Why Are Brazilian Names Long?

If you know a Brazilian person, they probably have a relatively extensive name, may be composed of at least 3 or 4 surnames, right? While in most of the world, people just have a name and the last name, Brazil goes in the opposite direction, with some full names that definitely got out of hand.

Brazilian names are mainly long because they’re composed of the person’s first name + a surname from the father’s side of the family + another surname from the mother’s family. Also, there are names and surnames composed of more than one word, making the full name look even longer.

In this piece, we’re going to go through how full names are formed and why they are so long in Brazil and take a look at the most popular names in the country. We are also going to list some of the most popular nicknames.

How Are Brazilian Full Names Formed?

Origin of Last Names in Brazil

Back when Brazil was invaded by the Portuguese in 1500 and the Indigenous people who inhabited the lands were colonized, there was no such thing as last names in the local culture. Instead, each individual was given a different name, so there was no actual further need to differentiate one from another.

When the Portuguese took over, they started giving last names to the indigenous people in order to avoid confusion. So, for example, if an indigenous slave called José were owned by a Portuguese man called Fernandes, that slave’s name would become José de Fernandes in order to set him apart from the others.

Up until being colonized and enslaved by the Portuguese in 1500, the Brazilian native indigenous tribes didn’t use last names, as each of them had unique names to distinguish themselves – Credit: Jornal Tribuna.

As the Portuguese families start to grow, last names are traditionally passed down from generation to generation. So if, for instance, a man called Antônio welcomes a son named Marcos, then Marcos’ last name would be Antunes, a derivation from the father’s first name.

Aside from the last name, a nickname could also be attributed based on the father’s line of work. If we continue to use the same example from the last paragraph, if Antônio was a blacksmith (ferreiro em Brazilian Portuguese), his son could also be referred to as Marcos Antunes Ferreiro.

Nicknames would also be created based on the person’s place of living. If Marcos Antunes would live in Barcelos, for example, he could be nicknamed Marcos Antunes Barcelos to identify him better amongst the other local citizens.

Up until 1911, people were free to give and adopt any last names they wanted. They were baptized with their given names, and as they became teenagers and went through a second baptism (known in Brazil as Crisma), they were able to change their names or add a new one. They were also given the right to chose which last names they wanted to use from then on.

As legal registration started to get more and more serious and local chiefs needed to set themselves apart from regular people (mainly in order to register their legal rulings), the use of last names became more strict. For example, for a person to successfully claim a piece of land in the name of their family, they had to prove their family bound to the landowner, as until then, anyone with the same name could try to pass as the heir.

In most cultures outside the Portuguese-speaking community (that assembled countries such as Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Cabo Verde, and Moçambique for example), it was imperative for a family to have a male heir to carry out the family name on to other generations. This is the main reason why so many families in France, for example, would disappear, as women weren’t considered fit to carry it out.

On the other hand, Brazil followed Portugal’s footsteps, allowing a woman (in the absence of a male heir) to carry the family name with her in order to name the following generation. At this point, people already had more than one surname, so it was necessary to keep them organized in some way.

The Order of Brazilian Surnames and Last Names

The order in which the surnames are disposed of in Brazil was inspired by the French system: after the person’s first name, the mother’s family name is supposed to follow, with the father’s family name coming in last. For example, my name is Bruno Barros Reguffe; Barros coming from my mother’s side of the family and Reguffe from my father’s.

In case a couple has a daughter and eventually she gives birth to a child, the grandfather’s last name would come in second (following the first name) and the father’s family name would come in last. The couple can choose to put all of the family names onto their child or choose one of each family to compose its full name, as there are no limitations on the number of names a person can have.

In regards to name changes after a woman gets married, it used to be mandatory for women to add their husband’s last name to theirs, but that eventually fell out of use in 1977 with the Divorce Bill. This bill would make taking the husband’s family name optional, and eventually, spouses were able to take each other’s names at will.

How To Address A Brazilian By Their Name

First of all, you have to understand this: Brazilians are very warm people and they like to show affection. Aside from the usual hug and two kisses greeting ritual (the two kisses rule may vary from state to state, sometimes it’s just one and sometimes it’s three!), Brazilians are generally very informal with people they either know or not.

You’ll rarely hear people being called by their first and last names, as the standard treatment amongst locals is calling each other just by their first names. However, if there is more than one person with the same first name in that particular circle, then the last name is put into use, or one of them is referred to by their nickname (if they have one) in order to avoid confusion.

