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Updated March 6, 2024

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Naming conventions in Portugal are unique and quite different from the standard American three-name system: first, middle, and last name. As a result, it is not unheard of in Portugal to have four, five, or possibly even six names! 

Despite all the names a Portuguese person may have, there are only two categories first names (nomes próprios) and last names (apellidos). So, for example, the name João Luis Ferreira da Silva would be broken down as first name João Luis and last name Ferreira da Silva.

By law, a Portuguese person can only have a maximum of six names, two first names and four last names. This is because last names are taken from both sides of the family, and it is common for women to retain their maiden name after marriage. 

Even when someone takes their spouse's name, they don’t drop theirs; instead, they simply tack it on to the end. About 4% of married Portuguese men have taken on their wife’s name since it became legal in the 1970s.

In Portugal, baby names are regulated by law, and there is an approved list of names you can use. However, parents are not allowed to give their baby a name from the opposite gender. In addition, some names are banned to prevent a child from receiving an abusive or offensive name. 

Portuguese surnames come from various languages but have a strong Spanish influence. Portuguese last names are also commonly found in the United States, Brazil, and other parts of Europe and South America.

Like many cultures, surnames were influenced by occupations, a person’s father’s first name, and geographical places or structures.

Common Portuguese Last Names

Portuguese last names carry a rich tapestry of history, culture, and identity, often reflecting the country's exploration, maritime prowess, and deeply ingrained family values.

  1. Carvalho - Portuguese. It means "oak."
  2. Costa - Italian/Spanish. "From the coast.
  3. Cruz - Latin. Christian name, "from the cross."
  4. De Sousa/D’Sousa - Portuguese. Refers to a person from locales named Sousa.
  5. Gomes -Galician. This surname means "man."
  6. Martins - Latin. "Of Mars."
  7. Oliveira - Portuguese. "Of the olive tree."
  8. Ribeiro - Galician. "Small creek."
  9. Silva  - Latin. It means "forest or woodland."
  10. Souza - Portuguese. A person from Sousa.

Patronymic Portuguese Last Names

Camara de Lobos in Portugal

Patronymic last names are derived from the given name of an ancestor, often the father, signifying lineage and familial connection. This practice, common in Portuguese-speaking cultures, involves utilizing a portion of the father's first name as a surname for the child.

  1. Alves - Portuguese. "Son of Alvaro."
  2. Esteves - Portuguese. "Son of Steve."
  3. Fernandez - Spanish. "Son of Fernando." Alternate spelling Fernandes. 
  4. Gonçalves - Portuguese. "Son of Gonçalo."
  5. Henriques - Portuguese. "Son of Henrique." A variation of the English name Henry.
  6. Lopes - Portuguese. "Son of Lopo."
  7. Marques - Portuguese. "Son of Marcos."
  8. Martins - Portuguese. "Son of Martim."
  9. Mendes - Portuguese. "Son of Meno."
  10. Rodrigues - Spanish. It is the Portuguese version of Rodrigues, "son of Rodrigo."

Personality and Occupational Portuguese Last Names

Personality-based surnames might hint at the admired traits of an ancestor. Occupational last names tell the stories of family professions passed down through generations.

  1. Afonso - Portuguese/Old German. "Noble and ready."
  2. Barreto - "Hatmaker."
  3. Carreira - "Carter."
  4. Coelho - The word for "rabbits" or "bunnies." Possibly the name used for a hunter.
  5. Da Luz - "Lady of the night."
  6. Dos Santos - A religious name for people who become baptized.
  7. Ferreira - From the Portuguese word for "ironmonger or blacksmith", symbolizing strength and resilience.
  8. Madeira - Portuguese. "Carpenter."
  9. Oliveira - Portuguese for "olive tree", often representing peace or victory.
  10. Pedro - A religious name that stems from Latin for Peter; "the rock."
  11. Pinto - Portuguese for "dark complexion."
  12. Ramos - Hebrew/Spanish/Portuguese. Its exact origins are unknown; however, it is believed to be a nickname stemming from "Ram" and means "lusty man."
  13. Santos - Spanish. A religious name that means "saint" or "holy."
  14. Tomas - A Portuguese version of Thomas that means "twin."
  15. Vara - A name initially used as a nickname that means "thin as a stick."

Topographic and Regional Portuguese Last Names

Topographic and regional surnames often reveal the geographic origins or the landscape features characteristic of the ancestors' dwelling places.

  1. Abreu - Portuguese. A common last name of the Sephardic Jewish community.
  2. Almeida - Arabic. "The City."
  3. Araujo - A region of Galacia.
  4. Barbosa - Portuguese. "A place full of green plants." Alternative spelling Barboza.
  5. Braga - A city in northern Portugal.
  6. Borges - A name that refers to someone who was from Bourges, France.
  7. Cabral - Refers to a goat farmer. From the Latin word Capra for "goat." 
  8. Cardoso - Spanish. The name of a Spanish noble family given lands in Portugal. 
  9. Castro - Latin. "Castle or fortification."
  10. Da Silva - Portuguese last name for someone who lives by the woods.
  11. Espindola - A name for people who came from Genoa, Italy.
  12. Fonseca - Portuguese. "Dried well." Referred to feudal lands whose well dried up every spring/summer. 
  13. Mata - The Portuguese word for "woods."
  14. Noronha - Refers to someone from Gandra, Spain.
  15. Pacheco - Portuguese. "Noble one" or someone from France.
  16. Pereira - Portuguese. A common last name of the Sephardic Jewish community. It means "pear tree."
  17. Rios - Spanish/Portuguese. From the Rio Tinto River.
  18. Rocha - Portuguese. "Rock or boulder."
  19. Sousa - Derived from the Latin word Saxa meaning "stones." It refers to someone who lives near a rocky terrain or river.
  20. Teixeira - A person who lives near yew trees.

What Is a Common Portuguese Last Name?

A common Portuguese last name is Silva, which means "woods" or "forest". This surname is derived from the Latin word silva, meaning "wood" or "forest". It is a toponymic surname, indicating that the original bearer lived near or in a forest. The Silva surname can be traced back to the medieval period and has been widely used by families in Portugal and other Portuguese-speaking countries.

Why Do Portuguese Have 2 Last Names?

Portuguese people often have two last names, known as a "double surname" or "compound surname". This is because traditional Portuguese naming customs follow the pattern of patrilineal descent, meaning that both the father's and mother's surnames are passed down to their children. The first surname is usually the father's and the second is usually the mother's. 

L. Elizabeth Forry

About L. Elizabeth Forry

L. Elizabeth Forry is an Early Childhood Educator with 15 years of classroom… Read more

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