When I moved to Brazil from the USA, one of the first things I noticed was that Brazilians had some pretty strange and difficult names, at least for a foreigner like me. Of course I’ve long since gotten used to them, but at first I had a hard time wrapping my tongue around names like Iguarací, Ubirajara, and Adalgamir.
I also noticed that Brazilian names tend to be rather long, and that people almost always address each other by their first name, or by a nickname. Our ex-president, for example, Luiz Inácio da Silva, is always referred to as “Lula” (which means “squid” in English!), even in the press.
One of the first friends I made here was Maria da Conceição Ferreira de Almeida. When I first met her I found her long name quite daunting, so I asked her what I should call her. She said, “My friends call me Conceição.” At the time I thought it was odd that they didn’t just call her “Maria,” which seemed so much simpler. But I soon found out that there are scads of Marias in Brazil, being primarily a Catholic country, and that they are rarely called Maria. Maria de Lourdes, Maria da Fátima, Maria da Graça and so on, are nearly always called by their second name…probably to avoid confusion!
Brazilians also have a fondness for giving their boys names that end in “son” – Anderson, Wilson, Adilson and Kleberson are all common names here. Some of them sound American, others not. Speaking of sounding American, of you really want your kid’s name to sound like its American equivalent, make sure you don’t spell it the gringo way. For instance, if you like the name Michael, to get that approximate sound you’ll have to spell your boy’s name “Maicon.” Or if David is your favorite, make sure you have “Deivid” written on his birth certificate.
I’ve also run into a few names that are spelled “wrong,” but seem to work just fine for Brazilians: Willian, Carmem and Johny, for example. And I was really surprised to discover that the name Joyce here is not just a woman’s name, but a man’s name, too.
So what about my name? In the past few years people have started naming baby girls Amy, but before that the name was unknown by most Brazilians. So people called me “ah-MEE.” Sometimes I’d correct them, but most of the time I just didn’t bother. As for my last name, well, there’s a famous singer here named Zélia Duncan, so the name is well-known. Nevertheless, people nearly always pronounce it “DOON-kahn.”
Believe it or not, I remember hearing somewhere that a young couple had named their kid “Feicebuk” — can you guess what that is?