ITALIAN SURNAMES

INTRODUCTION

Three naming customs derived from early Greek settlers, the Roman republics, and the invading Germanic tribes.

  • Greek: Adding the name of the father plus the name of the family or tribe to the given name.
  • Roman: Adding the name of the family clan to the given name.
  • Germanic tribes: Attaching an ancestor's name with a similar beginning sound to the given name: Pompeo Pomponio, Alberto d'Alberto, and Garibald Faroald or Garibald Romuald.


Patronymics

One of the oldest and most widespread expressions of paternity used in Italy is characterized by the preposition di (of), entered between two given names; for example, Pietro di Giovanni (Peter the son of John). With each new generation, the combination of names increased; hence Pietro's son Leonardo would be known as Leonardo di Pietro di Giovanni.

Eventually a hereditary name was standardized, but the Italian records from which you will be extracting data continues to use a variation of this practice that can be confusing.

A large segment of Italian names today contain the preposition di between the given name and surname: di Paolod'Alberto. Sometimes the records also contain individuals' names, the names of the father, and even the grandfather inserted between the given name and surname: Francesco di Giovanni d'Angelo is actually Francesco d'Angelo (the son of Giovanni). There is a general rule for extracting Italian names that holds true in most instances: Omit given names beginning with di. To be certain, it is a wise practice to compare the apparent inserted name with the name of the father and grandfather if they are given elsewhere in the record.


Matronymics

You will encounter a relatively small proportion of matronymic surnames (names which are derived from the name of the mother or a matriarchal ancestor). Children occasionally took the surname of a mother who was not married to the father, a mother with whom they identified more comfortably because of long absences of the father in military service or employment, or a mother who was widowed. Sometimes they took the surname of the mother to avoid confusion with someone in the community who had an identical name. Surnames that reflect a mother's situation: La Cattiva (the mean one); Della Vedova (of the widow).


Foundling Surnames

Before 1928 foundlings (abandoned children) were often given surnames by the record keepers or, in some cases, wealthy families or the godparents who assumed responsibility for the child. In these instances a phrase such as esposito(a) nella casa di (abandoned at the home of) might appear in the record. A child abandoned at the parish church may be described as figlio(a) della chiesa (child of the church):

Arfanetti
Armandonada
Bardotti
Bastardo
Casadei
Colombini
Dati
de Alteriis
degli Esposti
della Donna
della Femmina
della Fortuna
della Gioia
della Stella
Dell'Amore
dell'orfano
del Gaudio
Diodata
D'Amore
D'Ignoti
D'Ignoto
Esposto
Esposito
Esposuto
Fortuna
Ignotis
Incerti
Incerto
Incognito
Innocenti
Innocentini
Mulo
Naturale
Nocenti
Nocentini
Proietti
Proietto
Ritrovato
Sposito
Spurio
Stellato
Trovatello
Trovato
Ventura
Venturini


Surnames of Familiarity

Another group of surnames end with "diminutive" or "augmentative" endings. Today these endings are added to given names to express endearment, but originally they were used to to indicate size, age, physical and moral qualities, affection, or pity. They now comprise one of the largest groups of Italian surnames.

Diminutive Endings
Adamollo : -ollo
Adamolo : -ollo
Andreozzo : -ozzo
Antonicello : -cello
Beltramello : -ello
Carluccio : -uccio
Cesarotto : -otto
Iannitto : -itto
Leoncillo : -cillo
Leonillo : -illo
Lorenzetto : -etto
Luigino : -ino
Marcarello : -arello
Marcarino : -arino
Marcherello : -erello
Martoccio : -occio
Mattiusso : -usso
Mattimo : -uzzo
Simoncino : -cino
Vitullo : -ullo
Vitulo : -ulo
Lupicino : -icino
Augmentative Endings
Bernardone : -one
Bertacco : -acco
Bertocco : -occo
Bertucco : -ucco
Donataccio : -accio
Giacomaso : -aso
Giacomasso : -asso
Perico : -ico
Perisio : -isio
Perisso : -isso
Perizzo : -izzo
Robertazzo : -azzo
Ugoccione : -ione
Compound Endings
Albeatinello : -ino + -ello
Albertonino : -one + -ino
Antognazzino : -accio + -ino
Guglielminetto : -ino + -etto
Marconcino : -one + -cino
Marcuccillo : -uccio + -illo
Martinazollo : -azzo + -olo
Pertuccello : -uccio + -ello
Petroccello : -uccio + -ello
Petruzzello : -uzzo + -ello
Petruzziello : -uzzo + -iello


Reference

For more detailed guidelines on Italian handwritten documents, we recommend the following resource, from which most of this section was taken: Italian Records Extraction - An Instructional Guide, © by Intellectual Reserve.

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