Portuguese Names from the 16th Century: Letters from the Court of King John III
Articles > Names

Portuguese Names from the 16th Century

Letters from the Court of King John III

by Juliana de Luna (Julia Smith, [email protected])
June 1999

There is relatively little information available in English about Portuguese names in period. This document should help fill the gap by making available around 400 men's names and a handful of women's names from a collection of letters written by King João III (who reigned 1521-1557). Although these letters cover much of the reign of João III, they do so spottily. Some years (1533 for example) are well represented by letters, while other years (including all years between 1542 and 1548) are not represented at all. Nonetheless the sample of letters is large enough to be of interest both to scholars and to students of naming practice.

While there is some bias in these documents toward individuals who are higher ranking than the social level the SCA is trying to reconstruct, many of the people mentioned are sailors and merchants. Therefore, many of the names represent the gentry, which is the sort of people that interest us.

Many individuals were mentioned multiple times; I have only recorded each once. However, I assume that people with different bynames (when those differences are not simple spelling changes) were distinct individuals (i.e. that <Alvaro Mendez> is not the same individual as <Alvaro Mendez de Vasconcellos>) unless the text of the letter makes it clear that they were the same person. Likewise, if the same name is mentioned after a gap of 5 years or more, I have assumed that they are different people, unless textual evidence suggests that they are the same individual.

Because individuals may be mentioned many times using several different spellings, I have made no attempt to quantify the occurrence of different spellings of names. Instead I simply list the variations in spelling for each name in a rough order from most frequent to least frequent.

Women's names were for the most part absent from these letters. For example, neither João's wife Catalina, nor his stepmother, Leonor, is mentioned by name, but only by title. (Both of these are modern spellings; they would probably have been <Catalina> and <Lionor> respectively.)

Reflecting the close relationship between Portugal and Spain, Portuguese names in the sixteenth century were quite similar to Spanish names, though distinctly Portuguese forms were evident. Portuguese names were roughly similar in complexity to Spanish names at the same time: no one mentioned here had a second given (middle) name, and only 15% have a surname with two elements.

A tilde (~) marks a nasalized vowel. Certain vowels (e, i, y) are marked with tildes in this data, though they are not used in modern Portuguese; these vowels are followed by tildes in the data. In such names as <Fernam>/<Fernão>, <-am>, <-ã>, and <-ão> are all used interchangeably. The pronunciation marked by <-ão> (similar to the modern Portuguese form, e.g. <São Paulo>, which is pronounced rather like <ow> in English). It is not clear whether the spelling ending in <-am> reflects an alternate pronunciation for the name, or whether it is simply an archaic spelling, not yet replaced by a form that more accurately reflects the 16th century pronunciation.

Men's Names

Given Names

Men's given names were fairly diverse, compared to other countries at the same time. The 424 men mentioned in these letters shared over 50 names (48 occur at least twice). The five most common names account for 36% of individuals, with the top 10 names accounting for 54% of individuals.

The top men's names are (in order of frequency):

1. Joam  44 10%
     also Joham, João, Johão, Jõ, Ioham
2. Antonio  33 8%
     also Amtonio, Amtonyo, Anthonio, Antonyo
3. Francisco 30 7%
     also Françisco, Françisquo, Francisquo
4. Pero  23 5%
     also Pedro, Pere, Pedre    
5. Diogo 21 5%
     also Dioguo, Diego, Dieguo, Dyogo
5. Jorge 21 5%
     also Jhorge
7. Manuel 16 4%
    also Manoel, Manoell, Manuell
8. Fernam 13 3%
     also Fernã, Fernão, Fermão
8. Symao 13 3%
     also Simão, Symaão, Symãoo, Syman
8. Affonso 13 3%
     also Afonso, Afomso, Affomso
11. Nuno 12 3%
12. Duarte 9 2%
12. Luis 9 2%
     also Lluis, Luys
14. Vicente 8 2%
     also Viçente, Vicemte, Vincente, Vice~te
14. Martim 8 2%
     also Marti~, Martym, Martin, Martinho, Martino, Marty~, Martynho
14. Ruy 8 2%
     also Rui
14. Rodrigo 8 2%
18. Alvaro 7 2%
     also Allvaro
18. Amrrique  7 2%
     also Anrrique
18. Gonçalvo 7 2%
     also Gonçalvo 
21. Gaspar 6 1%
     also Guaspar
22. Balltesar 5 1%
     also Baltasar, Baltesar, Balltesar
22. Lopo 5 1%
     also Llopo, Lope
24. Amdre 4 1%
     also Andre, Andres
24. Bernaldo  4 1%
     also Bernalldo, Bernalldim
24. Paullo 4 1%
     also Paull, Pallos, Palos, Pellas, Pelas

