Names in Brazil

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?



Filed under Rio de Janeiro

20 responses to “Names in Brazil

  1. Muriel Vasconcellos

    Feicebuk is fáni!

    I had a friend named Edelamar–and I was the only one who didn’t realize immediately that she was named for the actress Hedy Lamarr!

  2. Oh, that’s a good one!

  3. Amt, I am jealous that you live in Rio. I would so like to retire in Brasil, and maybe I will…
    Brazilians have a lot of trouble with my name too: Katy – some thought it was “Kathy” so they pronounced it “Cat-chee”, others would say “Kay-chee”. (Apparently some Brazilian singer was married to an American woman named Kate, whose name was pronounced this way by Brazilians). I tried to get people to call me Katia, because there were a lot of Brazilian girls named Katia but by then it was too late – their way of pronouncing my name was fixed! My former mother-in-law knew how to say my name the American way, but when others heard it they would write it this way: “Keiri”.

    Some time ago there was a variety/comedy show in Brazil – I forgot the name of it but it was very popular – and the host sponsored a contest for the person with the most unusual name. One woman who entered the contest was named “Maternidade” because that, of course, is where she was born…and a man, who I think won the contest, had the surname of “Quatro” (and his mother’s surname was de Oliveira), so his parents in their attempt to be funny, I suppose (not funny for the kid who goes through life with this name), named him “Um Dois Tres de Oliveria Quatro.” (I especially like the de Oliveira there in the middle).

    If the contest were held today, perhaps Feicebuk could enter…but I’m sure there are even more bizarre names out there now!

    • I hope by the time you retire that things get cheaper down here…it used to be really, really cheap, but now everything is sky high.
      I had a friend here named Kate. She was German and spelled her name with an umlaut over the “a.” People pronounced it KAY-chee.
      I enjoyed your name stories, and thanks for reposting this!

      • Yes, my sister-in-law says it’s very expensive due to the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. It’s impossible to find any cheap place to live there now. She takes in boarders, renting out her spare room. This has become a very popular way for people who are staying in Rio for a limited time – like students – because it’s the cheapest option.

  4. Sorry, Amy, I see that I spelled your name “Amt” – it was a typo, I swear!!

  5. That is so good and so understandable!!! Not even going to comment extensively on an American going to live in the Middle East. Wonderful people but a lot of names that were hard to pronounce… not many Johns or Bills there. But the consolation was that some had a problem with my name too. I mean, how hard is it to say… Pat? But I got a lot of Mr Bat… But it was fun and we laughed a lot. They were forgiving of my stumbling around…. and finally I learned to say most of them correctly and made a lt of friends along the way..

  6. You lived in the Middle East? Where? I’d love to hear more about that!

  7. I commented on you blog. 🙂

  8. I mean “your” blog. 😀 😀

  9. Well, I think BLOG is a terribly disgusting word anyway so BOG is fine, even better. I have seen some beautiful writing, expressing beautiful, creative and inspiring thoughts… and to call it a blog is like calling a beautiful person a GLUG!!!

  10. Merrilee Trost

    My daughters and I will be going to Rio in October. How will they pronounce our names? Melinda (Mindy), Carol and Merrilee.

  11. Carol is actually a pretty popular name here.

  12. Merrilee, FYI, in Rio the people pronounce “rr” like our “h”. I think it was originally an affectation of French. Anyway, they don’t roll their rr’s like in Spanish. That’s why your name would be pronounced the way Amy says.

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