Tag Archives: Italian names

Old-Fashioned Italian Baby Names

Above: a monument to Varenna’s WWI dead. If your last name was Pensa (“think”), why would you name your child Innocente? Monuments like this also give clues to names which were once common but have now fallen out of popularity: Gaspare [GAHS-pah-ray], Eliseo [ell-lee-ZAY-oh], Oreste [oh-RES-tay], Sigismundo [sih-jiss-MOON-doh] and Corrado [cor-RAH-doh] are very rare today. Read More…

Above: a monument to Varenna’s WWI dead. If your last name was Pensa (“think”), why would you name your child Innocente? Monuments like this also give clues to names which were once common but have now fallen out of popularity: Gaspare [GAHS-pah-ray], Eliseo [ell-lee-ZAY-oh], Oreste [oh-RES-tay], Sigismundo [sih-jiss-MOON-doh] and Corrado [cor-RAH-doh] are very rare today.

War memorial in Lecco: more names which are now rare (and might be considered funny):

  • Ermenegildo [air-may-nay-JEEL-doh]
  • Eufrasio [ey-you-FRAZ-ee-oh]
  • Mansueto [mahn-SWAY-toh] (“gentle”)
  • Fortunato [for-too-NAH-toh] (“lucky,” but this may also be the name of a saint)
  • Onorato [on-oh-RAH-toh] (“honored”)
  • Severino [seh-veh-REEN-oh] (a saint)
  • Domizio [doh-MEET-zee-oh] (Roman name)
  • Calimero [cah-lee-MARE-oh]
  • Arnaldo [are-NAHL-doh]

Wilma [VILL-mah] and Giuseppina [jews-ep-PEEN-ah] would be considered old-fashioned. Carolina [car-oh-LEAN-ah] is still current (my daughter has been at school with at least one Carolina).

  • Ines [ee-NESS]
  • Gioconda [joe-COND-ah] – In Italy, an alternate name for the Mona Lisa is La Gioconda. Note that this one was the widow of a Mr. Orfeo [or-FAY-oh] (Orpheus).
  • Adalgisa [ah-DAHL-jizz-ah] – Very old-fashioned.

  • Egidia [eh-GEE-dee-uh]
  • Rosetta [Rose-ETT-uh]
  • Cherubina [care-oo-BEAN-uh] – “Little Cherub” – Huh?!?
  • Chiarina [kya-REE-nah] – unusual, but cute. A diminutive of Chiara [KYA-rah], meaning clear, transparent, or light.

  • Achille = Achilles
  • Valentino – well, you all know that one
  • Ermanno – no less than two of them! = Herman
  • Carmelo – very current in southern Italy

  • Gottardo [go-TAR-doh] – a saint with an important Alpine mountain pass and two major highway tunnels named after him.
  • Cesare [CHAY-za-ray] – Caesar. You knew that, right?
  • Oreste [o-RESS-tay] – the Greek Orestes

  • Edoardo Enrico – It’s unusual for an Italian to use a middle name in any context. My husband, for example, has several which may be on his baptismal certificate, but do not exist on his birth certificate or any other legal document, and which are never used. Beyond that, Edoardo [eh-doh-AR-do] and Enrico are both names that are not unusual, but not overly common, either.
  • Piera – [pee-AIR-a or PYAIR-ah] Female version of Piero, of course.
  • Candida [CAHN-did-ah] – Carries the connotation “white” or “pure.”
  • Armanda [ar-MAHN-dah]
  • Quinto [KWEEN-toh] – “Fifth”.
    In some families it seems to have been the practice, dating back to Classical Rome, to give your children numbers rather than names: Primo, Secundo, etc. Or, having grown tired of trying to find names after the first few, the parents seem to take this easy way out.
  • Pierluigi – Pier is often used as a sort of adjunct to other (male) names: Piergiorgio, Pierluigi, even Piermaria (still a male name by virtue of the Pier on the front).

Anything you can add on the lore and history of old-fashioned Italian names will be welcome!

Related: Italian Baby Names I Happen to Like

Italian Baby Names I Happen to Like

Some less common but still current Italian baby names that I happen to like: Alessandra [ah-less-SAHN-dra] Corrado [cor-RAH-do] – I’ve only ever seen this on an older (now dead, in fact) television personality, but have always liked it. Equivalent to the English Conrad. Dario [DAH-ree-oh] From the old Persian Darius, the name of several kings. Read More…

Some less common but still current Italian baby names that I happen to like:

  • Alessandra [ah-less-SAHN-dra]
  • Corrado [cor-RAH-do] – I’ve only ever seen this on an older (now dead, in fact) television personality, but have always liked it. Equivalent to the English Conrad.
  • Dario [DAH-ree-oh] From the old Persian Darius, the name of several kings.
  • Fausta, Fausto [FOW-sta, FOW-sto] The first syllable rhymes with “cow”. An old Roman name meaning happy and/or lucky.
  • Fiamma [FYAHM-mah], or more commonly Fiametta [fyahm-MET-ta] – flame, little flame
  • Gaia [GUY-ah] – an Old Roman goddess, I think.
  • Livia [LIV-ee-ah] – Roman
  • Massimo [MAHSS-ih-mo] – Old Roman Maximus, aka Max. Variants include Massimino (little Massimo) and Massimiliano.
  • Tosca [TOSS-ka]

What are some of your favorite Italian names?