The following names were borne by three individuals: Bellchior (also Belchior, Belchyor); Christovam (Christovão, Christão); Cosme (also Cossme); Eytor; Fernando; Garcia; Tome (also Thome, Tomaas, Tomee)

The following names were borne by two individuals: Ayres (Aires); Bastiam; Bertollameu (Bertolameu); Denis (Denys); Domingos (Domi~gos); Estevam (Estavã); Gomez; Goterre (Gotera); Inacio; Leonel (Leon); Llucas (Lucas, Luquas); Miguel; Nicollao (Nicolaao, Nycolaa, Nicolao, Nicalao, Niolaao); Tristam (Tristão); Vasco


Structurally, Portuguese surnames were similar to Spanish surnames at the same time. Textual evidence suggests that these names were mostly inherited surnames, rather than a descriptive particular to an individual. Thus, the son of <Fernam Allvarez> would be known as <Joham Allvarez> (an inherited surname), rather than <Joham Fenandez> (a true patronymic).

Of the 424 men, 6% (25) were mentioned without a surname. A few of them were described in the text (not as part of their names) in terms of their relationship to another person (e.g., "Afonso who is the brother of Joham de Castro"). However, an overwhelming majority (79%) of the people mentioned had a single element surname. Of these names, there were more locative surnames (31%) than any other type, though patronymic surnames were also frequently found. A significant minority of individuals mentioned (15%) had a two element surname, mostly one of the non-locative elements also found in single element surnames (either a patronymic or one of the "other" unidentified elements) followed by a locative element.

Common patronymic surnames include:

Afonso Allvarez Amrrique Annes Fernandez
Giraldo Gil Gomez Gonçallves Jorge
Lopez Lourenço Martinez Mendez Nunez
Paes (from Pelayo) Perez Rodrigo Suarez Vaaz (from Vasco)

Common locative surnames include:

d'Alboquerque d'Allmeida d'Atayde da Cunha da Costa
da Silva de Barros de Briho de Castro de Crasto
de lima de Loronha de Mello de Menesses de Mota
de Paiva de Sousa

Other common surnames include:

Botelho Brandam Carneiro Caro Coelho
Correa Drago Ferreira Fogaça Pinto

Frequency of surnames for Portuguese men

No Surname
Single element surname
  Locative: <de (placename)>
  Patronymic ending in <-ez>
  Uninflected patronymic
  Other one element
Two element surname
  Patronym in <ez> +locative
  Uninflected patronymic + locative
  Other two element

A complete list of all men's names as they appear in the letters is also available.

Women's Names

Only a few women's names can be identified in this text. All the names are also well documented as Spanish names. However, this list is significantly different than the list of names of Portuguese women from the 15th century. Presumably this is a factor of the small sample size from the two lists, since names from each list are attested throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance in Spain.

Women's surnames were somewhat less complex than men's bynames. One woman had no surname mentioned, because royalty are generally not given surnames in Portuguese sources. The rest had single element surnames. None had a two-element byname. One woman used a simple locative surname while her brother used a two-element surname containing both a patronymic and locative element.

All women's names from the letters

1524 Violamte de Xamora (Violante)
1533 Guymar Diaz
1535 Isabel Daguiar
1536 Guiomar de Menesses
1537 Violãte Pereyra (sister of Nuno Vaaz Pereyra)
1537 Maria (sister of King João)
1537 Beatriz da Sylva (Breatiz)


Ford, J.D.M. (editor)
1931 Letters of John III, King of Portugal, 1521-1557 (Portuguese with English introduction). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.