Do Brazilians Have Nicknames For Each Other?

Yes, Brazilians love to give each other nicknames. Nicknames are shortened versions of names or words that represent some personal characteristic (mostly used to show affection and endearment), and they are very common in Brazil.

Almost everyone has a nickname in the country, and it can be related to that person’s appearance, a short version of their name, or something related to their overall attitude for example. They are even more common with famous people, especially soccer players and other athletes in Brazil.

Personally, I’ve had quite a few nicknames amongst different groups of friends, like Bru or B. While I was growing up, my family used to call me “Bubuca”, though no one was never really able to explain where did it come from haha! As an adult, people started calling me by my last name (Reguffe), which is not very common in Brazil.

The Short Version of A Name As a Nickname

One of the many ways Brazilians like to give each other nicknames is by shortening the person’s name. So if we take my own last example, “Bru” is considered the short version of Bruno, so a few people started calling me that at some point.

This type of nickname is especially popular in the state of São Paulo, as people tend to call each other by just using the first syllable of their names.

Here are some other short versions of popular names in Brazil:

NicknameOfficial Name
Zé (the “S” in José sounds like a Z)José
Suzi (the second “S” in Susana sounds like a Z)Susana

Diminutive Nicknames

Another way that Brazilians like to put nicknames on one another is by using a diminutive form of the person’s real name. It’s mainly used as a form of endearment, to show affection to who you’re referring to. So whenever Brazilian people use the diminutive form for women, they add an “inha” suffix at the end of the person’s name, and if it’s for men; “inho”.

Soccer player Ronaldinho Gaúcho is one of the many celebrities that have a famous nickname in Brazil – Credit: Dreamstime | Bluff

Here are some examples of the diminutive form of a few Brazilian Names:

NicknameOfficial Name
Andinho (or just Dinho)Anderson

Name Derivations As A Nickname

And there are also nicknames that are derivated from their original name but aren’t that obvious to guess if you are not from Brazil, or not used to these popular nicknames as well. Here are some examples:


It’s also very common that a Brazilian person has various nicknames, especially since there are nicknames that are used for various names. For example, I have two friends named Júlia and Juliana, and they both go by “Ju”. Whenever they are both together in the same place, we usually refer to Júlia as “Julinha” (as Julianinha is not common – never heard of it actually) or Juliana as Ju Pinho (her last name).

Brazilian Celebrity Nicknames

Nicknames are especially popular amongst Brazilian celebrities, so there’s a pretty good chance you might not even know you’re referring to one using their nickname. For example, I remember I used to think Tom Jobim was the late singer’s real name up until a later age until I found out his actual name was Antonio.

Here are a few more examples of celebrity nicknames in Brazil:

NicknameOffical NameOccupation
Tom JobimAntonio Carlos JobimMusician
Chico BuarqueFrancisco Buarque de HollandaMusician
LulaLuiz Inácio “Lula” da SilvaEx-President
GugaGustavo KuertenProfessional Tennis Player
RubinhoRubens BarrichelloF1 Driver
XuxaMaria da Graça MeneghelActress / TV Host
CazuzaAgenor de Miranda Araujo NetoMusician
Jô SoaresJosé Eugênio SoaresTV Host / Commedian
FaustãoFausto Corrêa da SilvaTV Host
Tatá WerneckTalita Werneck ArguelhesTV Hostess / Commedian
FiukFilipe Kartalian Ayrosa GalvãoActor/Singer
Silvio SantosSenor AbravanelTV Host

The Brazilian Formal Treatment

Even though Brazilians are indeed more loose with how they treat each other, in some situations, some formalities may be required, especially with people with a higher hierarchy or prestige social status. The use of formal pronouns is entirely up to the person, and are used in case they want to establish a certain “distance” from other individuals.

Here are some examples:

Senhor (Sr) / Mister (Mr) – used to refer to men of all social status (ex.: Senhor (Sr.) Reguffe)

Senhora (Sra.) / Madam (Mam) – used to refer to married women

Senhorita (Srta.) / Miss (Ms.) – used to refer to single women

What Are The Most Popular Names in Brazil?

Being majorly a Catholic country, Biblical names such as Maria, José, Ana, João are still the most popular. But things seem to be slowly changing as of late, mainly due to mothers wanting to adopt less usual names for their babies.

Compound names are particularly trendy in recent years, with Enzo Gabriel, João Miguel, and Maria Eduarda being just a few examples of the most common baby names in Brazil.

