Pardo began as a miscellany, or "none of the above" racial category. The first census of the 20th century to ask a colour question was the census of 1940. Colour was determined by the census enumerator, and the three options were white, black, and yellow. If the respondent did not fit into any of the categories, the enumerator simply drew a horizontal line. When the census data came to be tabulated, all responses with horizontal lines were collected into the single category of "pardo". The IBGE excluded pardo as an answer in response to the rise of European fascism at the time, as an assurance to the public that census data would not be used for discriminatory purposes. In the 1950 census, "pardo" was actually added as a choice of answer, and colour was chosen by the respondent instead of being determined by the enumerator.
Unofficially, Brazilians also use a racial classification of "moreno", a word that also means "brown". In a 1995 survey, 32% of the population self-identified as "moreno", with a further 6% self-identifying as "moreno claro" ("light brown"), and 7% self-identified as "pardo". Telles describes both classifications as "biologically invalid", but sociologically significant.