Problem with Names Part 3: Well, We Never Called Her That

Researchers usually don’t get very far before they find an ancestor who seems impossible to find. Many times this is because they are used to calling their ancestor by a certain name when, in fact, they were named something else. Names evolve, shorten, and modernize over time. Taking an ancestor from what everyone called them to the name on the birth certificate can be a real challenge.

One of the frustrations when dealing with names is that evolve over time. The old forms transform into new forms. Common transformations like Mary for Maria, Joao for John, Tony for Antonio are easy to figure out. Others take a little time to solve. Sometimes it isn’t easy to determine what the original form of a name might have been. Researchers tend to have mental blocks when it comes to names. Some have difficulty accepting that Grandma Elsie was originally Arsenia (no one ever called her that!) They may discredit any record not using the name form that they know. Keep in mind that variations affect surnames as well as given names.

There are a couple of reasons why variations exist. First, when immigrants came to America it was common for records to contain Anglicized forms. The person writing down their information may not have been able to spell their names or perhaps didn’t speak the same language.

Second, your ancestor may have wanted to fit in his or her new community and country. They may have wanted an American sounding name. Or, it may have been the next generation. Often, the children of immigrants wanted to distance themselves from their parent’s generation, so they changed their names to blend in.

Second, people were known by shortened forms or pet names. Just like today, they endeared their loved ones and friends with special names. Many forms used a century ago are still in existence today. Joao might be called Johnny, Margarida might be called Maggie or Rita. Some forms have faded away as pet names lose their popularity and new ones spring up. In some cases a pet name can refer back to many different names, so be careful about making assumptions.

Here are some examples of names that I’ve found in records or were told to me by cousins:

Given names:

Adelaida: Ida
Agostinho, Augusto: Gus; August
Alexandrinha: Shandra; Sandra
Angelina: Angie; Gina; Lena
Amelia: Emily
Antonio: Antone; Tony
Apolniaro: Pete
Arsenia, Arcenia: Elsie
Carolina: Carrie
Delphina: Del; Delia
Deniz: Dennis
Georgina, Jorgina: Jean; Georgia
Gloria: Glory
Guilherme: William; Whilhelm; Willie
Isabella: Belle; Bella
Jacinta: Jessie
Jacinto: Jacinth; Jesse; Jess
Jaime, Jayme: James; Jimmy
Joao, Joaquim: John; Johnny
Jose: Joe; Joseph
Louisa: Lucille; Lucy
Margarida: Margaret; Maggie
Maria: Mary; Mamie
Olivia: Ollie
Ricardo: Ricky; Richard
Theodoro, Teodoro: Ted
Theresa, Threza: Daisy
Tomaz: Thomas; Tommy
Wilhelmina, Philomena, Guilhermina: Minnie

Surnames:

Andrade: Andrews
Camara: Cambra
Correia: Corea; Corrie; Corry
Dias: Days
Freitas: Frates
Jordao: Jordan
Luiz: Lewis; Louis
Marques: Marks
Mello/Melo: Mellow; Mell
Perreira: Perry; Peary
Quintal: Kintara
Teixeira: Terceira; Tachera

There is an excellent list on the web for Anglicized Portuguese names reprinted from Carlos Almeida’s “Portuguese Immigrants”. It can be found at: Anglicized Name List at lusaweb.com

© 2002-2010 Melody Lassalle

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