Nilton, the name

Or: a trip to Brazil.

Yesterday my server for lunch at Reposado in Palo Alto was the excellent and genial Nilton. When he first started working at the restaurant, I asked whether his name was accented as Nílton (that would be the default accentuation in Spanish) or as Niltón (which would usually be written that way, to indicate the exceptional accentuation — but people often leave out the diacritics, especially in an English-speaking context). The first, he told me.

Then this week it occured to me to ask where his name came from, since I didn’t recall ever having heard it before. Ah, he said, until recently the only Nilton he’d ever run across was the grandfather for whom he was named (crucial fact: the grandfather was Brazilian). Then recently an elderly customer looked startled when he heard Nilton’s name, explaining that his name was Nilton and that he’d never come across another Nilton; would my Nilton consent to being photographed with him, to commemorate the meeting? Crucial fact: the elderly gentleman was Brazilian.

I still haven’t found anything about the origin of the name, beyond the fact that it’s surely Brazilian. And I’m now able to speculate that neither my Nilton nor his elderly customer is a fan of Brazilian football, since players named Nilton have been prominent in the sport for more than 50 years.

[Added a bit later: the Reposado Nilton reports that he found sources saying that Nilton was just the Portuguese version of Newton. And that he found a map of the distribution of Niltons in the world, with this giant mass in Brazil, plus a few in Portugal and South Africa.

Oh yes, a Brazilian basketball-playing Nilton, Nilton Pacheco de Oliveira,

And then of course I found some Japanese-Brazilian Niltons. Not as yet any Japanese-Brazilian baseball players, but I’m hoping.]

Old soccer history. First there was Nílton dos Santos. From Wikipedia:

Nílton dos Santos ( … 16 May 1925 – 27 November 2013) was a Brazilian footballer who primarily played as a wingback. At international level, he was a member of the Brazil squads that won the 1958 and 1962 World Cups.


Then Nílton “Batata” Pinheiro da Silva. Again from Wikipedia, but now summarizing a translation:

Nílton “Batata” Pinheiro da Silva is a Brazilian ex-footballer who’s been running a soccer academy since 1983, and who joined Spanish ESPN in 2012 as a commenter on Brazil matches.


Since then, two more:

Nílton de Oliveira Silva or simply Nílton (born December 23, 1987 in Rio de Janeiro), is a Brazilian central back. He currently plays for América do Rio de Janeiro. (link)


Nílton Ferreira Júnior, one of several players known as Nílton (born April 21, 1987 in Barra do Garças), is a Brazilian defensive midfielder. He currently plays for Internacional. (link)


Then we get some non-soccer Brazilians:

Brazilian singer Nilton César, born 6/27/39

Nilton Pino, half of a comedy duo (with Tom Cavalho) on Brazilian tv

Rabbi Nilton Bonder, born in Brazil, trained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, now leads an influential Jewish congregation in Brazil

Then come two Niltons in the U.S. (but… ):

Nilton O. Renno, Professor of Space Engineering at the Univ. of Michigan (Ph.D. from MIT, B.S. from Unicamp in Brazil) — so back to Brazil

Nilton Bila, systems researcher at IBM Watson, who tweets in English and Portuguese, and is pretty clearly Afro-Brazilian

The one exception to the Nilton-from-Brazil pattern isn’t much of an exception: a Portuguese comedian whose stage name is simply Nilton. I haven’t been able to find out enough about the man to figure out why he chose the name Nilton, which otherwise seems to be about as rare in Portugal as it is in the U.S., Mexico, and Spain, though in Portugal it might be identifiable as specifically Brazilian.



One Response to “Nilton, the name”

  1. Nilton Says:

    Don’t forget Nilton Azevedo; the 1999 Australian Novice Bodybuilding champion.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: