Italian Law and Naming Your Baby

above: “What were they thinking?” department: This monument to those fallen in WWI in the Lake Como town of Gravedona shows someone whose parents named him “Troppotardi” – “too late”.

An article in Il Corriere della Sera points out that Italian law aims to prevent children being given “ridiculous, shameful, or embarrassing” names by their parents.

The official whose job it is to decide these things (the Public Prosecutor of the Commune where the birth is registered) sometimes has to sort out perplexing problems, such as whether to allow an Italian child to be given an American name taken from a soap opera. Good question. The other day I heard a mother in Lecco calling her small daughter Karen. She pronounced it CAHR-en – not ugly, but strange-sounding to both English and Italian speakers.

The article also mentions that it is illegal to give masculine names to females and vice-versa, which has stymied some parents who wanted to name their daughters Andrea. Pronounced an-DRAY-uh in Italian, it’s a masculine name, the equivalent of Andrew. In English it’s pronounced ANN-dree-uh, and is feminine.

An Italian colleague who moved to California discovered just how much trouble this can cause. He made a health insurance claim for a decidedly male complaint. When the check didn’t arrive, he called the insurance company to inquire. “This is obviously a fraudulent claim,” they told him nastily. “How can someone named ANN-drea have a prostate problem?”

5 thoughts on “Italian Law and Naming Your Baby

  1. Pat McClay

    Your mention of the Italian pronunciation of the name Karen seemed totally right to me. My friend Karen is Scandanvian and that’s how they pronounce it in Norway -where it originated – and also how it’s pronounced in Scotland where I live. The American pronunciation ‘KAY-ren’ sounds odd to us.

  2. liv

    Me and my partner had a similar issue where they assumed she was male because her name is “Shannon” and I’m “Liv”…. Of course, we could never be in a same sex relationship…. so when she went to get her feminine examine they denied her medical insurance for her vaginal examine.

  3. Kim - Twin Strollers

    Funny – My husband was born in Italy (On Aviano Airbase) to american citizens. His name is “Steven”, but they had originally wanted to spell it Stephan, and were advised against it.

    I never thought that it could have been related to local influence… but your article makes sense as to why its Steven.


  4. Michael

    How about my name. It’s Michael. In italian, it’s spelled Michele. In English, Michele is a womens name! I hate that. If I moved her from Italy, I’d have to urgently make sure my certificate was changed.

  5. Richard Davies

    Nicola is another name that’s female in English speaking countries but male in Italy.

    I wonder is Darryl Hannah, Terry Farrell & Cameron Diaz had problems like this before becoming famous.

    In my job I have to process new applications & it can be hard when someone hasn’t ticked a title box & has a first name that doesn’t give a clear indication of gender.

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