Related: Old-Fashioned Italian Baby Names

Italian Surnames: The Funny, Surprising, and Just Plain Weird

^above “Queen Hope, widow of Wells” – she lived a good long life! Il Corriere della Sera reports today that Italy has the largest number of surnames in the world: 350,000. The ten commonest surnames cover only 1% of the population. And, with many surnames, you can also tell something about its origins by its Read More…

^above “Queen Hope, widow of Wells” – she lived a good long life!

Il Corriere della Sera reports today that Italy has the largest number of surnames in the world: 350,000. The ten commonest surnames cover only 1% of the population. And, with many surnames, you can also tell something about its origins by its ending.

Italian surnames are fascinating, and sometimes very funny. Some of the best don’t seem to have emigrated to the US, though Americans trying to pronounce their Italian surnames can also be funny. I met a photographer in Connecticutt with the wonderfully romantic surname “Mezzanotte” (Midnight). An Italian would pronounce this Med-za-NOT-tay, which also sounds lovely. He pronounced it Mezza-note, which doesn’t.

One of the most common surnames in Lombardy is Fumagalli, which translates literally as “smoke the chickens.” That is: blow smoke into the henhouse to stun them, so they don’t make noise while you’re carrying them away. I guess chicken thieving was common in Lombardy, hence the popular Italian saying, Conosco i miei polli (“I know my own chickens”), used when you can predict how someone will behave or react, because you know them so well.

Death announcements in Lecco. Note the surnames Turba (“disturbs”) and Barbagelata (“frozen beard”)

I can’t think of examples of names in America which have a funny meaning, although some non-English names sound funny or rude to an English speaker, such as the Jewish Lipschitz or Indian Dixit (pronounced Dickshit). In Italy, there are many names which sound funny or odd even to Italian speakers, and leave you wondering how somebody’s ancestor acquired it. Examples:

  • Squarcialupi – “squarciare” is to rip, with violence; “lupi” are wolves. Okay, the ancestor was a fierce hunter.
  • On the other hand, Cantalupi – “cantare” – to sing. Sings with wolves?
  • Pelagatti – “pelare” – to peel or skin, “gatti” …cats. Presumably this guy knew more than one way.
  • Pelaratti – same thing, but rats. Now why would you bother?

Then there are the surnames which Italians fervently wish they could change, and go to great lengths to do so (it’s not easy to change a name in Italy), such as Finocchio – “Fennel,” but it’s also common slang for gay. Most red-blooded Italian males don’t want this one!

A friend of ours once worked in the office in Rome where name changes are (rarely) approved. He told us the most egregious case he ever came across was the name “Ficarotta” – broken cunt. The change was allowed.

More Funny Italian Surnames

  • Malinconico – melancholy
  • Mezzasalma – half-cadaver
  • Tagliabue – ox-cutter (butcher, I suppose)
  • Bellagamba – beautiful leg (there was a famous cardinal of this name)
  • Caporaso – shaved head
  • Denaro – money – a Mafia family in the news!
  • Contestabile – debatable
  • Falaguerra – make war
    …but…
    Acquistapace – buy peace
  • Accusato – accused
  • Peccati – sins
  • Bonanno – buon anno – good year, or happy new year
  • Borriposi – buon riposi – good rests

^ This architect’s surname means “big tower”.

^ “Macelleria Pancioni” would be literally translated as “big bellies butcher,” though Pancioni is probably a family name.

Nov 23, 2003

Many Italian surnames are also common words, so the potential for comedy is enormous when juxtaposed with the person’s profession, residence, or spouse. One of the funniest books we own is Mal Cognome Mezzo Gaudio, by Antonio di Stefano. The title is a pun on the saying Mal commune mezzo gaudio (A shared sorrow is half a joy); cognome means surname. The book is a treasure trove of funny names and even funnier combinations. But he missed one of my old favorites, a shop near my in-laws’ place in Rome called Enoteca Bevilacqua – the Drinkwater Wineshop.

