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Following the Cordeiro Name

Who were our ancestors? Where did they come from? Why did they end up in Asia? Our curiosity got the better of us and we started to dig, research, read and ask questions. After analysing our data, we think that we can offer this explanation.

In our search for our roots, we have determined that the name Cordeiro was a name taken on by the Sephardi Jews.

...nature-derived surnames
introduced to Portugal by ancient
Portuguese Jews
include Cordeiro (lamb) ...

The term Sephardic Jews is used to describe descendants of Jews living in the Iberian Peninsula. Sephardi comes from the Hebrew word sephard which means far away. The Jews in the Iberian Peninsula were far away from their homeland, living in exile, the reason for which is beyond the scope here.

Like Jews in other parts of Europe, the Jews in the Iberian Peninsula were also tormented [1]. Under the Alhambra decree of 1492, Jews were banished from Spain. If they chose to remain, they had to adopt the Christian faith. This conversion meant taking on a new name. Some converted fully while others took on a Christian name but continued practising Judaism in secret. Several years later, Portugal also expelled Jews during the reign of King Manuel in 1497. [1,2]

The names Cordero (Spanish) and Cordeiro (Portuguese), which mean lamb, appear in many resources [3,4] listing names adopted by the Sephardi Jews to protect themselves. The Sephardi changed their original Jewish names to those of animals and plants in the language of the country they lived in to avoid detection. Having the same meaning helped them easily find and identify related family members.


According to the publication, Armorial Lusitano : Genealogy and Heraldry, the name Cordeiro is not of ancient origins and is likely to have its initial use as a nickname. It is also likely to be of Spanish origins (Cordero).

From the above research on the origin and meaning of the Cordeiro name and the fact that our earliest known recorded ancestors (as listed on this web site) were from the Portuguese-ruled Azores, we can broadly surmise that the first Cordeiros were Sephardi Jews who lived in the Iberian Peninsula and later fled Spain to Portugal to avoid persecution. From there, they eventually made their way to the Azores. However, the Jewish origin of the name Cordeiro does not necessarily mean that the particular Cordeiro family from whom we have descended were Jews as it is difficult to prove lineage back to the new or forced Christians.

Migration and Settlement of the Azores

The exact date of discovery of the Azores is disputed but is widely estimated to be between 1427 and 1432. It was not until the end of the 1450s that all the nine islands were discovered. In 1439, Prince Henry received orders from his nephew, King Afonso V, to settle the islands. The pace of settlement on the nine islands varied. Chronicles from the 16th and 17th centuries registering personal names and origin reflect that settlers arrived mostly from the mainland regions of Algarve, Alentejo, Beira-Alta, Entre-Douro and the Lisbon area. The majority of settlers came from the lower classes and saw immigration as an opportunity to attain a better life in a new land. Far less common were settlers with high social standing. Whilst these were voluntary migrations, the situation of the Jews, expelled from the Kingdom by order of King Manuel I in 1496 is an example of how the Azores served as a dumping ground for so-called "undesirable" groups of individuals which also included the Moors and recent converts (conversos).

The population of the Azores was not limited to migration from mainland Portugal, but included people from other parts of Europe including Flanders, Genoa, Florence, France and England among others.

DNA analysis of today's Azorean population show the highest percentage of Jewish ancestry is found in the Central group of islands - Pico, Sao Miguel and Terceira, the latter being the island that our ancestors are from.

The Azores and the East Indies trade

Meanwhile in Europe, because of its strategic location in the Atlantic, the Azores was used as a resupply depot and trading station for ships engaged in the discovery of the new world. Terceira, the island on which our known ancestor was born, began to play an important role in the history of navigation during the 15th and 16th centuries, as a port of call for the caravels and galleons engaged in the Portuguese East Indies trade and for those bringing back the wealth from the Americas. During this period Terceira was an emporium for the gold, silver, diamonds and spices brought from these continents.

Those in search of adventure or a better life, grasped the opportunity to travel on one of these ships to Asia to eventually settle in the new found lands.

One such place was Macau. When Macau officially became a Portuguese settlement in 1557, Portuguese merchants flocked there. This continued over the next two centuries as trade with Asia flourished. It was this trade and settlement of Macau that brought our ancestors to Asia.

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