Choosing a baby name is hard, but choosing to give your baby a Portuguese name will make your name a lot easier. Why? Because there are only so many Portuguese names to choose from.
If you’ve spent any amount of time in Portugal, you’ll notice names like João, Maria, Tiago, and Ana popping up continuously. These aren’t just the most popular names in Portugal, but the most popular names from an exhaustive list that you can choose from.
That’s right: in Portugal, there’s a list of names that are allowed and names that are not allowed. The idea of a list of approved names seems very unusual in the 21st Century, but it’s not as unpopular as you might imagine in Portugal.
The list consists of very Portuguese-sounding names as this preserves Portuguese culture. It also prevents parents from calling their children names like Peaches, Apple, North West, Moon Unit, Bear, or Facebook. Yes, those are all names that people (well, mainly celebrities) have given their children recently.
- It’s a non-Portuguese name: No calling your kid James. He needs a good Portuguese name like João or Rui. Note: Jamie and Jimmy are also not allowed obviously.
- It isn’t the Portuguese spelling of a name*: You can’t call your boy Thomas, Thomás, Thomaz, or Thomáz, for example. You can only call him Tomás.
- It’s a shortened version of the name: Alexandre is allowed, but Alex isn’t.
- It isn’t gender-specific: Ashley, for example, is banned, although it might have gotten banned for being too foreign as well.
- It’s a surname: A first name should be a first name, and there should be no confusion about it.
- It’s a silly name: The government actually lists names that are banned and this includes Thor and Nirvana.
* These rules obviously only apply to babies born in Portugal to Portuguese parents. A lot of Portuguese Americans, for example, give their child a Portuguese name but with a more anglicised spelling e.g. Tomás becomes Thomas. This is to make it easier for other Americans to pronounce and spell while still holding onto that Portuguese connection.
Now let’s get onto the names you are allowed to call your child.
Popular Portuguese names
The following are some of the most popular names in Portugal for both boys and girls.
Portuguese names for boys
- Santiago: Santiago is a name of Spanish and Portuguese origin meaning “Saint James.”
- Francisco: Francisco is a Portuguese and Spanish name derived from the Latin “Franciscus,” meaning “Frenchman” or “free one.”
- João: João is the Portuguese form of John, meaning “God is gracious.”
- Afonso: Afonso is a Portuguese name of Germanic origin, meaning “noble and ready/prompt.”
- Rodrigo: Rodrigo is a name of Spanish and Portuguese origin, meaning “famous ruler.”
- Martim: Martim is the Portuguese form of Martin, derived from Mars, the Roman god of war, meaning “warlike.”
- Tomás: Tomás is the Portuguese and Spanish form of Thomas, meaning “twin.”
- Duarte: Duarte is a Portuguese name of English origin, a version of Edward, meaning “wealthy guardian.”
- Miguel: Miguel is the Portuguese and Spanish form of Michael, meaning “who is like God?”
- Gabriel: Gabriel is a name of Hebrew origin, meaning “God is my strength.”
- Lourenço: Lourenço is the Portuguese form of Lawrence, meaning “from Laurentum” or “crowned with laurel.”
- Gonçalo: Gonçalo is a Portuguese name possibly meaning “battle genius” or “war safe.”
- Dinis: Dinis is the medieval Portuguese form of Dionysius, meaning “follower of Dionysus,” the Greek god of wine.
- Guilherme: Guilherme is the Portuguese form of William, meaning “with gilded helmet” or “protection.”
- Pedro: Pedro is the Spanish and Portuguese form of Peter, meaning “rock” or “stone.”
- Salvador: Salvador is a name of Spanish and Portuguese origin, meaning “savior.”
- Rafael: Rafael is the Portuguese and Spanish form of Raphael, meaning “God has healed.”
- Lucas: Lucas is the Portuguese form of Luke, meaning “from Lucania.”
- Tiago: Tiago is a Portuguese name derived from Santiago, meaning “Saint James.”
- Gustavo: Gustavo is a name of Portuguese and Spanish origin, possibly meaning “staff of the Goths.”
Portuguese names for girls
- Maria: Maria is the Portuguese form of Mary, which is of Hebrew origin meaning “beloved” or “rebellious.”
- Leonor: Leonor is the Portuguese and Spanish form of Eleanor, likely meaning “God is my light” or “the other Aenor.”
