Naming Practices of the Azores

by Kathy Cardoza and Cheri Mello 

When you are just starting out with Azorean genealogy, the issues and questions raised about naming practices can be confusing and even overwhelming. This article is not intended to be an in-depth explanation of every facet of naming traditions, but rather its purpose is to help explain how our Azorean ancestors were named and give new researchers the information they need to help them get started on their research journey. This article will cover: 

Method of choosing surnames 

Female surnames and/or religious names

Variant spellings

Use of da, de, do, das, dos, and d' 

Miscellaneous "rules", often broken rules 

First, you should know that there are no hard and fast rules about naming. One of the most confusing things to new researchers is that surnames are not followed down through the family as you might expect, or back in time either. In other words, just because a father has the surname of Costa, for instance, does not mean that his children will carry that surname. It also does not mean that HIS father, etc. going back in time, will have the surname of Costa. So, you cannot follow your ancestor back in time by simply finding others with that surname. Also, you cannot assume that a person currently living in the Azores with your surname is necessarily related to you for the very same reason.

When a child is born in the Azores, he or she is given a first name and that is what you will see in their baptismal record. So, at least in the written records, that child does not have a surname. He is known only, for example, as José, son of António Vieira da Costa. José has no surname and will not be known in written records with a surname until he reaches adulthood and/or becomes married. By the time a male gets married, he is known by a surname and it will show in the written records.

So, what surname will the José from my above example take as his own? The answer is ..... just about any surname he wants! He may choose the surname of his father, his mother, any of his grandparents, perhaps his godparents, or any other surname he wants to use. It could be from a cousin or a neighbor down the road that he admires. To illustrate this practice, in my own family tree, I have an ancestor with six sons and they all chose different surnames, different from each other and from those of their parents and grandparents! However, the vast majority of the time our ancestors will pick the surname of one of the parents or grandparents.

So, now you wonder, how will I know if the José from the baptismal record I am looking at, is MY José? The answer is that you MUST know the parents' names in order to find a child in the baptismal records. As you can see, without knowing the parent's names, you would have no idea which José from the records is your ancestor!

The naming of females in the Azores starts out the same as it does for males. That is, females are also just recorded in their baptismal record with a given or first name. Women's naming patterns changed depending on the time period. From about the mid-1800s to approximately 1911, women's names consisted of two given names, or what might be thought of as a first and middle (often religious) name. María de Jesus does not have the surname Jesus. She is using a religious name and Jesus should never be considered her surname. Theresa Josefa, Francisca Antónia are first and middle names and not surnames.

From approximately the mid-1800s going back in time, women will appear more often with the traditional type surnames: Glória Correia or Constancia Pimentel are women with the surnames of Correia and Pimentel. The naming tradition of the surname is the same as it is for men: It can come from any relative, godparent, or other admired person or neighbor, with the vast majority of surnames coming from the parents and grandparents sides of the family.

You may encounter variant spellings of both given and surnames, especially the farther back in the records that you research. The older the records are, the more you might notice other spelling variations. In my own research, I have seen Sylveria for Silveira, Souza for Sousa, Gracia for Garcia, and Roza for Rosa. Jozé and José are also the same name. So, if you encounter any of these variations in your research, but the other facts add up to be your family, you can feel confident that you have the correct person just showing up with a variant spelling. Also, keep in mind that most of our immigrant ancestors were illiterate and could not spell. The name could be spelled phonetically after immigration, Anglicized, has a similar sounding surname substituted, or some were translated. Keep an open mind when dealing with spelling variations.

The last part of our naming traditions to be explained here is the use of words like da, de, do, das, dos, and d' that you will often find in the records just before a surname. These words are prepositions and basically they all mean "of". They are either masculine or feminine, and singular or plural and are used depending on the surname. The d' is more of a contraction for de, do, and da. For instance surnames of Rosa or Terra would be written as da Rosa and da Terra in the records. The preposition "do" is also used but more often you will see "de" before most other surnames. "Das" and "dos" are feminine and masculine plurals, respectively and would be used with names such as das Neves or dos Anjos.

Be aware that, as you do your research, you will see these prepositions used in one record for an individual, but they won't appear in the next record you find for that person. They are not all that important in the names, and depending on the time period and the priest writing the record, may or may not be included at all. As you record your ancestors in a genealogy program, you may choose to include these prepositions or leave them out. It is a personal preference and either way is considered to be correct.

There are other naming "rules" I could mention here. But, you should know that these so called "rules" were broken more often than not. So, they really are not rules at all, are they? I am giving them here, just for your information and as possible guidelines for you. They should be considered as possibilities only in your own research and NOT as strict guidelines: (Remember the broken rules!)

  • The first son was often named Manuel
  • The first daughter was often named María 
  • The first son sometimes takes his father's surname 
  • All subsequent children take their mother's surname or a combination of mother's and father's 
  • In a family there can be multiple Marías. However, if you encounter multiple Manuels, Josés, Franciscos, or Rosas, it means the first one has died. 

In summary, you could say that there ARE rules and traditions used in the naming of our Azorean ancestors. Some, like the practice of only being recorded with a given name but no surname at baptism, are fast and hard rules. Just about everything else, though, as far as naming practices, follows some basic rules or ways of doing things. But, those rules are so often broken that you may not consider them to be rules at all! Hopefully, with this information, you are now armed with some knowledge and understanding of the process that will make your research less frustrating and more rewarding. 

© Kathy Andrade Cardoza 2022