Brazilian Names and Faces

Brazilian Names and Faces

Whatever your prejudices or opinions regarding race, ethnicity, eugenics, and
miscegenation, you don’t know anything until you have experienced the population of
Brazil. A half millennium of immigration and uninhibited intercourse has produced a
thoroughly miscegenated people. Brazil is a teeming nursery of a single human race.
By Norman Weeks

I tried to find the little house I had lived in during my Peace Corps days. The rural
road outside Penedo had changed so much during my twenty-five year absence that I hardly
knew where I was. I had trouble recognizing my own house, because of the remodeling
changes made by its current occupant. I became sure that I had found my old home only when
I saw one constant in its furnishings, namely, the hammock on the varanda.

The hammock is a fitting symbol of tropical lassitude. The first time I climbed into
one, at that moment, I began going native. The hammock is indeed native. The aboriginal
Indians of Brazil used to sleep in hammocks. The invading Europeans brought their beds
with them, but, when they discovered that the organic stuffing of the mattresses was
susceptible to infestation by local vermin, the Europeans imitated the Indians and took to
sleeping in hammocks.

The hammock is very space-efficient. For the poor of the Nordeste (the northeast
region of Brazil), who live in one room, an immobile bed would take up too much of the
interior living space. Lifting one end of the hammock from its hook and hanging it on the
other hook on the back wall opens up the bedroom to use as parlor and dining room. Sleep
may be put aside, making way for wakefulness.

We commonly associate death with sleep, the coffin with the bed. In the Nordeste,
a deceased whose family is too destitute to buy a wood coffin is carried to his grave in
the hammock he had slept away his life in.

So, the last use of the hammock; but there is a lifetime of good napping and sleeping
to be enjoyed first. Lying comfortably in a hammock takes a little art, however. You have
to lie on a diagonal, if you don’t want to wake up from nap or sleep with a terrible

My Peace Corps colleague Mark used to sleep in his hammock, but I myself could not get
used to an entire night in one. I like to sleep on my stomach or on my side; the hammock
was always bending me the wrong way. Before I took up residence in my house on my sítio
(little country estate), I bought a bed. Aware of the problem of insect infestation, I had
a piece of inert foam cut into mattress size; Helena, my sweetheart, sewed a cover for it.
And so I slept away my nights according to European and American tradition.

I was native Brazilian during the daytime. Every day after lunch, I used to take a book
and resort to my hammock on the varanda of my house. The book proved an alien
intrusion of the intellectual into the sensual. Under the drowsy spell of the midday heat
and the shushing of the rustling palm fronds, I would doze. My hand would go limp and the
book fall to the floor of the varanda.

What happened to the book once happened to me. I almost became a casualty of the
hammock. One of the hooks, the one attached to the window-frame, must not have been
properly tempered steel, for, little by little, it was straightening out, without my
noticing it. One day, as I dozed, the end of the hammock slipped over the hook and,
unsupported at one end, my body plunged to the concrete floor of the varanda. My
bones were rattled, I was shaken from my slumber. After taking a long walk around the sítio
to determine that my skeletal and nervous systems were intact, I returned to the varanda,
figured out what had happened, hammered down the hook, and climbed back into the hammock.

The worst injury done to me during my Peace Corps stay in Penedo was when, one night, a
sneak thief crept into my sítio and stole my hammock from the varanda. I
immediately went out and bought another one, which I kept inside at night, next to my bed,
where I could guard it.

When I found myself taking to the hammock before lunch or even directly after
breakfast, I had to admit to myself that I was succumbing to the inertia of the vida
tropical (life in the tropics).

The Portuguese word for hammock is rede, which means net, like a fishnet. Some
hammocks are a network of cordage, squares of open space being left between warp and woof.
It would seem that such an open mesh would be cool, but I do not like or recommend that
kind of hammock. The openings admit insects to the attack, and the cordage is rough on
bare skin. Also, the transverse poles at each end turn the hammock into a tense pallet and
prevent wrapping a comforting cocoon around the body.

The hammocks of Brazil are not cordage. They are cotton, dyed in bright colors and
patterns, sometimes decorated with tassels along their fringes. The best are made in the
state of Ceará, in the Nordeste, where the hammock tradition is so deep in the
regional culture.

The motto sewn on one hammock I owned was Durma Bem, Viva Feliz, Sleep Well,
Live Happy. You can live happy in a hammock without necessarily sleeping, for a hammock
may be shared. Besides the single width (called solteiro, which means bachelor),
there is a doublewide (casal, couple).

Sharing a hammock is a test of compatibility, as any Nordestino will tell you. I
myself passed the test once, failed it once. There was a long and languid afternoon on the
sítio, when I experienced intimate hammock compatibility. Helena and I, side by
side but becoming one, pulled the edges of the hammock around us, wrapped ourselves in
each other, and lapsed into bliss.

