Sephardic Family Names and Portuguese Citizenship
This article addresses Sephardic family names, which are important in helping determine one’s Sephardic ancestry for Portuguese citizenship. Thousands of people have successfully obtained Portuguese and Spanish citizenship due to the Sephardic Law.
Why Sephardic Family Names Are Important
If you are interested in applying for Portuguese citizenship through the Sephardic Law, Sephardic family names are one of the clearest ways to prove your Sephardic ancestry. The applicant does not need to have a Sephardic name themselves, but demonstrating Sephardic names in one’s ancestry can help prove your Sephardic origins. The most important document one can have when applying for citizenship is a certificate from the Portuguese Jewish community in either Porto or Lisbon recognizing your Sephardic heritage.
A History of Sephardic Family Names
Throughout Spain and Portugal’s long history of Jewish persecution, Jews in this area often changed their surnames. This allowed them to try and blend in to avoid further harassment, expulsion, and persecution. There are three primary periods for Sephardic family names.
During period one, we find the names Jews had prior to persecution. In the second period, we find the names imposed on Jews during persecution. In the third period, we find the names they took when trying to restore their original family name.
During the first period, Jews had Jewish names, often derived from Hebrew. At times they also had Iberian names, which they chose for themselves as a matter of convenience. During the second period, there was intense persecution, and Jews were forbidden from practicing their religion, and Iberian and Christian names were imposed on Jews in Spain and Portugal. Jews would often change both their first and last names to hide their identities. During the final period, when Jews moved to countries where they could freely practice their religion, they tried to revert to their initial name.
This Series of Articles
This article is one in a longer series on obtaining Portuguese citizenship. In this series we address numerous topics of interest to our clients, including documents needed to apply for Portuguese citizenship for a non-Sephardic spouse, applying with a criminal record, what to do if you’ve had multiple residences prior to applying, and more.
Cohen, Decker, Pex & Brosh law firm has decades of experience in immigration law. We would be happy to help you with your Portuguese application process. Feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns.