Let's say a person's name consists of 3 words (e.g., Jhonatan Christian Maraschin). Is the middle word (e.g., Christian) second given name (Jhonatan Christian // Maraschin) or first surname (Jhonatan // Christian Maraschin)? If it can be both, how can I tell? Or is it just a "middle name" like in English?

  • You're asking about Portuguese names, right? Not foreigner names?
    – ANeves
    Feb 1 '18 at 19:50
  • Portuguese and Spanish and French do have have middle names as in English names and how it is understood in English. That should, however, not be confused with double first names, which is the same thing in Englsh. Ann Marie=can be in Portuguese, Ana Maria. Also, as pointed out below, a given name can contain de, and there can be two last names, which does not exist in English either.
    – Lambie
    Feb 5 '18 at 19:09

In Brazil it can be either.

It's not unusual for parents to chose only one surname for their child, usually the father's surname. How can you tell, then, if a middle word is part of one's surname? You can't, unless you know most given names and most surnames here. Even so, sometimes you'll find a surname that looks like a given name, and vice-versa.

Examples where the second name is likely to be part of the first name:

  • Maria da Luz Ferreira
  • Fernando Antonio da Silva Santos
  • José Antonio de Castro
  • Ana Carolina de Assis

Examples where the second name is likely to be a surname:

  • Roberto Soares de Souza
  • Alexandre Martins do Couto
  • Teresa Freitas da Silveira
  • Natália Siqueira Ribeiro

Given names that look like surnames:

  • Santiago Pereira de Santana
  • Miranda de Oliveira Guimarães
  • Valentim José de Almeida

Surnames that look like a first name:

  • Roberta Pedro Guimarães
  • Antonio Rosa da Silva
  • Renato da Conceição Menezes
  • Teresa de Fátima Gabriel
  • Duarte and Simão are two other names that can be used both as surname and as given name.
    – ANeves
    Feb 2 '18 at 19:33
  • Also Miguel, Gabriel, and Rafael... whaaat!
    – ANeves
    Feb 2 '18 at 19:39
  • There is no middle name in Portuguese as that term is understood in English. There are given names that contain de, and double given names, like in English, and there are last names that contain de, and there are double last names, which also does not exist in English. I'm just worried about nomenclature here.
    – Lambie
    Feb 5 '18 at 19:12
  • @Lambie Yes, you're right. But how would you phrase my sentence to convey what I meant it to? "the name in the middle"? "the second name"?
    – Centaurus
    Feb 5 '18 at 20:44
  • @Centaurus This is all making my headspin...that said, perhaps: a double first name: Ana Maria or Anne Marie. And: a double last name or two-name last name. And: a first name with de and a last name with de. Does that work for you? Credo.....estou ficando bem louca com isso tudo.
    – Lambie
    Feb 5 '18 at 20:50

It can be both. You generally can tell because most given names and surnames are distinct. Sometimes the two groups of names are separated by de or dos (though de can also be used to unite two words of a name consisting of several words, such as Maria da Piedade). In Portugal, by far the most common is to give babies two first names and two surnames, though it can be as low as one surname as high as four. Some people are also given only one first name. When there are two surnames, the last name is usually the father's. Upon marriage, many women — but not as many as in the past — append the husband's last surname, so they get three surnames.

  • Artefacto, can I get an example of a person with a single surname? I don't remember ever having seen that in a Portuguese name. Single-parent children, maybe?...
    – ANeves
    Feb 1 '18 at 19:48
  • @ANeves I met someone in college with only two names, though I don't know if he was a single-parent child.
    – Artefacto
    Feb 1 '18 at 20:22
  • 1
    There are quite a few people with only one surname in Brazil. Usually it's the father's surname. You can chose to pass only the father's surname to your child. Nothing wrong or unusual about that.
    – Centaurus
    Feb 1 '18 at 22:00
  • There are some families where marriages were among cousins (very, very common in Brazil), so both had the same surname, their children to not have two equal surname had just one. Those parents chose only one firstname, so heir children have only 2 words in their names.
    – Luciano
    Feb 2 '18 at 12:31
  • That's not a reality I know in Portugal... it might exist though. I added an answer highlighting what I know.
    – ANeves
    Feb 2 '18 at 19:48

In Portugal, the middle word in a name with 3 words will be a first surname.

Usually, people get one or two first names and then two or four family names.
They get family name from the mother's side, and family name from the father's side.

Because names are long, usually a short form is adopted with one of the first names and one of the family names:

  • Antero (Tarquínio) de Quental;
  • Fernando (António Nogueira) Pessoa;
  • António (Luís Santos da) Costa;
  • Paulo (Sacadura Cabral) Portas.