- Matilde: Matilde is a name of Germanic origin, meaning “mighty in battle.”
- Beatriz: Beatriz is the Portuguese and Spanish form of Beatrice, meaning “she who brings happiness; blessed.”
- Carolina: Carolina is the feminine form of Carlos, meaning “free man” or “strong.”
- Mariana: Mariana combines Maria (meaning “beloved” or “rebellious”) and Ana (meaning “grace”), often interpreted as “graceful Mary.”
- Ana: Ana is the Portuguese form of Anna, derived from the Hebrew name Hannah, meaning “grace” or “favor.”
- Sofia: Sofia is the Portuguese form of Sophia, meaning “wisdom.”
- Francisca: Francisca is the feminine form of Francisco, meaning “free one” or “from France.”
- Inês: Inês is the Portuguese form of Agnes, meaning “chaste” or “holy.”
- Margarida: Margarida is the Portuguese form of Margaret, meaning “pearl.”
- Clara: Clara means “clear,” “bright,” or “famous” in Portuguese.
- Lara: Lara is a name of Latin origin, meaning “cheerful” or “famous.”
- Alice: Alice is of Germanic origin, meaning “noble” or “of the nobility.”
- Laura: Laura is derived from the Latin “laurus,” meaning “laurel plant,” which is a symbol of honor and victory.
- Benedita: Benedita is the feminine form of Benedito, the Portuguese form of Benedict, meaning “blessed.”
- Diana: Diana is of Indo-European origin, meaning “divine” or “heavenly.”
- Madalena: Madalena is the Portuguese form of Magdalene, meaning “from Magdala.”
- Joana: Joana is the Portuguese form of Joanna, meaning “God is gracious.”
- Camila: Camila is the Portuguese and Spanish form of Camilla, meaning “attendant” or “ceremonial attendant” for a religious service.
The most interesting banned names
The list of names that are banned runs for around 80 pages. Most of the names are spelling variations on traditional Portuguese names, or very foreign names, but there are a few gems in there.
Portugal isn’t the only country that has a list of banned names. Other countries have names that aren’t allowed as well. Alice, Linda, Elaine, and Lauren are not allowed in Saudi Arabia, for example, along with the name Prince (in case people get confused who’s royalty and who’s not).
New Zealand, Denmark, Malaysia, Mexico, Germany, and France also have list of names that aren’t allowed, but most of these are just really silly names like LOL and Facebook.
How many names do you want?
In the English-speaking world, most people have 3 different names: their first name, their middle name, and their surname e.g. John David Smith. Some people have four names, and you can technically have more, but the majority of people just have 3.
In Portugal, things are slightly different. Most people have 1-2 first names, and then usually two surnames (the mother’s and the father’s). You can actually take 2 surnames from each parent, and have 2 first names, but that’s about the limit on how many names you can have.
Most people reading this article will only be looking to pick out first names, of course, in which case you’ll normally be looking at a maximum of two.
Because there are so many Marias, many parents give their children two first names e.g. Maria Inês. That way they can differentiate themselves from all the other Marias in their class. Having two first names also isn’t too unusual in the English-speaking world, and it’s often done with people that are called Mary e.g. Mary Ann, Mary Jane, etc.
João, similarly, is a very Portuguese boy’s name. Popular variations include João Carlos, João Filipe, and João Luís.
Do I have to pick a Portuguese name?
Children born to foreign parents, or even one foreign parent, are exempt from having to pick a name from the list. If you want to call your child David, that’s fine, although in the past you have needed to get special permission from your embassy to do this.
If you’re planning to raise your child in Portugal, it is worth considering a Portuguese name – or at least a name that would be recognised in both Portugal and the English-speaking world. David, for example, is an option.
At the very least, you should consider giving your child a name that Portuguese people can easily pronounce. It’s also probably a good idea to stay away from names like Viking.
What happens when someone gets married?
Although the state-controlled Portuguese approach to names can seem rigid and strange, it’s surprisingly non-sexist.
In the English-speaking world, the woman takes the man’s surname. In Portugal, that’s a choice and the majority of people choose not to do it.
Children also have their father’s and mother’s surname rather than just the father’s (as is normally the case for married couples) or mother’s (for unmarried couples).