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  • Writer's pictureFIO Legal Solutions

Name changes under Portuguese law

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

One of the interesting and recurrent questions among our international clients who live, wish to move to Portugal or obtain Portuguese citizenship is, from time to time, the name change issue.

In some jurisdictions, such as the USA, for example, changing one's name is not a very complicated matter and may occur for various reasons, without special procedures well defined and regulated at the national level for that purpose.

In other legal systems, such as Portugal and Brazil, the change of civil name is exceptional and must respect certain rites and procedures provided by law.

Although it is true that, even in the most conservative systems, there have been significant changes and there is more and more flexibility to obtain a civil name change, albeit recently.

Establishment of the name in Portugal

In Portugal, there are rules defining which names and surnames may be adopted.

The general rule is that the name must be Portuguese, it means that it must be in the Civil Registry database - examples of which are the names on the list of permitted onomastics, and that they do not raise doubts as to gender and that they observe the spelling rules.

Surnames establish the connection to the family to which the individual belongs.

As a rule, they are chosen from the surnames of both parents but may be from only one, up to a maximum of four surnames.

Surnames belonging to ancestors (grandparents, great-grandparents) may also be chosen. If they are not part of the parents' surnames, proof must be provided.

If the person is a foreigner, the option of a certain name or surname must obey the specific law of its own nationality. If he/she has a nationality other than Portuguese, Portuguese law applies.

Name changes in Portugal

Nowadays, in Portugal, it is not possible to change the name based only on the personal desire of the applicant.

It may be a case of changing a given name, changing a surname, or even changing a gender reference. All these options are possible, provided the legal requirements and procedures are met.

The best known and most common form of name change is undoubtedly due to marriage when one of the spouses - as a rule, the female spouse in heterosexual couples, adopts the husband's name as the family name to be passed on to the couple's children.

It is increasingly common, however, for the male spouse to adopt the wife's surname, for both to adopt each other's surname or even to adopt a new surname by linking their surnames.

When a change of surname occurs due to marriage, the change must be registered in the marriage certificate and also in the birth certificate, in the case of a Portuguese citizen.

It is also quite common for people to change their surname back to their maiden surname after the dissolution of the marriage. The change of surname, in this case, occurs through the decision that decrees the divorce, either by court decision or by decision of the Civil Registry.

Other reasons for the name change are:

  • For adoption of the name of adopting family, which usually occurs through an adoption court judgment.

  • Late adoption of a parent's surname;

  • Rectification of errors in their birth registration;

  • To adopt the name originally intended by your parents when you were born (and which at the time they did not know if it was permitted).

In all the above-mentioned cases, the name change will be made by unilateral decision and does not depend on any type of authorization.

Portuguese citizens who wish to change their name must submit a proper application to the Civil Registry Office with the respective documentation, if applicable.

There are other more specific situations in which it is possible to make a name change, but in these cases, it is necessary to have special authorization or to fulfill the requirements:

  • Name change for a minor: it is necessary to have the authorization or agreement of both parents;

  • Name change by gender change: for adults, the application must be submitted at the Civil Registry Office; for minors between 16 and 18 years of age, the application must be made by the parents and the registrar must hold a hearing with the minor to verify the express consent for the change (a medical or psychological report is also required to confirm that the minor has full capacity to decide for the change).

  • Keeping the married name after divorce: one of the spouses may request to keep the married name even after the divorce is finalized by obtaining the consent of the other party. In case of not having the authorization, it is possible to file a lawsuit to make such a request.

Consequences of the name change

After the name change, the Portuguese citizen must update his personal identification documents, namely the Citizen Card, the Portuguese Passport and the Driving License.

After effecting the change in the Citizen's Card, the data must be automatically updated in the Finance Department and in the Social Security.

If the citizen who changed the name has other nationalities, it is highly recommended to change his civil identification documents also in that country. Because there are a number of problems that may arise from having documents with different names, especially in the case of people who move between several different jurisdictions.

As a rule, you should proceed with an administrative procedure that adopts the name change in the legal system in question and, subsequently, update the documents.

Obtaining Portuguese citizenship and change of name

The moment of the application for or acquisition of Portuguese nationality is also an opportunity to change the name, as determined by the regulation of the Portuguese Nationality Law.

Therefore, on this occasion, the applicant may choose to maintain the original composition of his name or to change it, in cases where this change does not require specific authorization. Both forms of the name will be registered on the Portuguese birth certificate.

We emphasize that if the alteration occurs after the acquisition of Portuguese nationality, the applicant must request the alteration through a specific procedure, at the Portuguese Civil Registry.

It is also worth mentioning that Portuguese legislation determines that Portuguese citizens have the duty to register in Portugal the acts of their civil life that occurred abroad. In this sense, marriage or divorce celebrated abroad - and any name changes that occur for these reasons, must be transcribed or legally homologated in Portugal, as the case may be.

About the transcription of marriage or divorce homologation occurred abroad in Portugal also see Forein court decison review of divorce in Portugal.

Descendants of Portuguese who adapted their names after migrating

Another interesting and quite recurrent question concerns the change of name that historically occurs when Portuguese citizens migrate to countries of the distinct linguistic matrix. There are numerous cases where names and surnames were changed either involuntarily or by choice so that they sounded closer to the onomastic of the receiving country.

In the case of immigrants who went to the USA, for example, António often becomes Tony and Maria, Mary. Portuguese settlers in Venezuela went from João to Juan, and so on.

Surnames were also frequently adapted, suppressed or changed in the personal documents, such as birth, marriage and death certificates, of these immigrants and, consequently, of their descendants.

When these descendants, children or grandchildren of Portuguese citizens, wish to obtain Portuguese nationality, they are often surprised by the need to prove the line of descendants because of the different names on their documents or even with the need to promote the rectification of names in family documents.

If you need assistance in name changing in Portugal, please do not hesitate to contact us.

This article was originally published by the author Lidiane de Carvalho on her personal profile on December 30, 2022

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