Catholic Goans were a very homogeneous society, and the Catholic religion had a profound influence on all aspects of the Goan way of life – a strict adherence to the Ten Commandments, abstinence from meat on Fridays, personal sacrifice during Lent, and faithful observance of every religious event in the Catholic calendar. Children were subjected to strict discipline, and were taught to respect their elders and, by association, anyone in authority.
In keeping with their strong attachment to the Catholic faith, many Goans named their children after their favourite saints, or events relating to the life of the Holy Family i.e., Conceção (conception), Natividado (nativity), Nascimento (birth), Circução (circumcision), Purificação (purification), Assumção (assumption), and so on. Others gave their children the most commonly used names in the village.
Most of the names were mainly of Portuguese origin, and they had a musical ring to them … similar to the colourful names of Brazil’s star soccer players. The other names were of English origin, resulting from the strong British influence on Goans who sought employment in India, the then jewel of the British Empire, and in Britain’s East African colonies.
The most common name was Francisco. The name was made popular by St. Francis Xavier, the Jesuit missionary who was instrumental in spreading Christianity in the East all the way from India to Japan from 1542 until his death in 1552. His remains are preserved today in the Basilica of Bon Jesus in Old Goa, and he is revered as Goa’s patron saint. Consequently, if you ever come across a brown skinned person with a Portuguese last name like Souza, Fernandes, Pereira , Cordeiro and the like, and the initials F.X., you can be sure that he is a bona fide Goan and that his name is Francis Xavier.
In Goan villages, the short name for ‘Francisco’ was ‘Forsu’. But kids were affectionately called ‘Forsulo’ (little ‘Forsu’).
The next popular name was ‘Agnelo’ – the name of a well-known Goan priest who was more popularly known as Pde. Agnel. Goans claim to have documented many miracles attributed to his intercession on their behalf, but he has yet to be canonized as a saint.
As for the other names, there was something uncanny about how they somehow seemed to fit the personality of a villager, or have an association with the then limited professions in Goa’s rural environment.
One such name was ‘Menino’ (Mee-neen). With Goa’s abundance of churches and chapels, there was always a lifetime job for a sacristan whose responsibilities involved taking care of all the sacred vessels and other vestments. And in most cases his name would be ‘Menino’. In fact, if you walked into any church and asked for ‘Meeneen’, there’d be a good chance that at least one member of the church staff would respond to the name. And if there was nobody by that name on staff, the sacristan would respond anyway, assuming that it was him that you were looking for.
Then there was the name ‘Sebastian’. I always believed that every Goan dance band had at least one musician by that name, and he’d be the one who played either the saxophone or the clarinet. And he would be called “Sebby” – a name that was ‘cool’ and befitting an exponent of ‘swing’ music. They were the suave guys; they always seemed to be neatly dressed in starched shirts, sharp-creased trousers, and with shiny hair slicked down with a generous squirt of coconut oil.
Sebastian also went by another name – “Bostião”, the short form of the name ‘Sebastião’ in Portuguese. But unlike the Sebastian who sported the “Sebby” moniker, the fellows who were called “Bostião” were mostly just plain ordinary. In fact, a “Bostião” in Goa would equate to “a Charlie” in North America.
Another common name was “João” – John. But here again, there was a subtle class distinction in the way the name was used. If he happened to come from a middle or upper class family, the “João” would usually be hyphenated, e.g., “Anton-João” or “João-Caetano”. If he came from the working class, he would be called plain “João”. And, if any fellow was not very bright, he would be called a “João”, but pronounced “Zooão”. The latter was the equivalent of being referred to as ‘bozo’ in North America.
Lastly, I remember the fellows named “Pedro” (Peter). They always seemed to be the slowpokes of the village, unlike the hyphenated Pedro’s who went about their chores at a much faster pace.
There were other names that had a nice ring to them when pronounced in Konkani and combined with the family nickname. But listing them would be of little use because too much of the colour and humour would be lost in the translation.