original, this is the perfect choice.

Francisco - Another name I could see translating really well to the american public, Francisco seems like a more jovial Francis. Francis has been dwindling in popularity, but tag on the -co ending and you've a fresh new name with a spunky attitude ready to sweap up the popularity charts.

Guilherme - Take a guess, what is the english equivalent of Guilherme? Gill? Gilbert? No... it's William! Believe it. If you take a closer look at Guilherme, you can see some similarities between the two names, however, this one I don't see having a shot at american success. First the silent "u" after the "g", it's pronounced "gee" with a hard "g". Then you have the "lh", which has a special sound in portuguese, with no english equivalent. The -erme ending isn't very appealing either, reminding me of worm or germ. Yes, I'm not a fan of this one...

Next up, are some less common male names, that I find quite interesting:

Henrique - The name used by previous kings of Portugal, it's still retained a lot of popularity today in Portugal, and would be easily understood in America with Henry and Enrique being 2 common choices. Be careful though, the pronunciation is a bit different: "ayn-rEEk". Of course this would be changed slightly in America since there are no nasalized vocals, but it's a name that could be a choice for some of you who like Henry but not it's popularity.

Rui - A name you never come across in America, but it's relatively common in Portugal. It reminds me of that Street Fighter character, Ryu, but with a twist. In Portugal it's simply pronounced "rooy", not "rooee". It has some potential, but I think it's pronunciation might cause some issues. Still, it stands out from the crowd.

Gaspar - The portuguese equivalent to Jaspar, this is almost the same name, except it has a hard "G" at the beginning. It is pronounced "gash-PAR", so some differences in phonetics there, but I think it's a nice alternative to Jaspar. Some people might raise issues about the "gas-" part, but believe me, in Portugal we also say "gas" for the same things, and no one has a problem with this name.

Flávio - Seldomly used, this name never really became too popular, but never went off the map either. It derived from the italian language and is a name still associated a lot with Italy, especially by americans. So as you can see, this name is charged with latin energy, mixing portuguese sunshine with italian spice, and since italian names are rising in popularity lately, why not go with this more peculiar choice?

Telmo - I only know one person with this name, and I never really payed attention to it until I started writing about portuguese names. But, I realized now that I do like it. I like the way it looks, I like the way it sounds, and it has some crossover appeal. The closest name I can think of is the female Selma. In case you're wondering, Telma exists for females here.

Celso - Pretty unusual name in Portugal, not used a lot these days (and probably never was), but this was used recently as a character's name in a portuguese soap, and it caught my attention. It's quite soft sounding, and pronunciation is really easy for english speakers: "CELL-soo" or "CELL-soh". I think it's a really appealing name.

Nicolau - Most americans are familiar with a lot of the Nico- names around the world, but I think this one would be unknown to most. The "au" ending is rare in portuguese, pronounced like the "ow" in "now", and even more unpopular in english. However, if you're fed up of hearing Nicholas everywhere, or you think Nikolai is too russian souding, this could be the best one for you.

Gustavo - Another relatively well known in Portugal, but not overwhelmingly popular. This could be a great choice for parents that like to use Gus as a nickname, but are not fond of the fuller names. Personally I feel Gustavo sounds really fresh, and with long names there are always several nickname oportunities.

Ivo - I've gotta say, this is one of my favorite names, and I think it could be popular in the US with the right exposure. Ivo is short, youthful, has an "o" ending so it could become trendy, and I like it's portuguese pronunciation the best: "EEvoo". However, you can say can change it's pronunciation to suit your tastes (in America).

Tomé - Tired of boring old Thomas and want something new? Well look at this bright portuguese name, Tomé! Quite similar to Thomas, and could be used as a legitimate equivalent. Pronounced "too-mEH" in portuguese, or if you wish "toh-mAY" in american accent, this is a fun name that is youthful but ages well. It would certainly be a unique choice.

Jasmim - You guessed it, this is a male name in Portugal, because in portuguese this flower is male, as is the "-im" ending. However there is a feminine equivalent Jasmine over here too. Now the potential of this name for boys in the US is minimum due to the popularity of Jasmine on girls, but I secretly do love this name. Flower names are rare for boys, so if you're one of those parents that likes to go against the norms, this is a fabulous and bold choice!

Ravi - Extremely rare in Portugal, really down in the popularity charts, but it's easily one of my favorite discoveries. Now I have heard of Rami before, but not Ravi. I actually prefer Ravi - can't we get rid of David and get this one instead? So much cooler looking, and softer sounding. It could definitely be used in the US, with names like Remy, Levi and David so widely used.

Juno - In Portugal, this name is only allowed on boys, but it's not heard of much. It doesn't sound to different from several other portuguese names, like Júlio, Hugo, Nuno or Bruno, yet it never really became used much. I personally like it's proximity to the month of June, in portuguese its Junho, so it reminds me of long summer days and gorgeous weather almost as soon as I hear it. Pretty good association, right?

Moving over to the girls, here are some well known names.


Leonor - After the name Maria, this is the most common female name in Portugal for the past year. With so many american naming blogs raving of the stylish Eleanor, for those of you who prefer something a little different, why not try this lovely portuguese equivalent? I think it's a great name.

Mariana - An interesting mix of Maria and Ana, this name has been hugely popular for the last few decades - personally I know several. I much prefer Mariana to Maria and Ana, but unlike these two, Mariana never made it big in the US. I think it may never have it's time to shine, but it's still a great choice.