Another name that’s funny on its own is Cazzaniga. This Lombard name may not actually mean anything, but it sounds close to cazzo negro – black dick. So there’s a common joke about it: Cazzaniga? Che nome lungo. (“What a long name.”)


where do people with your surname live in Italy?

Italian Orphan Names

Tracing Your Italian Roots

^ I assume this optical shop is named for its owner, whose surname means a joke or a trick.

^ This shop owner’s surname means “millet bread”.

Unusual Italian Baby Names

photo taken in Mantova Dino [DEEN-oh] is a common nickname for a number of names. This guy must have a sense of humor: “Dino Nosari” sounds like dinosauri – dinosaurs. photo taken in Mantova I’d never heard the name Modestino [mod-ess-TEEN-oh] (literally “little modest one”), but it’s rather sweet, especially in combination with his surname, Read More…

photo taken in Mantova

Dino [DEEN-oh] is a common nickname for a number of names. This guy must have a sense of humor: “Dino Nosari” sounds like dinosauri – dinosaurs.

photo taken in Mantova

I’d never heard the name Modestino [mod-ess-TEEN-oh] (literally “little modest one”), but it’s rather sweet, especially in combination with his surname, Lieto [lee-AY-toh] – Happy.

photo taken in Lecco

More names from death announcements.

“Maria Bambina” I suppose refers to the childhood of the Virgin Mary, but seems an odd choice of name. No wonder she was nicknamed Mariuccia [mahr-ee-OOCH-ah] (“cute little Mary”). Then she married into the Rats (Ratti).

Nives I’ve heard before, but would have thought it a Spanish name.

Upper left: somebody, widow of Horses

Gustavo is an old-fashioned name, Jorio I’ve never seen before [YOR-ee-oh], Salvatore [sahl-vah-TORE-ay] is very southern Italian, and… Colombina [col-om-BEAN-uh] – Little dove

Heavens, what a name! Altavilla (high villa) Nobili (nobles). At least he gave his kids fairly normal names (Annarita and Franco).


Marshall reminded me of a very funny and supposedly true case in Italy. It requires some explanation: When a woman marries, she is formally known as “Maidenname Firstname in Husband’s Surname,” I guess “in” signifies that she has married into the husband’s family (though I’ve only seen this construction used in death announcements). So there was a lady with the surname Milolava (“I’ll wash it”) whose parents rather cruelly named her Domenica (Sunday). She married a Signor Piazza, so she became “Sunday I’ll wash it in the piazza.” What “it” may signify is up to your imagination.

Really, some parents ought to be shot for how they name their kids. Years ago, in Washington, I had a data entry temp job for an insurance company. One of the records I entered was for a woman named Candy Caine. Evidently her parents wanted her to grow up to be a Playboy Bunny.


Jan 19, 2004

Ivo wrote me about his friends, interestingly surnamed “Della Bella” (of the beauty), who have relatives with the unhappy surname “Della Morte” (of death). So what did these sadistic parents name their child? Angelo.


And another in the series: “What were your parents thinking?!?”

In the Italian online white pages, you can do a reverse lookup (when you know the number, get the name). Some time ago, the following Internet meme was circulating: go to the white pages and look up a certain number. The resulting name, presumably someone’s legal name, was Bocchino Generoso (Bocchino being the surname – names are listed surname first). Bocchino is slang for fellatio, Generoso… well, you can guess. Unless this is the stage name of a gay porn artist, this guy must hate his parents. Interestingly, when I went back to check a few weeks later, the number was no longer listed.


 

Italian Orphan Names

Italy has a millennia-old tradition of abandoning unwanted infants. The Romans exposed them on remote hillsides to be (hopefully) adopted by someone who needed a child or (more likely) eaten by wolves. In more recent times, babies were left on church steps, in most cases to be raised by the Church. Since no one knew Read More…

Italy has a millennia-old tradition of abandoning unwanted infants. The Romans exposed them on remote hillsides to be (hopefully) adopted by someone who needed a child or (more likely) eaten by wolves. In more recent times, babies were left on church steps, in most cases to be raised by the Church. Since no one knew who their parents were, these abandoned children were given surnames denoting their orphan status:

  • Orfanelli – little orphans
  • Poverelli – little poor (people)
  • Peverelli – slightly disguised version of the above
  • Trovato, Trovatelli – found, little foundling
  • Esposito – exposed. BTW, it’s pronounced eh-SPO-sih-toe, not ess-po-ZEE-to

These names have by now been inherited for generations, but, somewhere along the line, these folks’ ancestors were abandoned as infants.

Nicole over at zoomata.com sent me the following:

“Innocenti and Nocentini are both common names of orphan origins in Florence, from the Ospedale degli Innocenti (Hospital of the Innocents)… where babes were left, no questions asked, in a little revolving door in a corner… It’s still there, with a little iron grate over it.”