Italian Last Names

Interested in the history behind Italian last names? Want to know where some common Italian last names get their meaning from? Our guide to Italian surnames gives you the facts & information you want to know.

The inherited title that accompanies your given name is known as the surname. It is an identification of the family that you belong to hence it is also known as the family name. The use of surnames was not part of the norm in ancient times but the ancient civilization of Rome is credited for giving birth to the trend of surnames and nicknames to identify the family background and characterize the individual. The nobility of Venice actively began to incorporate the use of the surname in the year 1000. The trend gradually transcended throughout society and in 1564 the Council of Trento made it official.

Origin of Italian Last Names

It is interesting to note that initially most surnames were the name of the individual’s father. For example Berardo di Giovanni meant Berardo son of Giovanni. In some cases however the father would be a relatively unknown person in society or the individual may have his roots from outside the region. In that case the name of his place of origin was added as his surname or the particular job that he worked in, for example Alessandro di Genova for his place of origin. This kind of surname is known as toponymic. Once the individual had established a surname his descendants were most likely to maintain the name even if they happened to change their occupation.

Italy is a country that has many dialects which is why you will see that there is a wide variety of surnames in the region. Minor differences in dialects change the pronunciation as well as the meaning of a particular name. The singular word Grasso becomes Grassi as a plural. On the whole Italian surnames can be categorized in a very interesting manner.

The widest of these categories is Patronymics which is the most popular form of surnames in almost all the cultures of the world. This is the process of developing a surname based on the blood ties of an individual. The most common of these being the child taking on his fathers name as the surname. Di Giovanni Johnson, D’Anglo and Colianni which means son of Nicola and grandson of Giovanni are some examples. As in the case of the toponymics one was assigned the name of his original homeland there were other cases where people were given surnames based on the local area where they lived. An example would be Fontana, from the fountain or Della Valle from the Valley.

Occupation based Italian Last Names

Immigrants were given the surname in accordance with their geographical origins. Febbri as carpenter and Ferrari as Smith are examples of surnames derived from occupations. In some cases people were given surnames that were actually nick names based on some ironical element in their character. For example a short person may be called as Piccoli or a savage by the name of Selvaggi. You will find that people have ended up with really funny nick names due to this process which may even be embarrassing in some cases. Take for example the name Pappalardo that means “that who eats lard”.

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