On another occasion, in Recife, with someone else, every little move I made displaced
her, every adjustment she made discomforted me. And so on, a whole sleepless night, every
attempt at accommodation futile. But then she too was an American, the two of us awkward
strangers in a native Brazilian casal hammock. So, not every sharing of a hammock
is enjoyable. But alone, anyway, suspended, in peace, you return to the security of
floating in the amnion of the womb.

You might have been visualizing swinging in a hammock, but there should be very little
motion, really. A hammock is not a playground swing or a trapeze. Twist your pelvis just
slightly to set up a little motion, if you want that; or, if your hammock is near the
floor (where it should be for safety, as I discovered to my hurt), push off from the floor
with your hand. Some attach a cord to the wall, drape it over the hammock, and tug the
cord gently if they want motion. But again, you want to be afloat, not tempest tossed.

When I returned to the United States from my Peace Corps service, I brought a new
Ceará hammock with me. (It was a solteiro, not a casal. I must have
anticipated a reversion to temperate-zone human relatedness.) I had some hooks too. Yet, I
never unpacked the hammock and set it up. A hammock in Chicago? The Brazilian artifact was
as out of place there as, after two years in the tropics, I was to find that I too had

Brazilian Names and Faces
Whatever your prejudices or opinions regarding race, ethnicity, eugenics, and
miscegenation, you don’t know anything until you have experienced the population of
Brazil. A half millennium of immigration and uninhibited intercourse has produced a
thoroughly miscegenated people. Brazil is a teeming nursery of a single human race.

Norman Weeks

You might think that every Latin American is named either José or Maria. In fact, the
Brazilians have an astounding variety of first names. When I first arrived in the country
in 1968, I was surprised to be introduced to Sócrates!

For a sample of Brazilian first names, we can browse in the telephone directory of
Recife. Under Almeida, a very common surname, we find, in sequence starting at the
beginning of A, the following variety of first names that yield the initials A. A.:
Adriana, Adroaldo, Affonso, Agaci, Agamenon (a kinsman of Sócrates, I think), Agenor,
Aguinaldo, Airton, Alaíde, Alba, Albanita, Albelena, Alberto, Alcides, Alcimar, Alda,
Aldeci, Aldemir, Alexandre, Aliete, Alípio, Aluísio, Álvaro, Alzira, Amara, Amaro…

Moving ahead to C, we pick up at: Clea, Cleide, Cleonilda, Cleto, Cleildio, Clideno,
Clodomir, Clóvis, Conceição, Corina, Cremilda, Crisanto, Cristênio…

Under D: Dalva, Danniela, Dantas, Darcilene, Débora, Delmira, Denílson, Diana,
Diedja, Digenal, Dilermando, Dinara, and even (Socrates’ grandfather) Diógenes.

In Brazil, it seems that every euphonious combination of letters has been tried out as
a personal name. The Brazilian version of my own name, Normando, sounded strangeto me, but
not to the Brazilians. I found another Normando in the Recife phone book.

As with us, the Brazilians derive many of their names from the Old and New Testaments,
but they also dip into Greco-Roman history, the latter part of our own education, but, for
some reason, not a well excavated mine for American first names. Well, I’d never name a
daughter of mine Phryne! (Note to those who are not classical scholars: Phryne was a
notorious Greek prostitute, the model for all those statues of the naked Venus.)

Reading the Recife phone book aloud is a musical entertainment. Besides the Bible and
classical literature, I also find suggestions of the enchanting damsels of the Shakespeare
comedies. Wouldn’t you like to frolic in the forest green with Rosineide or Tatiane or
Nicette or Olívia—(come to think of it, Will did have an Olívia)—or Evalise or

Some strange derivative first names I found were: Wagner, Rossini, Dinamerico (sounds
like the name of a bank), Djardiniere (named after a condiment?), Ebenezer (last name not
Scrooge), Elesbão (not a lesbian, I hope), Erasmo (do Recife, not of Rotterdam), Expedito
(a stamp on an express package?), Fausto (ready to make a deal with the devil), Waldênio
(a fan of Thoreau?), Walkíria (Wagnerian, again), and Zoroastro.

Also: Aurora (our own Dawn), Franklin B[enjamin] and, the other way around, Benjamin
F[ranklin]. How about naming your new baby girl Benvinda (Welcome!)? There is a Brazilian
in Recife named Cheng Ping, an immigrant I would guess but not assume.

Can you identify the classical personages who are the sources of the following
Brazilian names: Antenor, Augusto, César, Constantino, Creuza, Demócrito, Deocleziano,
Djanira, Efigênia, Epaminondas, Euclides, the beautiful Eurídice (popularized by the
heroine of Black Orpheus, Fábio, Pitágoras (in Brazil not a bean eater but a
beans and rice eater), Solon, and on and on to Ulisses.

This is not to say that there aren’t plenty of Josés and Marias. Those two names are
at the core of Christian religion, after all, and Brazil has been a Christian country.
(You might even meet a Maria José or a José Maria.)

