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Originally published Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 5:10 PM

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In Brazil, uncommon names inspire pride, headaches

Having an extraordinary name is not unusual in Brazil, as evidenced by such monikers as Mike Tyson Schwarzenegger Pradella and Errolflynn Paixão.


The New York Times

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SÃO PAULO — When he became a teenager, Wonarllevyston Garlan Marllon Branddon Bruno Paullynelly Mell Oliveira Pereira did what any self-conscious person worried about merciless taunting from his peers might do: He pleaded with his parents and the courts to let him change his name.

“I never had anything in common with Marlon Brando,” he said, referring to the American actor for whom he was partly named. So with the permission of his parents and the legal system, he whittled down his nine names to an economical four, Bruno Wonarleviston Oliveira Pereira.

“I just didn’t want to go through life with something more complicated than that,” said Oliveira Pereira, a 19-year-old university student.

Carrying an extraordinary name is remarkably widespread in Brazil. Glance at the Facebook timelines of Brazilian friends. Strike up a conversation at a Sunday afternoon barbecue. Or merely stand in line at a notary public and listen to a pencil-pusher call out the people waiting for documents to be stamped.

You will be awed by some of the names you hear.

Mike Tyson Schwarzenegger Pradella. Errolflynn Paixão. Charlingtonglaevionbeecheknavare dos Anjos Mendonça, 31, a plumber who prefers to go by Chacha, melodically pronounced Sha-sha in Portuguese.

Some scholars say the practice stems from a tendency to hold certain rich countries in higher esteem than Brazil, prompting some parents to aim for foreign-sounding names that may seem illustrious.

A minor tradition of honoring U.S. presidents has produced names such as Abraão Lynconn Sousa Santana and Francisco Lindon Johnson Menezes da Luz Junior. The other side of the ideological divide is represented, too, in a name such as Mao Tse Tung Lima de Moura.

Others say it reflects centuries of immigration, conquest and slavery, a process that has mixed indigenous, African, European and Asian cultures to produce a fusion of identities. In a country with an array of musical traditions, from the melodious bossa nova to sertanejo country music, naming experts also mention the symphonious way some unusual names resonate when they are coined by expecting parents.

A name such as Sherlock Holmes da Silva, pronounced SHARE-Lockee WHOLE-mees in Brazil, certainly does have a distinctive ring.

“You ask someone why they chose a name and they say because of the sound,” said Elaine Rabinovich, a psychologist who has explored Brazil’s naming practices. “The people who are doing this are still not co-opted by mass culture. I think this is great.”

Some countries, such as Germany and Iceland, strictly regulate the names parents can choose. Officials in Portugal, Brazil’s former colonial ruler, provide a list of approved names requiring parents to stick to tradition, allowing a name such as Neóteles but eliminating Neptuno.

Brazil, unhindered by such hang-ups, ranks among nations where naming has evolved into something resembling a competitive sport. Neighboring Venezuela is also a contender, with its Stalins, Nixons, Hiroshimas, Tutankamens and Taj Mahals. Honduras has Llanta de Milagro (Miracle Tire). Zimbabwe has its Godknows, Lovemores and Learnmores.

Not easy to change

Brazil is much less freewheeling, however, for the unfortunate souls stuck with names they do not like. Changing one’s name requires the approval of a judge who can rule whether it is ridiculous or offensive. But the process is often drawn out and laborious, as are many bureaucratic matters in Brazil, requiring a lawyer.

“The tendency of the courts is to deny name changes,” said Gerson Martins, a lawyer who specializes in helping Brazilians change their names. “It’s a shame, because many names in Brazil are little more than alphabet soup.”

Although some people with incredible names press to change them, many Brazilians relish having a name that twists tongues, drops jaws or starts conversations.

“I have a marvelous name which makes me stand out above the crowd,” said Creedence Clearwater Couto, 34, a student named in honor of Creedence Clearwater Revival, the American rock band.

“Now, almost no one in Brazil knows who they are, and 90 percent of the people can’t pronounce it correctly,” Couto said. “But these were the guys who did ‘Bad Moon Rising,’ ” he added, referring to their 1969 hit single. “I am honored to be named for such artistic geniuses.”

While the elite tends to hew to traditional names in Portuguese such as Pedro, Gabriel, Julia and Carolina, American popular culture clearly fascinates broad sections of society, explaining a name like Oleúde José Ribeiro, a retired athlete whose first name is a phonetic spelling of Hollywood.

Not far from São Paulo, a television network recently found a family in which seven children were named in honor of Elvis Presley: Elvis, Elvisnei, Elvismara, Elvislei, Elvicentina, Elvislaine and Elvislene.

Encountering such names can be a little bewildering to newcomers.

“Never think he or she was making a joke about his or her name,” the Mexican novelist Juan Pablo Villalobos, who lives in São Paulo, wrote in his irony-soaked “Brazil: A User’s Guide,” published in Granta. “No matter the name they told you, it’s the actual name.”

Some fall by wayside

Some Brazilians contend that naming has fallen from previous heights. Ruy Castro, a newspaper columnist, recently noted that melodious names such as Eustáquio, Pancrácio, Hermenegilda and Hilária can now probably be found only on gravestones.

Others warn that naming has grown so extreme that limits are needed.

“We have reached the point where an alarm must be sounded,” said Osny Machado Neves, 73, a lawyer who worked for more than 35 years in a notary public’s office. Astounded by the names he came across, he compiled about 8,000 of them into a book.

“Sometimes parents don’t know the trauma they are inflicting on their children,” said Neves, citing first names such as Colapso Cardíaco (Cardiac Arrest).

Sources of inspiration vary widely. José Miguel Porfirio, an accordionist in Recife, named his three children Xerox, Autenticada (Notarized) and Fotocópia (Photocopy), words he saw on a sign at a civil registry.

Then there is Petroswickonicovick Wandeckerkof da Silva Santos, 12, a soccer prodigy who has begun training with the Corinthians, one of Brazil’s leading teams. Even in a country flooded with amazing names, his 19-letter first name and 12-letter middle name have raised eyebrows.

The boy said it took him a while to learn how to pronounce his own name. His father, José Ivanildo dos Santos, a soccer coach, has been repeatedly questioned about the name.

“The woman at the notary public’s office thought it was terrible and called me crazy,” dos Santos said in a televised interview. “But I told her I’d name my son my way.”



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