The Demotion of X, Y, and Z in Portuguese Names

The Demotion of X, Y, and Z in Portuguese Names

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I’ve been working exclusively with the records of Achada in the Azores for the last month.  I’ve worked from the 1870s back to the early 1700s. I’m getting a snapshot of spelling conventions and how things change over time.

It’s interesting to me to see how widely used the letters x, y, and z were in Portuguese names (and presumably Portuguese words) in the period before 1820.  I have read that there were different efforts to standardize spelling in the 1800s and early 1900s, which can be seen in the records.

What’s interesting is that in some cases, I see the modern spelling, then the older spelling with x,y, or z, and then later it goes back to the modern spelling.  I am assuming this is because their was no standardization.

In early records the x represented the “ch” sound.  You would see it in names like Paxeco (Pacheco), Maxado (Machado), and Teixeira (Teichera).  Though, I find it interesting to note that the spelling Teixeira seems more common than Teicheira which starts appearing in the mid-1800s.

The y was used instead of i in the middle of names.  Some examples:  Medeyros (Medeiros), Sylva (Silva), Carreyro (Carreiro), Francysco (Francisco), and so forth.  The replacement of y for i doesn’t seem to be a steadfast rule.  In the 1760s, I saw Antonio, Maria, Antonia, and others with the i not the y.  I have yet to see Pymentel, but it might be there.  I am not sure why the rule applied to some and not others, unless it was the placement of the i at the end of the name.

The z is a little more tricky.  It was used in place of the letter s.  When I first began researching, someone told me that the s spelling in names was the “true” Portuguese form and the z spelling was a modern, Americanized version.  My research on Sao Miguel Island shows this to be completely untrue.  In the mid-1800s, you see Sousa, Resendes, Munis, etc.  But, as you get to the 1700s, the z becomes more predominant.  Sousa becomes Souza, Resendes becomes Rezendes (and earlier Rezende, dropping the final s), and Munis becomes Muniz.  It’s interesting because in all these cases when the family came to Hawaii or the US, the spelling with letter z became more acceptable.  I suspect this has to do with the way the names sounded than any effort to change spelling habits in America.

One variation that surprised me was for Jose.  In the 1850s or so, you see Jose with the “s”.  Earlier it becomes Joze.  But, around 1730, Jozeph was in use.  I had no idea that the Portuguese/Azoreans used the form Jozeph.  I wonder if this could be a Priest with outside influence.  I’m going to keep an eye on this when I check my other villages to see if Jozeph was the standard form before the 1750s or so.

Something else that caught my eye was a record where it seemed the recorder decided to keep conventions as they were in each generation.  The daughter was listed as Pacheco, but the mother as Paxeco.  I don’t think these people were literate.  Most were peasants.  I’m not sure they would have been able to correct the writer to the way they wanted their name spelled because they may not have known how to spell it.

The alternate spellings can be confusing for a genealogist especially when trying to input people into a database.  I go back to what I was taught in the genealogy class I took in the early 1990s.  You record the name as it was seen on the earliest record.  So, if the birth/baptismal is the earliest record I have, that is how I record the name for my records.  If it’s the marriage, I go with how the name was record on that record.  I add an alternate name field for the variations.   I don’t like Anglicizing or modernizing names that weren’t written that way to begin with.  It doesn’t seem authentic to me.  By using the names as they were written, I get a better sense of the times my people lived in.

The records for Achada go back into the 1600s.  I wonder what I might find when I reach that era?  I’m sure that it will be interesting.



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