What’s your name? The answer can tell you a lot about your origin. In Brazil, both first and last names transmit information about you and your family. In this article we will find out more about the most common Brazilian names and their historical or contemporary origins.
If you leaf through the pages of the Brazilian phone book last names like Cavalcanti, Carvalho, Ferreira, Pereira, Pinto, Rossi, Silva and Santos will appear. The last names that populate this country are countless.
For a long time some of them meant power and tradition, other last names meant that you were an orphan without a father and mother, or who your owner (in the slavery period) was, but what remains today are only stories that help Brazilians to understand the origins of their people through their names.
Last Names in Brazil
Last names were created to facilitate the identification of people with repeated first names. This was a problem brought by the Portuguese caravelas because the first inhabitants of Brazil, the indigenouspeople, did not need to create a way to differentiate individuals from their first names; after all, they were never given the same names.
In order to avoid confusion, people started to reference where each one lived or worked, who their parents or spouses were, or their professions. And so, the last names started to be passed from father to son. João de Oliveira, for example, means that the slave João was owned by Oliveira and José Rodrigues meant that José was the son of Rodrigo.
More common Brazilian last names and understand their origins are:
- Antunes: meaning son of Antônio
- Andrade: meaning an individual who came from the Village of Andrada in Portugal
- Machado: in Portuguese the word machado means axe, so this last name was given to an individual that manufactured this object
- Moreno: in Portuguese the word moreno means dark-skinned, so this last name was given to individuals with this skin colour
The "Official" Brazilian Last Name
Despite the common Brazilian last names mentioned above, there’s no doubt that if you ask any Brazilian what the "official" name of their Brazilian family is, their answer would be Silva. Even with Roman origins, the last name is so commonly used in Brazil that it even warranted a place in the Portuguese dictionary.
The last name Silva was brought by the Portuguese with the colonisation, but spread so rapidly across Brazilian territory due to the additions given to the colonists that came to the country. Those that settled on the coastal regions received the addition Costa to their last names, and those that settled in the interior received the addition Silva, which in Latin means jungle.
But it wasn't only the colonists that were responsible for the name Silva expanding across the country. The Africans slaves also had an important role. Since most of them were named with the name of their owners, and their owners were farmers that lived in Brazil's interior, many slaves received the last name Silva, increasing its occurrence even more in Brazil.
The Most Common Female Names
For the first time in history, in 2016 IBGE published statistics of the most common names in Brazil. The data was based on a survey conducted in 2010 and found more than 130 thousand first names in use in Brazil. Maria is the most common name in Brazil, with nearly 6% of all Brazilian inhabitants.
IBGE separately accounted different written forms like Ana and Anna, or Luiz and Luis, but they did not consider diacritic variations of the names, therefore Luís was counted as the name Luis.
The 10 most common female names in Brazil according to IBGE are:
- Maria: 11.694.738
- Ana: 3.079.729
- Francisca: 721.637
- Antônia: 588.783
- Adriana: 565.621
- Juliana: 562.589
- Marcia: 551.855
- Fernanda: 531.607
- Patrícia: 529.446
- Aline: 509.869
The Most Common Male Names
The same IBGE survey also highlighted the most common male names in Brazil, with Jose being the most common. The 10 most common male names in Brazil according to IBGE are:
- Jose: 5.732.508
- Joao: 2.971.935
- Antonio: 2.567.494
- Francisco: 1.765.197
- Carlos: 1.483.121
- Paulo: 1.417.907
- Pedro: 1.213.557
- Lucas: 1.116.818
- Luiz: 1.102.927
- Marcos: 1.101.126