According to IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics), here are the most popular male and female names in Brazil:

The Most Popular Male First Names in Brazil?

  1. José (5.732.508 people)
  2. João (2.971.935 people)
  3. Antônio (2.567.494 people)
  4. Francisco (1.765.197 people)
  5. Carlos (1.483.121 people)
  6. Paulo (1.417.907 people)
  7. Pedro (1.213.557 people)
  8. Lucas (1.116.818 people)
  9. Luiz (1.102.927 people)
  10. Marcos (1.101.126 people)
  11. Luís (931.530 people)
  12. Gabriel (922.744 people)
  13. Rafael (814.709 people)
  14. Daniel (706.527 people)
  15. Marcelo (690.098 people)
  16. Bruno (663.271 people)
  17. Eduardo (628.539 people)
  18. Felipe (615.924 people)
  19. Raimundo (611.174 people)
  20. Rodrigo (598.825 people)

The Most Popular Female First Names in Brazil

  1. Maria (11.694.738 people)
  2. Ana (3.079.729 people)
  3. Francisca (721.637 people)
  4. Antônia (588.783 people)
  5. Adriana (565.621 people)
  6. Juliana (562.589 people)
  7. Márcia (551.855 people)
  8. Fernanda (531.607 people)
  9. Patrícia (529.446 people)
  10. Aline (509.869 people)
  11. Sandra (479.230 people)
  12. Camila (469.851 people)
  13. Amanda (464.624 people)
  14. Bruna (460.770 people)
  15. Jéssica (456.472 people)
  16. Letícia (434.056 people)
  17. Júlia (430.067 people)
  18. Luciana (429.769 people)
  19. Vanessa (417.512 people)
  20. Mariana (381.778 people)

The Most Popular Baby Names in Brazil

  1. Miguel: 27.371
  2. Arthur: 26.459
  3. Heitor: 23.322
  4. Helena: 22.166
  5. Alice: 20.118
  6. Theo: 18.674
  7. Davi: 18.623
  8. Laura: 17.572
  9. Gabriel: 17.096
  10. Gael: 16.667
  11. Bernardo: 17.775
  12. Samuel: 15.195
  13. Valentina: 13.637
  14. João Miguel: 13.586
  15. Enzo Gabriel: 13.567
  16. Heloísa: 12.980
  17. Pedro: 11.380
  18. Lorenzo: 11.210
  19. Sophia: 10.885
  20. Maria Clara: 10.830

What is the Origin of The Most Popular Brazilian Last Names?

Given Brazil’s history of European colonization, it’s very common to find names and last names that descend mainly from countries such as Portugal and Spain, as well as names that trace back to the native indigenous people that lived in the country before the invasions.

In 2016, Brazilian research company Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada (IPEA) published a study that analyzed almost 50.000.000 Brazilian names. They came to the conclusion that most surnames in Brazil have Iberian origins, while only 18% didn’t have Iberian connections.

Out of the locations that are not predominantly Iberean-connected, we can name the full south region of Brazil, the west of São Paulo, the mountainside of Espírito Santo, as well as the states of Rondônia, Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul.

The research also stressed that the surnames don’t necessarily reflect a cultural or genomic ancestry, as there are adoptions, name changes when the person gets married, and other life events that can slim the precision of this indicator.

Here are the top 10 most popular Brazilian last names and what they mean according to their origin:

1. Silva

Origin: Latin, Portuguese
Popularity: Over 5 million Brazilians

Rest assured, every single Brazilian citizen knows a person with the last name Silva. It is the number 1 most popular last name in the country, and according to Forebears (a specialized name and genealogy resource), 1 in every 93 Brazilian citizens is registered with Silva as their last name.

The meaning of the name translates from latin into “jungle”, “forest” or “woods” and is believed to be given to the people who lived near the Torre de Honra de Silva (Tower of Honor and Silva) in Portugal, as a way of identifying them by their location.

2. Santos

Origin: Latin, Espanish, Portuguese
Popularity: Over 3.9 million Brazilians

The second most common surname in Brazil is Santos. It originated from the Latin Sanctorum and means “all the saints”. This name was very common to be attributed to people who were born on November 1st (when Brazil celebrates “All Saints’ Day”, a popular Catholic national holiday). It is also one of the oldest surnames in Portugal.

3. Oliveira

Origin: Latin, Portuguese
Popularity: Over 3.7 million Brazilians

The surname Oliveira has a very literal meaning: “tree that produces the olive”, “olive tree growers”, “a place full of olive trees”.