Beatriz - This awesome name became trendy in the last decade with portuguese parents, having ascended sharply in popularity pretty quickly, and now going downhill just as fast. Nonethless, it's still one of the most common names given to baby girls. I personally much prefer this spelling over Beatrice or Beatrix. In Portugal, this name is pronounced "bee-uh-trEEsh". However, in America we could definitely get away with pronouncing it slightly different, and better yet, keep this fantastic name in the spotlight.

Lara - Another relatively new name within the portuguese border, this name slowly but steadily increased it's usage over time, and nowadays no one bats an eyelid when they meet a little Lara. In the US, people still love to use Lauren and Laura, but I find Lara much more attractive, yet she never really became popular. This is a perfectly usable and easy to pronounce name for americans, and would be a welcome alternative to the dated Lauren.

Margarida - At first look this seems like the portuguese equivalent to Margaret, but actually they both have different meanings. Margaret means "pearl", and Margarida is the portuguese word for "daisy", used throughout the country as a proper first name for females, just like in the US we had Daisy riding high in the popularity charts. I personally do not like Margaret, I find it a bit dull and dark sounding, but Margarida is completely different. It's lively, feminine, and could definitely be used in America.

Now I'm gonna give you some female names that are less common, but intriguing:

Mafalda - Still used quite a bit in Portugal, this is a charming name that I think has some american potential. Think of all the nickname choices? Maybe me knowing 2 fabulous girls with these names might have biased my views on it, but I do think it's got some great qualities.

Carlota - This is the portuguese equivalent to Charlotte, a name that has been getting uber popular lately. Carlota is a bit more heavy than Charlotte imo, but still retains some of it's charm and spunk. There's still loads of nickname choices with this one, and on the plus side, your daughter would probably be the only one with this name...

Núria - This name could be perfectly adapted to english, although it would probably be best to drop the (´) accent over the letter "u" to keep things simple -  same goes for other names with this special sign. Anyway, whichever way you pronounce it, I think its got great appeal, and could translate pretty easily. I can't think of a name in english currently in usage that sounds too similar to this one, which can be a good thing.

Soraia - Well known name in Portugal, but has sorta fallen from grace over time, losing a lot of the popularity it once had. However if you think about it, it could be a great choice for american parents. "So-" names are ultra popular these days, and "-aia" endings are common too, so this is like a perfect blending. Why not try out this sassy name?

Salomé - A more exotic name this time, but one I rather love. The best way to pronouce this in english is "sal-oo-mEH" or "sal-oh-mAY" if it's too tricky. This can be a fresh name to get the nicknames "Sal", "Sally" or simply "May". It means peace, which is what we all need right now. Aren't you in love with it already?

Flor - Rising star "Flor" is starting to be heard more often in Portugal, but it's still seen as an unusual choice. This has also crept inside the US ranking a few times, but never too high. It's the portuguese word for "flower", so it can be used as a nature name - the only issue is it's similarity to "floor". If you can look past this, it could be a great option. There is also the similar Flora, if you're too afraid to go with Flor, which is equally pretty.

Dalila - I know there are a lot of fans of Delilah out there, but I happen to prefer this one instead. Remember, "i" is always pronounced like "ee" in portuguese, so keep that in mind when trying to say this name. All the nicknames of Delilah are retained in this alternative, but I find Dalila a bit softer and more feminine sounding.

Safira - I think it's quite obvious what the english equivalent is here, you know, that gemstone... Again, I find Safira a much prettier version of Sapphire, it's a lot softer sounding, and could be all the rage in the US since it could also be an interesting alternative to the very popular Sophia and Sofia. I think this one is totally gorgeous. Recently it came across people's attention since it was a name of a little girl that appeared in a news report on TV.

Morgana - Tired of seeing little Morgan's everywhere? Why not use this lovely and more feminine alternative? This name is not popular at all in Portugal, neither is the male Morgano, but I find this one fascinating. Maybe it's because there is a character in the TV series Merlin with this name, and that woman is mesmerizing.

Nazaré - A place name in Portugal, also used as a name (and originated as such), that in 2011 saw its popularity at a minimum. I fail to see why it's being so neglected, even the village of Nazaré is absolutely stunning, popular with surfers. Best way to say it is "nuz-uh-rEH" if you want to keep the portuguese pronunciation, but I suppose "naz-uh-rAY" is also beautiful and probably easier.

Amália - Amelia is becoming really popular in the US, almost too popular, so this is the perfect oportunity to get the classiness of Amelia, but not it's popularity. Amélia is also used in Portugal, but Amália was the name of the iconic "Fado" singer, the sentimental traditional music of Portugal. Amália is full of history, and is right on trend with what's cool today in the US, so this could be a wonderful name for an american girl.

I hope you enjoyed this mini introduction to portuguese names, and hopefully you've liked a few of these, who knows, maybe the name of your future son or daugther. So what are your views on the naming policies of Portugal? Do you think the US should adopt similar restrictions? Which names did you enjoy?

You can check out the full top 100 here

4 comentários:

  1. I really enjoyed it!! :)
    Are you living near Algarve?

  2. Hi! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    No, I'm currently living near Porto. But I love the Algarve, hence the picture :) So beautiful there.

  3. I also live near Porto! I'll keep stopping by! ;)

  4. Ah how cool :)

    Thanks. I'll also add your website to my hyperlinks, who knows, maybe there are more people interested in portuguese names than we think :)