Note that the last name is the one usually picked.
This is because the father's family name comes after the mother's family name.
In contrast, in Spain the first family name is usually picked, and the father's family name comes before the mother's family name:

  • Miguel de Cervantes (Saavedra);
  • Arturo Pérez-Reverte (Gutiérrez);
  • Miguel de Unamuno (y Jugo);
  • Rosa Montero (Gayo);
  • Elvira Navarro (Ponferrada).


When someone had no known father, they would get their mother's family name only:

  • [Flor Bela d'Alma] [da Conceição] was the daughter of Antónia da Conceição Lobo and João Maria Espanca; she got her mother's maternal family name only, and a rather long given name. (She would posthumously become Florbela Espanca, when her father assumed paternity.)

This is not common now.
In 2016, 1% (837 of 87 thousand) of the children born were registered as having no father.

But since 1977 this is not allowed by the Portuguese law, according to the Portuguese Bar (of Lawyers):

A lei portuguesa não admite a existência de crianças com pai incógnito desde 1977

Longer names

If the name is longer, you will need to recognize it yourself - which are given names and which are family names.
Most people have 4 or more names, but it's not uncommon for someone to have only 3 names:

  • José (de Sousa) Saramago;
  • Paulo Coelho de Souza;
  • Agustina Bessa-Luís.

Very often people have up to six names (family name in italics for your convenience):

  • José Sócrates Carvalho Pinto de Sousa;
  • Pedro (Manuel Mamede) Passos Coelho;
  • Mário (Alberto Nobre Lopes) Soares.

People with ties to nobility and royal houses will often keep very long family names, sometimes using hyphenation:

  • A tua abertura está confusa. Começas por dizer que "will be a first surname", e continuas com "usually get one or two first names", o que contradiz a primeira afirmação, pois implica que pode ser um primeiro sobrenome ou um segundo nome próprio (que é até o mais comum). A seguir deves querer dizer "two to four surnames", não "twor or four".
    – Jacinto
    Apr 24 '18 at 7:45
  • ´@Jacinto nah, é mesmo isso que quero dizer. Ele perguntou se com 3 nomes, o do meio era de família ou próprio. Eu digo que é de família "de certeza", e que os nomes normalmente levam 1 ou 2 próprios, e (normalmente) 2 ou 4 de família. Há pessoas com mais de 2 próprios, e pessoas com 6 ou 3 ou 5 de família, mas que isso não é o mais comum. Vou tentar tornar mais claro isso.
    – ANeves
    Apr 24 '18 at 12:54
  • Está melhor assim, @Jacinto?
    – ANeves
    Apr 24 '18 at 13:01
  • It's clear now. Two or four surnames, is that based on personal experience? I've just went though my unit student list, and out of 234, I got 1% with one surname, 61% with two, 23% with three, and 15% with four!
    – Jacinto
    Apr 24 '18 at 20:07

There are actually four different things.

  1. Maternal surnames, such as

José Nóbrega da Silva.

  1. Second given names, such as

Ana Carla Pereira.

  1. The first part of a composite paternal surname, like

Augusto Castelo Branco

  1. The second part of a composite given name, as in

Maria do Rosário Pereira.

It is necessary to know these lexical entries one by one. Generally, surnames are different from given names, and it is possible to have some loose guidelines: names of animals, trees, cities, professions, are quite certainly surnames (Coelho, Raposo, Tourinho; Pereira, Nogueira, Figueira; Coimbra, Santarém, Lisboa; Cardador, Pastor), as well as ancient patronymics turned surnames (Henriques, Bernardes, Fernandes). But there is overlap, as pointed in other answer. Composite surnames sometimes make sense (Castelo Branco, Índio do Brasil), but not always (Monteiro Lobato, Mena Barreto). Composite names are mostly the various aspects of the Virgin Mary: Maria das Dores, Maria do Socorro, Maria da Conceição; another possibility is the name of historic characters (Paulo de Tarso, Rui Barbosa, Washington Luís). Again there is overlap; Socorro is not a common surname, if at all, but Conceição or Rosário are. In general, you can be sure that the first name is a given name, and the last one is the paternal surname (unless it is a familial descriptor, such as Filho, Neto, Sobrinho, Júnior). Middle names are more complicated; usually native speakers know which is what, but there can be difficult cases even for us. They usually become clear if we know the parents' names.


Complementing Centaurus answer, let me remark that very often only the first and last names are used (e.g., when filling a form), simply because that's more practical than dealing with multiple names. When that's done, it's irrelevant if the omitted names are given or surnames, so it'd be OK to call them generically middle names.

  • But the used names are not always the first and last, so what is left is not, strictly speaking, middle names.
    – ANeves
    Apr 24 '18 at 13:03
  • @ANeves, Sure, that's what I meant by starting the sentence with "When that's done". It happens often, but of course not always.
    – stafusa
    Apr 24 '18 at 13:18

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