Born in 1922, José de Sousa was supposed to be named after his father. The clerk charged with registering his birth was drunk, however, and, through accident or malice, tacked on an extra surname: ‘Saramago’, meaning wild radish – the nickname by which the Sousa family was known in the Portuguese village of Azinhaga. What bureaucrats set down mere men may struggle to alter, and José de Sousa senior eventually found it easier to add ‘Saramago’ to his own name than to remove it from his son’s.
The error clearly didn’t hinder the younger José, though, because it was under the name Saramago, not Sousa, that he accepted the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998. Besides, it could have been so much worse: another family in the village was saddled with nicknames meaning, variously, ‘cock’,