Italian Last Names
History and Facts about Italian Family Names
One of the interesting facts on Italy is the exorbitant number of Italian last names. Discover Italian customs about names and find the roots of your Italian family name.
This great variety of Italian last names is due to the long and complex Italian history and the geographical fragmentation of the territory.
In ancient Rome, free citizens carried three names. The praenomen that indicated the individual, as does our modern christian name.
The nomen showed the gens or family of origin. Finally a cognomen, a kind of nickname, was given to that particular side of the family or the individual.
Gradually the use of a nomen and cognomen gave way to the use of one name only that reflected a singularity of the individual and was not inherited.
After the fall of the roman empire, people were indicated by only one personal name inspired by the personal characteristics, origin or the paternity.
The use of the modern family name, as we know it, started in Europe between the X and XI century when there was a demographic explosion and it became difficult to identify people with one name only.
Initially only the richest families were using a surname then, during the XIII century, more people started to use a family name. When the Council of Trent in 1564 ordered that the parish priests keep records of christenings and family names to avoid weddings within the same family, the modern family name was born.
Most family names come from a christian name, a place or a nickname. Other common family name sources are the occupation, the social status of a physical characteristic. For example “Rossi”, the most common Italian name, means red and might refer to an ancestor with ruddy complexion or red hair.
A very common Italian surname is Esposito that literally means “exposed”. It was given to orphans or abandoned children given for adoption. Other common last names with the same origin are Trovato, Orfanelli, Poretti and their numerous variations.
Italian women keep their maiden name after marriage although they are allowed to add their husband’s name after their own. This option, though is not very popular due to the complexity of requirement to modify a name in official documents.
Children born from a married couple automatically get the father’s family name.
Often the name ending can be twisted in a different final, like Cesari can become Cesaroni, Cesaretti, Cesarotti or Cesarini.
Sometimes the ending of a family name is characteristic of a region. For example in Lombardia are common names ending in ago/aghi or in oldi like in Casiraghi or Boldi. In Sardinia are often found endings in au and edda like in Rau and Deledda. Typically last names from Le Marche region end in oni like in Borioni or Cerioni.
Clik on this link to find out what is the area of origin of your Italian family name. Just enter your Italian last name at the top left in the space under cognome and click on the red arrow. A map of Italy will appear with a circle on the area of origin of your Italian surname.
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