(This question is primarily about Brazil.)

The "old" Brazilian alphabet (i.e. between the 1943 and 1990 spelling reforms) didn't contain the letters K, W, Y.

I've been told that (first) names containing these letters (like Wellington/Welinton, Newton, Sydney, Kennedy) used to indicate low social class. (Maybe, a bit like Severino is associated with being a farmer from the North East.)

How did last names of historical figures come to be used as first names in Brazil? Are these names still associated to names for people from a low social class?

  • 2
    Washigton Luís was the president of Brazil from 1926 to 1930. So, the USA is not the sole country that once had a president called Washington. :D – Victor Stafusa Jul 15 '15 at 19:57
  • But (I presume) the sole country with a president with first name Washington. – Earthliŋ Jul 15 '15 at 19:58

The names of historical figures used to trend mostly via TV news and Hollywood movies. Thus, because the TV was the main opinion maker, and the low social class were the targeted audience, it was from TV they took their kids names from. But don't think middle and upper class didn't do that too. They did.

Nowadays people still do that, but not only from foreign sources (Ex. From our TV Soap Operas). Fun fact: Some people mix the father's and mother's names to form their children name.

Upper classes usually had the costume of naming their offspring after their ancestors, or at least use a name from the Portuguese and Spanish heritage. Also, they had the means to access other medias from where to get name ideas like books, magazines, travelling, etc.

  • As far as mixing names goes, I once saw a name (on a board of medical school graduates) with first name Carolga, presumably a mix of her grandmothers' names Carol and Olga...? – Earthliŋ Jul 15 '15 at 21:00

I believe that this is a very sensitive matter and anyone addressing this question should be extremely careful. Classifying people only from their names is risky and may be considered just plain prejudice.

Naming children is affected by many, many aspects, including culture, parents history, preference, beliefs. But since we were not present in every specific case, we cannot tell exactly why a given name was chosen in each case.

So, can you tell the person class from their name? I would say you can't and you probably shouldn't try to.


Weliton, Welinton etc instead of Wellington are names associated with low cultural level. However foreign names with Wellington, Newton, Luca, Juan, Jean, Igor, Giovnni etc are desirable in a country with 202 million inhabitants and common in a country made up of immigrants (Even a city founded by Southerners defeated the American Civil War)


Names with the "foreign" letters k, w, and y (and foreign names in general) aren't necessarily associated with lower social or cultural level. Names associated with popular culture - which due to the sheer power of the American cultural industry, tend to be names in English - may be. A popular example is Suelen/Suellen/Suelem, from a popular American soap opera. Mispelled foreign names, or Portuguese names misspelled by the introduction of k, w, y, or double letters, even more. Examples: Maicosuel (Maxwell), Maicon (Michael), Néviton (Newton), Marcone (Marconi), Volter (Voltaire), Mozer (Mozart) for mispelled foreign names; for mispelled Portuguese names, famously, a football player who goes by the name Fellype. But archaisms should not be counted as mispellings - Philippe for Filipe, or Philomena for Filomena are certainly not an index of lower cultural levels.

But even in the most egregious cases, it is always possible that the "low cultural level" is that of the registar employee, not of the parents of the newborn.

Last names of historical figures come to be used as first names in Brazil as hommage to those historical figures. Thus Mozart, Newton, Nélson, Napoleão, Voltaire, Washington, Jefferson, Lenine, Lincoln, Franklin - and several of their mispellings - became popular Brazilian first names.

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