I have a recording of an amusing Nordestino (northeastern regional) folksong,
the title of which is "As Marias Que Eu Amei" (The Marias I’ve Loved). Most
Marias have a compound first name or a middle name derived from the attributes of the
Blessed Virgin. The singer inventories all the Marias he has loved and complains, in puns
on their Marian attributes, how each Maria proved the unsatisfactory opposite of the
beneficent promise of her name. Maria of Help was no help at all, Maria of the Appearance
disappeared, Maria of the Pleasures brought him pain, Maria of Victory defeated him, and
so on.

Shifting our attention from theology back to philosophy I wonder whether the Sócrates
I met earned the dignity of his namesake. And did he find a Brazilian Xanthippe to marry?
What’s in a name? In a Brazilian name, letter music, history and culture, creativity,
quirks and fancies.

Why not a different name for every single person who is born, unique as is the human
individual? Then, at last, we’ll have heard the last of José and Maria, Johnny and Mary.


As with Brazilian names, so with Brazilian faces. I wish I could get everyone’s
permission to photograph their faces. What a fascinating portrait gallery I could
assemble! In Brazil, it is not only the country, but the people too who are the spectacle.
Whatever your prejudices or opinions regarding race, ethnicity, eugenics, and
miscegenation, you don’t know anything until you have experienced the population of
Brazil. A half millennium of immigration and uninhibited intercourse has produced a
thoroughly miscegenated people. Brazil is a teeming nursery of a single human race.

In my own experience, I have found the Hawaiians, another interracial population, the
most beautiful of all peoples. Perhaps Brazil has had too many ingredients in the mix, not
all of them thoroughly stirred in yet, to satisfy aestheticism. Brazilian faces are not
all beautiful, but they are all interesting.

You might say that, when a single stock interbreeds exclusively, it gradually evolves
into a caricature of itself. There is no perfect type, because the idea of type
itself is defective. The master race, as we have found out, is a monster.

Now, it’s not accurate to say that the Brazilians are of no race, because, in fact,
they are the long-term harvest of several races. Which races were the roots in any
particular person is sometimes not easy to discern, even if you stare hard into the faces
that pass before you. You see traits, but you cannot see genes.

Accustomed to categorizing by traits, however, you speculate about each Brazilian you
meet. That one there, slight in build, fineboned, with Lusitanian features of
face—the Portuguese rootstock. My taxi driver in Manaus, built square, solid on his
feet, heavy boned, square bronze face—aboriginal Indian. In the Nordeste,
where sugarcane agriculture demanded slaves, you see the faces of Africa, a sometimes
lightened Africa, however, all around you. If you travel in the South of Brazil, you’ll
see quasi Germanic, Italianate, Japanian, and who knows what all else. By the time of the
extinction of the human, Brazil will have produced every possible type of face.

The Brazilians like to describe themselves as the fifth race; they don’t yet understand
that they themselves have made race thinking obsolete. The Brazilians are not adding
another race; they are ending race, and, ultimately and eventually, racism. Miscegenation
eliminates race.

Brazilian miscegenation is linked with the myth of promiscuous sex. The famous
Brazilian ethnosociologist and historian Gilberto Freyre perpetrated the now stereotype of
blackies and whities having at each other all day and all night under the aphrodisiac
spell of the tropics. Freyre was a scholarly Boccaccio; his books are the sexiest social
studies texts you’ll ever read.

… As if interracial sex were somehow sexier than same race sex, and the weather
arouses the hormones! Well, there might be something to the notion of climate as conducive
to, or inimical of, sexual interest and activities. In most of Brazil, everybody is half
naked, and so more or less always on provocative display. And no one in Brazil wears
himself out shoveling snow!

I don’t know whether frequency of intercourse is higher in Brazil—(or Polynesia or
the Caribbean)—than in Toronto, Oslo, or Tibet. We need some vagabond Kinsey to run
around with a multilinguistic questionnaire to determine that.

Brazil is an erotically permissive society, certainly. Carnaval is, or has become,
nothing less than participatory pornography. There are troubling aspects of Brazilian
eroticism, but whether it is to the good or bad of individuals or the society has no glib
answer. The eroticism of Brazil is familiar to me; it neither shocks nor mocks me. I title
my book, Tropical Ecstasy out of experience.

Against the Freyrian stereotype myth and the raw reality of Brazilian eroticism, I must
counterpose the warm physical affection between Brazilians—kisses, abraços (a
familial hug, not an erotic embrace), loving touches between friends, family members and
especially toward children.

I keep marveling that most of these faces I see every day on this trip did not exist
when I lived here in Brazil twenty-five years ago. It’s a new, different population. You
can’t step into the same river twice, said Heraclitus. With the population burgeoning, you
can’t visit the same Brazil twice.

The face of Brazil is unrecognizable, because it is an ever-changing face.

Norman Weeks served as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer in Penedo,
Alagoas, Brazil from 1968 to 1970. In 1995 he returned to Brazil and to Penedo to see how
all had changed in twenty-five years. Tropical Ecstasy, his book on the trip, is
being represented for publication by Debbie Fine, Southeast Literary Agency, P.O. Box 910,
Sharpes, Florida 329590910. Norman Weeks may be reached at 

The texts above were written for Tropical Ecstasy.

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