Historical Fudgery: Naming Conventions

It’s no secret that the book I’m editing is set in Portugal. It’s also no secret that it’s written in English and will probably be read by mostly English speakers.

In the book, I have a main character named Duilio Ferreira. His mother is addressed as Lady Ferreira. Technically, that’s inaccurate, for two reasons.

1) She would most likely be referred to by her given name. Women are generally (according to Pimsleur) addressed by their given name, even if you’re sticking titles in front of that. Is it Senhora Doutora Pereira? No, it would probably be Senhora Doutora Cristina.

Men, on the other hand, are usually addressed by one of their surnames (unless they’re your friend and you’re on a first name basis.) According to the Pimsleur notes, this isn’t sexist, but instead dates back to the time when all men served in the military.

To me, as a native English speaker, this sounds incorrect. It seems strange to address a woman you’ve just met by her given name. But if a woman in Portugal tells me to call her by her given name, I guess I will. It still sounds incorrect…and rather rude.

In the novel I’ve decided to fudge this. I looked at some English translations of novels from that period and have adapted their naming system for myself.

2) Just because Duilio uses the name Ferreira, that doesn’t mean his mother will. In fact, she’s likely to use a different surname, often her father’s or mother’s favored surname, although as I understand it, it’s not unheard of to use a grandparent’s name.

Like Spanish, it’s also not unusual for a person to use multiple (up to 6?) surnames (although the order is reversed in Portuguese, with the ‘used’ surname coming last, while in Spanish it comes first, right?) This is actually more common now than it was in the time setting of my novel (1902). Again, I looked at the translations of some period novels and found that, for the most part, the characters in them were using one or two surnames, no matter how aristocratic their background, so I stuck with that.

I also decided to keep the surnames roughly the same between parents and children to avoid confusion. So Duilio Ferreira’s mother is referred to as Lady Ferreira, Isabel Amaral’s mother is addressed as Lady Amaral (or Mrs. Amaral by Joaquim, who refuses to call the woman ‘lady’.)

In either case, I’ve chosen these innacuracies to make the book more readable for English speakers, but am well aware that someday someone’s going to catch me in an elevator and lecture me on the proper use of Portuguese names….

…at which time I plan to refer them back to this blog post.

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