Names in Brazil
“Whether seventy or sixteen, there can be in every being the love of wonder…the unfailing childlike appetite for what is next, and a joy of the game of life.” Ullman
Family names tell us something about that family’s history that goes back generations. Given names, with the passage of years, recall to mind characteristics of the individual. For example, “George is a happy-go-lucky chap.” Our granddaughter Natalie who visited Ireland said the many Kenny names made her feel at home wherever she travelled. Then when Doris and I visited Newfoundland a few years ago, we walked through a cemetery and found our family name again and again. It was a strange feeling. We felt a kinship with them and wondered about the death of so many who in the prime of life had perished at sea.
Our names here in Canada are relatively short, for example Mary Alice Jones – three makes the total. But in Brazil five or six or more are needed. Some of us may smile at a name given to one of the many independent churches or to the religious names given to little shops along a street.
In Brazil both the maiden name and the paternal name are passed along. In any case people just go by their first name and their mother’s surname. Here is an example I picked up: Evaldo Manuel Nascimento de Moura. Evaldo is the first name and we’d use it when chatting with him, Manuel is the middle one, Nascimento is the mother’s maiden name and Moura is the father’s surname.
The length of names in Brazil no doubt comes from history in Portugal for there, I am told, seven or eight names are not uncommon. Many names in Brazil have a preposition in the middle, a “de” meaning “of.” So Pedro de Oliveiro meant that Pedro belonged to slave owner Oliveiro. Many Brazilians would state that their family name goes back to Silva. It is the commonest surname in Brazil and refers to the colonizers who went interior to the forested areas.
The most popular man’s first name is José with almost 8 million and Maria has almost 14 million. By now the reader is wondering why all the chat about names. The answer is simple— in the Christian faith the name of Christian denote an important relationships. A poet writes, “There is a name I love to hear, I love to sing its worth…the sweetest name on earth.”
Yes, the name referred to is Jesus. Many hymns and sermons extol the name of Jesus, for the Christian faith is built on the name of Jesus as the Christ. The name Christian goes way back to New Testament times when followers of Jesus were called Christians. That happened at the church in Antioch as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Antioch was a city noted for its vices and debauchery with the name referring to Antiochus Epiphanes. He was the bitterest enemy ever of Christians.
But in this city the followers of Christ were so well known for their pure life style that the pagan people linked them to the one they claimed to follow—the Christ.
Yet a person may take this name to themselves and be careless about the eternal things that are central to following Jesus. However when we go back to what the name originally meant, it tells us about being a follower and imitator of Christ.
To have the name of Christian is indeed to have something of the spirit and temper of our Lord, the Christ. We learn something of how the name Christian calls us to live when we look back on His life and death. We learn the same about his followers. Then we think about the Christians in Antioch who lived under constant persecution and dying in the arena for the entertainment of Antiochus Epiphane.
Among the many names that stand out for me is that of Rev. José Emílio Emerenciano. He stood by the first Free Methodist missionaries in Brazil, translating three languages for them: English, Japanese and Portuguese. A school in the poor Northeast of Brazil has his name—a school that now numbers 600 children. It began with children that could not be part of the regular school system.
The name Christian has tremendous meaning and implications. That is still true in our world today. Yes, the one who owns this name of Christian is called to be a follower of the Christ.