There are two possibilities for the origins of the surname, one being that people who lived near olive trees adopted the name in Portugal, and another is that the Jews forced into Catholicism adopted this surname so that they would not be persecuted in the region.

Either way, Oliveira is the 3rd most common surname in Brazil, and I actually happen to know quite a few people with this last name.

4. Souza

Origin: Latin, Portuguese
Popularity: Over 2.6 million Brazilians

The fourth most common surname in Brazil is Souza, written with a Z (as there is also the name Sousa with a S). It has its origins in Latin and is considered a variation of the form written with an S, Sousa, more common in Portugal. This surname means “pebble”, “stone”, “wild pigeon” or “that which belongs to the Sousa river”.

5. Rodrigues

Origin: Spanish, Portuguese
Popularity: Over 2.3 million Brazilians

The surname Rodrigues means “son of Rodrigo”. As we said earlier in the post, the suffix “es” was normally associated with the offspring, as a way of continuing the family name throughout the descendants. Thus, in its origins, the surname was linked to people descended from an important patriarch named Rodrigo.

This is the fifth most common surname in Brazil and has a Spanish version, Rodríguez.

6. Ferreira

Origin: Portuguese
Popularity: Over 2.3 million Brazilians

This is the third most common surname in Portugal and its origins indicate that it is toponymic, or in other words, that it denotes a region. Ferreira means “the one that comes from the land rich in iron”, “blacksmith”, or “one who works with iron”.

Interestingly, in its most diverse variations, it ends up being one of the most common surnames in the world. An example is the English surname Smith, which has the same meaning as Ferreira and is the most popular in the United States.

7. Alves

Origin: Portuguese, Nordic
Popularity: Over 2.2 million Brazilians

Alves is a variation of the name Álvares, which is a patronymic surname of Portuguese origin that means “son of Álvaro”. Álvaro, in turn, is a name of Nordic origin that means “elves army” or “elven warrior”. The meaning of Alves can, therefore, be “son of the elf warrior”. Pretty cool, huh?

8. Pereira

Origin: Portuguese
Popularity: Over 2.2 million Brazilians

The origin of the popular Brazilian surname Pereira is Portuguese and is linked to a place or land. It means “tree that produces pears” and many Brazilian scholars trace the surname back to a property in Vila Nova de Famalicão, in northern Portugal, where people from that region adopted this surname long ago.

9. Lima

Origin: Latin, Celtic, Portuguese
Popularity: Over 2 million Brazilians

Lima is another surname related to a region, which means “the one who belongs to the River Limia” or “the one who crossed the river of oblivion”. The Lima river is born in Spain and passes through Portugal to finally flow out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Families who lived in the vicinity of this river ended up associating it with their names and from that came the surname Lima.

So, that was it for our post on why Brazilian names are so long! I hope we were able to clarify a few questions and give you some little-known facts about Brazilian names, surnames and nicknames!

While you are here, I think we might interest you with these:

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Brazilian Art: Native, Colonial, Modern, and More – If you want to know more about the evolution of the main artistic movements in Brazil, we got just the post for you! Click here and let’s get artsy!

Brazilian Internet Laughter: Why And How It Is Used – Ever seen a Brazilian laughing like “kkkk” on the internet and has absolutely no idea why they do that? We got that answer for you and much more right here!

Related Questions

Why do Brazilian soccer players have one name?

There are no rules in regards to how soccer players call themselves or are given nicknames. Indeed there are notable examples of famous Brazilian soccer players with only one name, like Ronaldinho, Neymar, Zico, Garrincha, Romário, Rivaldo, and Pelé; but there is no real reason to why this is.

How Did Brazil Got Its Name?

After Brazil was invaded and colonized by Portugal in the 1500s, the Portuguese discovered that Brazil’s flora was very rich with a unique type of wood imported from India called “Paubrasília”, which was used to extract a dark red dye that was commonly used in Europe to color fabrics and cloth.

Soon after, they started referring to the country as “Land of the Brasil” and it eventually stuck, originating the name we know today.

Cover Photo: Official Brazilian Birth Certificate – Credit: Associação de Notários do Brasil

Bruno Reguffe

What's up, everyone! I'm Bruno, and I'm a nutritionist living in Rio de Janeiro. I've been a longtime friend of Ana's, and I'm excited to help her expand on all things Brazilian with y'all, as well as sharing some of our culture and a few personal experiences while living in the country!

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